Bass label MethLab is on a mission to boldly go where no bass label has gone before
You can imagine how easy it might be, when running a label that deals predominantly in provocative bass music, to get blindsided by dancefloor impact. That undying urge to make everything bang, to increase marble-loss statistics in localised areas wherever a DJ supports your release, to encourage shoe defenestration on a global level.
It makes sense: it's what attracts the big DJs' peaktime damage management, it's what causes large-scale ‘ID?' meltdown in online groups, it's bass music… it's exactlywhat the dancefloor wants. But it's not always what the music or the artists behind it need.
Enter Integral Aesthetics, a new concept and series from Czech Republic/London-based MethLab Recordings that celebrates and encourages the narrative and explorative side of bass music over anything that straight-up bangs, causes marble loss or makes you fling your footwear. The Integral Aesthetics concept launched with an EP last year, but develops in earnest this month with Dissipate, a full album of freeform blueprints from a wide range of largely new-generation producers such as Fearful, Gunman, Mateba and Noclu. It ranges from celestial garage to extra-terrestrial trap via all manner of uncategorisable styles, and it lands off the back of three years' consistent envelope-pushing.
"For composers like myself, who make a bit of everything, MethLab encourages ‘the alternative and the weird'," explains newcomer Gunman, a Belgian promoter-turned-artist. "I feel it suits as an example for both producers and labels to step away from the status quo, and challenges A&R people to dare to take risks and think differently. This is a massively important element for composers and the music industry itself."
Winner of the Best Newcomer Label in the 2017 Drum&BassArena Awards, MethLab (which also comprises DJ agency and events arms) certainly has pedigree for this type of concept. It's become one of the genre's most successful and prolific agent provocateurs, consistently pushing boundaries, questioning formulas, encouraging new artists and developing new A/V and immersive tech performance environments.
Emerging during the genre's great neuro goldrush of the mid-2010s, but never anchoring itself within the strict confines of any sub-genre, MethLab's ever-mutating collective (featuring the likes of Current Value, Audeka, Djrum, Rawtekk, Hydro and many, many more innovative acts) has established itself as an experimental beacon in the bass music scene. Integral Aesthetics makes sure the beacon flashes even further beyond the scene, too.
"[It's] finally turning into what we originally intended it to be – a forum of ideas," explains Jef Oswald, co-founder of MethLab alongside serial beat-splicer Tommy from Broken Note. For Jef, the idea of MethLab has always been modular: a construct of series and projects that have their own autonomous character yet work together to create a much wider picture and ideology. The first example of this was the label's BNKR project: a series based around a set of conceptual events that take place in a post-apocalyptic future, in a bunker loaded with mysterious technology that eventually developed into a series of cross-genre releases, each one complemented by Russian visual artist Danila Tkachenko.
"BNKR set out to explore variations on the theme of form and space," Jef explains. "Which is why it has such an architectural backbone in its visual aesthetic too, matching the stripped down, stark and strongly technical sonic aesthetic of the music within. By contrast, the Integral Aesthetics series aims to explore explosive, expressive ideas with a strong sense of pathos and dynamic exploration. This is reflected both in the unique ideas of the music within, and also in the more visceral artworks that accompany it. While BNKR is mostly focused on D&B and techno, Integral Aesthetics has a broader palette that explores halftime, garage, dubstep and IDM."
One quick blast on the 11-track Dissipate album will back up Jef's every word. Swooping across all corners of broken beat and bass territories, familiar or otherwise, highlights include the Massive Attack-like bass, breaths and cataclysmic kick-off of Noclu & CoMa's Shelter, the sun-kissed UKG switches and glitches of Radial Flare's Aurelis, Tidewarp's rolling technoid breaks on Red Light and the tense 808 spasms and graveyard atmospheres of Fearful's Deluge. But as Fearful explains, the album – or any of the individual pieces it comprises – is not meant for a quick blast.
"Being free to write music that isn't necessarily aimed at clubs allows you to venture into different sounds, and encourages experimentation early on," considers the artist who spectacularly turned heads last year with his debut album Interference on Diffrent. "It's also a chance to explore ideas that progress much more elaborate than usual, having different arrangement structures, introducing new instrumentation and being able to use these techniques to tell a strong narrative from start to end. That is something really important to me as I often find that people, myself included, don't listen to entirety of a piece of music before skipping to the next track."
Challenging the classic DJ mindset towards music (and, perhaps, mankind's ever-dwindling attention span), Dissipate and the whole concept behind Integral Aesthetics is about embracing a much wider context in which artists can apply the innovative production techniques bass music is known for, which in turn keeps them inspired and not feeling like they always have to have the heaviest mixdown and guarantee aforesaid marble and shoe shortfalls.
"Sometimes the art in music gets lost because of commercial interests," reflects German artist Noclu, who's made a name for himself on the deeper side of dubstep in the past and supplies two of the 11 tracks on Dissipate. "Integral Aesthetics proves that people still love the idea of the underground, and appreciate and encourage tunes that might not sound 'good' on every phone speaker."
You can expect plenty more Integral Aesthetics to emerge from any speakers you choose soon, too. In keeping with the machine-like organisation, proliferation and execution the label has shown since launching in 2016, the concept and release schedule are locked deep into the future. As are more new modular series that will continue to push the agenda that not everything needs to straight-up bang.
"The series on MethLab are all conceived with specific ideas and feelings in mind, and you'll see more of them on the label," Jef reveals. "Some will be curated by the co-founders of the label, others curated by the artists who are part of the collective. The releases on these series sit alongside standalone, artist-specific conceptual releases such as LPs and EPs under the MethLab label. The core of our concept can be said to be that perhaps unlike other labels, we're not restricting ourselves to a single sound, but treating our label as an artist platform for exploring different strands of electronic music and visual aesthetics, and also empowering our artists to utilise the platform to express their own curated narratives of other artists' work."
And so MethLab's provocative experiments continue. It's exactly what the dancefloor, the artists and the music need. Prepare to be blindsided.
Words: Dave Jenkins
Dissipate is out now on MethLab Recordings. Order your copy here
Tags: MethLab Recordings, Jef Oswald, Tommy BrokenNote, Fearful, Gunman, Mateba, Noclu, BNKR, Current Value, Audeka, Djrum, Rawtekk, Hydro, Danila Tkachenko, Radial Flare, Tidewarp, CoMa, bass music, D&B, dubstep, UK garage, IDM, broken beat, techno