ALBUM: Your Charizmatic Self EP
ARTIST: Bok Bok
Alex Sushon, AKA Bok Bok, dubbed the sound on his newest EP “rhythm and grime,” and the new distinction appears to be a part of an aesthetic shift in his productions and in the artistic direction of Night Slugs, the label which he heads. Though Bok Bok’s newest EP is not the first articulation of “rhythm and grime,” it stands as a powerful example of where this subgenre can go; certainly, an intriguing tension lies between clattering percussion and chest rumbling bass, Kelela’s buttery vocals and jabbing funk samples. Not all tracks embody the mix of masculine and feminine, underground and pop that Sushon suggests is at play in his EP, but the project, down to the album artwork, is coherent and thought provoking, and has some stand out tracks for club or bedroom.
Pushing the boundaries of electronic genres is nothing new for Sushon and his label mates as Night Slugs has already made a name for itself as an innovative and forward thinking label in the world of UK bass. Based largely in the grime scene, Bok Bok, along with his cofounder L-Vis 1990, have incorporated stylistic elements from house, techno, RnB and dubstep. Their label has attracted numerous other artists within the electronic music scene, and even inspired an American offshoot label, Fade to Mind.
One of the key innovations of Bok Bok’s newest EP is an attunement to music as embedded within its environment. While not a groundbreaking concept intellectually, it seems part of a larger response to the ahistorical and global trends of much of mainstream EDM, where musical sources can be picked from around the world with little concern for context or coherence. Fatima Al Qadiri deals with similar issues regarding electronic music in Asiatisch, her exploration of the imagined East on the grime scene. Yet, whist Your Charizmatic Self is also embedded in an imaginary setting, the album entices its audience into a futuristic environment where austerity collides and conspires with lushness. Indeed, after several listens, the music and the future-comic studio album artwork meld together: a mix of analog and future digital all at home in the caverns of an underground dancehall, a strange and provocative interplay of dark and light, sterile and fertile. Bok Bok’s vision doesn’t play out in the coldhearted thump of techno, nor in the overly-sentimental, syrupy vocals common to many electronic dance songs that seek to add a pop touch to their club destined bangers. Rather than strictly mix the feminine and masculine elements that permeate dance music, he blurs the lines between the two. The first track, “Melba’s Call”, evokes an RnB love song, but its lyrical content is jealous. Elsewhere, pop samples are chopped, often ghostly, and never quite reach their usual satisfying resolution. In this way, the music is underground, yet avoids the dark masculinity common to many “underground” bass genres like grime and deep dubstep.
The UK Grime scene is especially steeped in aggression: MC’s like Flowdan spit dark, gritty verses over basement basslines and antagonistic producers like Kahn and Visionist put out “war dubs,” full of gun samples and MC call outs. Bok Bok seems to be working against this trend in grime, but in a way that avoids pandering to the overly catchy. He successfully brings the effeminate to grime without utilizing the trance-y female vocals that seem a common turn for producers of aggressive electronic music seeking to soften their sound. In doing so, he also avoids the (mis)appropriation inherent in the sampling of “soulful” RnB—so prevalent within popular electronic music today—by actually employing a working artist (Kelela), whose vocal work in “Melba’s Call” only gets better with each listen.
“Melba’s Call” is the clearest articulation of the RnB in “rhythm and grime,” along with being one of the catchiest songs on the album (by contrast, “Greenhouse (Night)” seems on the grimier side of RnG). Mixing RnB with “dubstep” bass already proved fertile grounds for acts like Mount Kimbie and James Blake, who quickly separated themselves from the rest of the scene. Likewise, this track, released before the rest of the EP, has already received quite a bit of attention, and is poised to be one of songs of the summer in the UK.
All theory aside, the album is a strong effort. Some songs immediately caught my attention, while others, like “Melba’s Call”, took a few listens for them to truly stick with me. While this album might not be a classic in the realm of UK Bass, it reminds us that Bok Bok is moving grime, and all bass music forward, both as a producer and a label boss.
“To find a real love you gotta give a body”