When I first heard left-of-centre UK electronica and jazzy jungle/drum & bass in the 90s, it sounded like the future. Similarly, reading writing from authors and journalists such as William Gibson and Kodwo Eshun felt like reading about the future. And watching Akira, Johnny Mnemonic, and eXistenZ felt like a glimpse into the very same. It wasn’t always pleasant, but there were moments of beauty or calm amidst all the high-tech chaos and sobering inequality. Hell, even sipping those damn smart drinks (sometimes in smart bars!) felt like 3029 knocking on the door.
Listen to ‘Brace’ above.
Data Horde, North American scene stalwart Brian Foote’s first full-length album under his Leech alias, is a record that (at least partially) draws from those days. Brian, a producer, DJ and publicist, with over twenty years experience shuffling through the shadows of the electronic underground, knows the history and the soundscape inside out. On top of that, he’s always been an open-eared collaborator, whether working with Zola Jesus and Maria Minerva, his post-rock ensemble Nudge, or adding drum programming to solo material from Stephen Malkmus in the early 2000s; which gives him an extra edge (or two).
Spacious and sleek, album opener ‘Amethyst’ sees Brian in full ambient synth mode, juicing his pads for as much as he can pull out of them. More of a rhythmic workout, ‘Brace’ builds on that same sense of space and room, adding dynamic, jazz-jungle breakbeats, all underscored by footwork/juke redolent 808 kicks and a haunting melody. ‘Phoenix9V’ continues these themes, shifting from haunting to hypnotic, and eventually hallucinatory; before ‘Nimble’ interlaces the aural aesthetics of artcore jungle with traces of the qualities present throughout Planet Mu’s early 2010s footwork releases. ‘Nimble’ is followed by ‘Delysid’, an exercise in jungle breakbeats and acid house basslines, articulated with the structural restraint of a season-long story arc from HBO’s golden years. After that flurry of activity, the album winds down with the filtered, glitching beatscapes of ‘Bit Riot’, ending on as engaging a note as it all arrived on.
Here’s the thing though: despite the references, Data Horde doesn’t sound like a transmission from the past or future. Or perhaps more aptly, traces of the semblance of naivety which still existed around 90s electronica can’t even be seen in the rear-view mirror anymore. And the future the Cyberpunk referential aspects of the culture alluded to, well, let’s just say they arrived at least half a decade ago. Instead, Data Horde sounds like the soundtrack to the world we’re living in now. A landscape where the daily news cycle is as frantic as Brian’s drum programming. A time when the internet offers us endless guided meditation apps as calming as his melodies. But are any of us, Brian included, really relaxed?
Data Horde is out now through Peak Oil in digital and 12″ formats (purchase here)