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DJ Hidden: "The Words Below"

img  Tobias

If knowing your roots is essential for shaping the future, Peshay's 1999-work „Miles from Home“ sums up both the formidable strengths as well as the inherent dilemma of Drum n Bass: On the first six tracks alone, producer Paul Pesce references Jazz, Soul, 70s Funk and HipHop, seamlessly weaving them together into a colourful acoustic quilt, before going digital and time-warping his elements a couple of thousand years forward in the second half of the album. Of course, Peshay wasn't the only one to make full use of Drum n Bass' unsurpassable readiness to organically incorporate the most disparate stylistic influences - Metalheadz' defining first „Platinum Breakz“ compilation was filled to the brim with references to Krautrock and Fusion, while others emphasised the slightly more obvious connections to Reggae and Dub. This eclecticism, more than anything, caused the scene to explode in the mid-90s despite its ambitious conceptual angle and at times apocalyptic aesthetics: Everyone was invited, all were welcome. Perhaps, however, it was also what caused it to deflate like a bullet-hit hot-air balloon towards the end of the millenium: With the cohesive powers of the community weakening by the day, each niche increasingly sealed itself off from its creative peer groups, leaving a gaping vacuum in the middle ground.

The CV of Noël Wessels aka DJ Hidden, points to another, often-neglected strain of influence. An offspring from the Netherlands' fertile Gabba-scene, Hidden discovered Breakbeats at a time when Hardcore, his former focal point was undergoing its own process of creative disintegration, doubt and artistic demise. As with many of his colleagues, it was the open-mindedness of Drum n Bass that drew him in, turned him around and dramatically impacted his compositional interests. On a first impression, the differences with Hardcore were dramatic, but Wessels also recognised the one element that bound the two together like a pair of extremely dissimilar siamese twins: Energy in its most pure and unrefined state. This, too, would quickly turn into his creed as a Breakbeat-bricoleur. Even though his entry onto the scene as a producer came late, it was marked by a striking conviction and irresistible persistance that made him stand out from the fold straight away. And in striking contrast to the genre's often-quoted inability of equalling its emotive power on a full-length record, Hidden quickly established himself as an artist equally adept at churning out club-oriented 12inches and mind-stimulating albums.

This talent at amalgamating raw force with utmost concentration, focused composition and an emotionally charged narrative already pulsed through predecessor „The Later After“ and has taken on an even more demonstrative presence on current epic „The Words Below“. Quite literally, there is a story of madness and transformation behind the album, as Wessels has pointed out in a revealing in-depth interview on the eve of its release. But even though it remains wordless and essentially open to individual interpretation, its echoes are filling every single crevisce of „Words Below“ with ghostly whispers, creating an undeniable yet clearly defined tension arch from beginning to end: After getting off to an electrifying start on the first seven tracks, Hidden abruptly deglazes the action with the eery black hole of „It feels Wrong“ and shakes up the second half of the album with twilighted Piano-Nocturnes, orientally influenced, Upright-Bass-supported magic carpet-rides and curious crossbreeds between Ambient soundscape and dizzying drum infernos. Recurring motives and associations with classical music (culminating in the inclusion of a virtual string-ensemble on closer „The Devil's Instant“), meanwhile, are creating the spikes and points of orientation required to keep the audience's attention for the full 76-minute-ride.

Remarkably, the intimidating proportions and epic perspective of „The Words Below“ are still compatible with tracks that almost all appear to work as potential singles – it should come as no surprise that the album is simultaneously published as a limited triptych of Vinyl-LPs. Wessels' involvment with movie soundtracks, which shines through on the high-octane stomp of „The Traveler“ and even more pronouncedly on the cinematic intro to „The Dreamer“, can, at least partially, be credited with this emotional immediacy. But Hidden also knows how to work with nothing but beats and atmospheres, as the industrially-tinged main section of the latter piece or the stuttering Psychedelica of „A different Yesterday“ effectively prove. Just as important as the aspect of arrangement is the production in general, with rhythm tracks virtually jumping into your face, various interrelated layers battling it out over supremacy and myriads of cut-up micro-glitches delicately floating through the air like radioactively glowing dust from a nuclear fallout.

Even though it may appear differently at first sight, Wessels hasn't forgotten about his influences. Rather than going all the way back to the beginning, though, he is taking the first wave of Drum n Bass as a point of departure and its artists as occasional sparring partners. You won't find any Amen-breaks or Tramen-breaks here, but echoes or quotes of genre-classics are, albeit subtly, all over the place: „Poisoned Chocolate“ with a recognisably interlaced vocal sample is just one example. On other occasions, motives appear ghoulishly deformed almost beyond recognition, with the typical Rhodes-chords turning into a sort of distant train-howl on „The Narrator“. What this means is that slowly but surely, the music is referencing itself rather than other styles, opening the door to a renewed resurgance of a middle ground built around the familiar key elements that once held the scene together for years. It is by admitting to these roots that DJ Hidden's powerful Old-school New-School has every chance of leading this movement into a promising future.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: DJ Hidden
Homepage: Ad Noiseam Records

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