Joe Cowton has quite the résumé: releases on Hemlock, Hessle Audio, R&S and Whities, collaborations with Julio Bashmore, Pev and Asusu, and now a debut long player. ‘Utility’ is his first full-length solo work and it’s only taken him around ten years to deliver it. When JC first adopted his current moniker seven years back, his sound was one that took in hip-hop, drum and bass, and rave tapes. ‘Utility’ is the blossoming of that sound, which now incorporates the arid minimalism of techno and the sparse but melodic instrumentalism of dubstep.
Kowton’s work is diverse. From his melodic work for Whities, his more percussive productions as part of Livity Sound or his more dubby electronics as Ekranoplan with Julio Bashmore, the one element that has united his work has been his minimalism. This is what drives ‘Utility’. Each track is refined to a set of core elements – all of which you would most like be able to count on one hand. Each element serves a distinct purpose, but never feels purely functional. Despite the album being titled after the concept of usefulness, and each track sounding dancefloor ready, to describe each composition as purely functional, or utilitarian, would be to undersell what Kowton has achieved.
‘Scio’, which has seen some serious airwave play over the last few months, is the kind of track that would undoubtedly set a dancefloor moving. But the track also belies a subtly melodic streak that has always been present in Kowton’s work. Aside from his penchant for striking synth stabs, the percussion on the album belies its own melody. ‘Loops 1’ sounds something like the half-breed cousin of Ostgut techno and dubstep. Low-end pressure combines with sparse musicality to produce a track that is more than the sum of its parts.
‘Utility’ is an album that could have only been produced in the wake of Kowton’s output as part of Livity Sound. Some of the musical palate found on ‘Utility’ was also found on his 2013 album as part of the Bristol group, but the most striking element shared between both projects is a sense of musical adventurism. With only a few elements, Kowton crafts expansive, diverse compositions that, while still being functional, take the idea of the dance floor in novel directions.
Words: Alex Green
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