Image by Łukasz Nowak
Drum & bass is one of the sounds of the UK underground that experienced an astronomical boom followed by a rapid descent. In many ways, it followed a similar trajectory to dubstep, where the mainstream success of the genre ultimately became its downfall, though for drum & bass the decline has not been nearly as damning. Its exposure to the mainstream meant that, as is usually the case, the genre devolved somewhat, sparking dilutions or imitations of the form that mostly stripped it of its original basement-level appeal. Yet, in the hands of its rightful progenitors the genre retained its power as one of the most potent sounds on the underground, and has somewhat steered itself away from wrecking upon the iceberg of self-parody. One such progenitor is Alix Perez, who’s been invested in developing the sound of drum & bass since his mother influenced him toward the genre at fourteen years old. Since then, Perez has been somewhat revered as an authority on the direction of the sound. This is due in part to his breakout arriving amidst the autonomic era which largely refreshed the palette of drum & bass, but was really entrenched with the release of his 2013 album Chroma Chords. That album presented drum & bass dressed as other genres; moody hip-hop and melodic electro which at its core, was actually constructed drum & bass’s signature half-time. This sonic futurity would continue to distinguish his ensuing releases, with last year’s Without End EP seeing Perez experiment with earthy R&B and soul motifs on an album steeped in emotional pathos and technical mastery.
Burning Babylon, his new two track EP released by his own 1985 imprint, sees Perez return to the grime of the basement in many ways. Immediately darker than his concerns on Without End, Burning Babylon feels significant in its return to a style that up until this point, Perez seemed to be reacting against. Yes, a handful of his work over the past few years has embraced the darkness, but they’ve done so without really embracing the mania synonymous to drum & bass, as is the case with this EP. Burning Babylon launches forward with its title track. Here a rapid, skittish breakbeat is accented with monstrous bass that roars in contorted alien sounds. It’s a devious call to arms that conjures images of sci-fi beasts and Lovecraftian creatures, keying in on the inherently unhinged energy of drum & bass. Empty Words operates much in the same tonality, folding in garage inspired vocal bits that add a sophistication to the otherwise throbbing mania while also functioning as a conceptual thread that ties into Perez’s commentary on the state of the UK underground. It’s interesting that the music on here should be inspired by the UK’s response to the pandemic, more specifically the outcry from nightlife and music workers that the government had not done enough to protect their industry. That sort of anarchy is ingrained into the style that Perez adopts here, a dystopian anti-establishment distortion that seeks to rip apart the fabric of reality and propose an alternative setting, fuelled by angst and grinding disquiet. This makes for the sort of restive, rush-inducing drum & bass that beckons for subterranean spaces and lasers amidst fog machines, propulsive offerings that recall the genre’s glory days by amplifying its most transcendental and disruptive characteristics.
Taken beside the equally dark Ravana, Burning Babylon is a more unapologetic assumption of drum & bass kitsch. Where Ravana slows the pulse toward doomcore trip-hop, Burning Babylon throws itself headfirst into the stampede. As dance floors across the world slowly begin to reawaken and the UK itself prepares to pick up the pieces, Perez could not have found a better time to bring about the resurgence of this sound. In the scope of his creative journey, revisiting the sort of pace and aesthetic of 2009’s 1984 feels right. Revising the sound that made him at a time when the world, fidgety and desolate, is ready to press play on the party once again is a fitting homecoming.
Stream and purchase Burning Babylon here, and listen to the title track below.
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