Saturday, 21 January 2012

Hessle Audio crest their wave at the Bussey Building, December 2011

At the tail end of 2011 I had a superior night out in Peckham and wrote about it for a website, but it got lost in the post somewhere. Here we are anyway, complete with past tense formatting (which I am not a fan of at all).

Warm presents Hessle Audio with Pearson Sound, Ben UFO, Pangaea and Joe
Bussey Building, Peckham, London
10 December 2011

2011 was a year of consolidation, rather than exposition, for the always-on-point Hessle Audio. Founded just as dubstep burst its banks in 2007, the label found itself at the vanguard as UK dance music splintered into countless sub-genres, putting out singles that touched on house, bass, dub, R&B and whatever else its stellar roster could shoehorn into six minutes. Yet this year, aside from the excellent compilation-slash-retrospective 116 And Rising and two vinyls from Pangaea and Peverelist, Hessle's three founders seem to have focused on the more lucrative gruntwork of playing records to sweaty dancefloors.

The Bussey Building in Peckham has quietly established itself as an alternative clubbing hub in this dog-eared corner of London, where comparatively cheap rent and the local art and music colleges have fertilised a close-knit hipster outpost. Okay, so it's a decrepit old warehouse, the lights are too bright and there's barely more than a trestle table for a DJ booth, but the sound quality is surprisingly meaty – and one-room-parties always have the edge when it comes to atmosphere.

The Hessle colleagues and label favourite Joe all chipped in to a monster back-to-back session, rarely playing more than three tracks before tagging out. In different hands it would've been a car crash of mismatched records and stilted mixing, but the collaborative effort worked precisely because the Hessle attitude is so deeply embedded in these friends and former housemates, who flit freely between genres and BPMs. Tapping the tempo up and down constantly, they touched on influences across eras, from anonymous new white labels to severe techno, classic house, pristine UKG and, for the final half hour, some high watermark dubstep courtesy of Pearson Sound, a murky and unforgiving finale for the last clubbers standing.

One noticeable trend among the night's selections was footwork, its defiant anti-rhythms and broken robotics having quietly infested the UK dance underground since Planet Mu's first Bangs & Works compilation last year. While dubstep is still a tangible influence, it's the lure of the offbeat – machine-made yet unpredictable – that really feels like the freshest direction. It would be easy to suggest that UK bass music has failed to match dubstep's break-out success, or even that the scene is off the boil entirely after a flurry of innovative releases in '09 and '10. But if 2011 seemed like a quiet year for Hessle, maybe that's only because the attitudes the label helped generate have come into their own. Dance music is in a divergent mood and selectors like Ben UFO gleefully reject genre purism in favour of a fragmented, freeform party attitude. If the satisfied faces at closing time were anything to go by, us listeners are in the mood for mixing it up too.

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