Review: Kahn and Neek – (Having A Sick Time) In The Mansions Of Bliss
It’s been an eventful few decades on the post-UK Garage frontier. From the initial rise of grime and dubstep, with seminal British releases garnering both critical and commercial appeal to being cast into the shadows by the likes of its distant American cousins, brostep and trap. All the while, lovers of more nuanced halftime percussion and chest-rattling bassweight never wavered, with many older producers sticking to their guns, whilst a younger vanguard push the scene forward without the hindrance of baggage.
Since dubstep’s decline and grime’s years lost in the wilderness, the desire for producers to identify with existing genre conventions has wained. The lines have blurred, and various styles of bass music have amalgamated into what even purists can sometimes find difficult to classify, revitalising the scene in the process. With trappy 808s, modulated basslines and grimey snares that would feel at home amidst an ’04 Wiley cut, the music shares an emphasis on bass but allows more breathing room than it’s eski-counterpart.
Much like it’s position at the forefront of trip hop, Bristol has been the scene’s primary incubator, with labels like Sector 7 and Bandulu leading the charge. Bandulu bosses Kahn and Neek are arguably amongst the most innovative British producers of the last decade, both under their dub-orientated Gorgon Sound moniker and with a more extensive list of releases and collaborations under their own aliases. They, along with label mates Boofy, Hi5 Ghost and Commodo, have played a crucial role in bringing their brand of club-ready instrumental grime hybrids to wider audiences, with the pair being invited to curate a mix for the 90th outing of the seminal ‘Fabriclive’ series.
Their latest EP, (Having A Sick Time) In The Mansions Of Bliss, due a release on Sector 7 on 28th February is the pair's first musical collaboration since 2016. Throughout its concise length, the release manages to encapsulate the last 10 years of progression and complexity in bass music and combine it with the hardest elements of grime and dub. Each track sounds like a rhythmic juggling act of coiled hats, crystalline squarewaves and seismic amounts of sub-bass, adding to the sense of claustrophobia without ever sounding cluttered. Kahn and Neek’s infamous tag “Yes Iyah” litters the release, marking when the chaos is about to be reintroduced.
The EP wastes no time getting started. It’s opening track and namesake is a complete refinement of what the pair does so well, with its grinding bassline and thumping kicks prompting vigorous head nodding and un-ironic gun fingers. The track’s Middle-Eastern melody and outro haunted by a flurry of ghostly vocal samples suggest an Egyptian crypt is as likely a birthplace as a Somerset studio.
‘Random Lab’ continues the energy in a more atypical trap/dubstep affair, with droning synths and dripping snares building to something that feels damp and boxed in. The wide open space between instrumentation emphasises the interplay between sub-laden 808s and clacking percussion.
As the EP moves onto it’s B-side, it takes a more contemplative shift in tone. ‘Shimmer’, a track that’s been doing the rounds as a dubplate for a handful of years finally gets a proper release. Rumbling bass, clipped claps and a bit-crushed melody build to a moody close. All the while, a shimmering square-lead sits off in the background building tension, like the soundtrack to a John Carpenter movie.
Closing track ‘Venus’ is a more rhythmic endeavour, leading with a playfully syncopated drum melody, before layering in throaty vocal pads and concentrated bass that build to something much more emotive. A swelling orchestral finale takes full advantage of the tone, acting as a decompression chamber before fizzling out into tape hiss, leaving you with your own thoughts.