For the past couple of weeks I have been relentlessly absorbing Hessle Audio’s latest addition to an already accomplished back catalogue. Hessle first LP comes in the form of the 166 & Rising compilation, a project which unties the label’s past with its present. The first CD and 3x12” is dedicated solely to new materials, the majority born from previous contributors to the label – although Addison Groove, D1 and Randomer all make their Hessle debuts here. The sheer volume of quality the label has fashioned since 2007 is quite remarkable, and when situated in a single release you begin to realise just how far the Hessle label has developed since its 2007 inception.
Label co-founders Ben Thompson, David Kennedy and Kevin McAuley have been at the helm, carefully mapping the direction of the imprint over the past four years. A total of 18 releases over the space of four years is less than prolific, however this in turn defines the Hessle way. In fact, it is quite remarkable that the trio have put together such a number of strong and innovative release, only pressing sounds they are thoroughly impressed by. The quality of each and every release is something to behold, a feature this compilation underlines in abundance.
The release is essentially split into two separate parts, although each is unquestionably related to its opposite. The 3x12” release points us in the direction of Hessle presents and futures. The vinyl pack is comprised of 12 new releases, with a varied mix of material selected. The A-side opens with Elgato’s sensual Music (Body Mix), a measured track which knocks away at 121bpm weaving weird and wonderful melodies around deep kicks and recurring percussive arrangements. Elgato’s opener is a real statement, contrasting Pangaea’s You & I on the second CD. The latter is more inclined to acknowledge roots in dubstep and 2-step, with a swinging rhythm drenched in anxious tones and layers that lend the track a strong sense of spatial atmosphere. This atmosphere doesn’t escape Elgato’s Music though, as track seemingly retains the stripped and distinctive ambience characteristic of numerous Hessle releases.
Blawan’s ‘Potchla Vee’ deserves special attention – although many would argue that is the case for all eleven tracks. It signals the work of a man on top form at present, perhaps even topping Getting Me Down. A pounding rhythm formed from extensive drum programming, complete bass heavy kicks and timely snares, is wonderfully offset by brooding synths that over roar beside an emotive female cry. It’s quite simply a contemplative killer. Addison Groove is testament also to the importance of electronic drum programming music, a trait that has become all the more apparent over the past 6 months or so – sounds pushed particularly by the likes of Swamp81, 502 Recordings and Hessle themselves. Fuk Tha 101 is very much situated in the current age, with Addison working a deadly 808 groove that will make dancers bounce. The quick fire Juke-infused sample repeatedly asserts “Fuk Tha 101”, a powerful combination which Williams manages to balance with a signature introspective melody, providing the track with room to breathe amongst the pounding 808 business.
Whilst acknowledging the new sounds and mutations that have descended upon the debated UK bass/dance scene in recent, the vinyl edition makes room for the D1’s Subzero, one of the most underrated dubstep dub’s out there. Its percussion is simple yet unquestionably effective, with an intimate interplay between snares and hi hats between the spacious left by each drowning kick. The track’s location in the centre of the new material is telling, and suggests the impact the style has had on this new generation of producers and sounds.
This concept is further explored when you compare the works of certain artists who have produced material situated on both sides of the release. Cosmin TRG may just be the strongest example of a producer whose sound has developed with current trends and mutations. Put You Down (released back in June 2008) harks back the low swung 2-step/garage of El-B et al - a style that obviously retains strong ties to the dubstep scene. The track’s propulsive 2-step rhythm acts as the focal points, around which sub lines forever simmer beneath a persistent vocal sample. Cosmin’s most recent addition is provided by Bijoux, a track with deeper ties to more recently explored house sounds. Bijoux carefully constructs effortlessly smooth rhythm that borders on the fault lines between house and garage, whilst a blissful chord melody induced, providing arguably one of the most soulful moments on the LP – although James Blake and Joe have just as strong a case.
I could go on discussing my love for the tracks featured on this compilation. I haven’t even yet mentioned the brilliance of James Blake’s efforts, or the refreshingly original efforts Joe has savoured for the label – new track ‘Twice’ is a highlight from the LP. However, it really isn’t about the individual tracks or artists featured here. This is a compilation, and something more is required than collating a number of tracks from various releases a label has put out, a facet one too many compilations have suffered from in the past. 116 & Rising evades such downfalls, and provides one of the most enjoyable listens you will experience in 2011. It is a fitting representation of the label, a unique imprint which in dictates a strong sense of identity and unity within its releases, a correlation which can established in relation to the first and second CDs. It’s a compilation which documents Hessle’s best work to date, but goes further in ensuring that the organisation of such material is structured to underscore the very distinctiveness of one of the UK’s finest independent labels. The 3x12 and 2xCDs are simply indispensable.
Praise should also be reserved for Will Bankhead (Trilogy Tapes), who has designed Hessle's finest artwork to date. If you're not familiar with Bankhead's work, get to know it. He's a regular on artwork for Honest Jons and the previous Doldrums releases (002, 003), the latter of which as so beautifully presented. It's the perfect meeting of art and music.
1. Elgato – Music (Body Mix)
2. Untold – Cool Story Bro
3. Blawan – Potchla Vee
4. Pearson Sound – Stifle
5. Joe – Twice
6. Randomer – Brunk
7. Pangaea – Runout
8. Cosmin TRG – Bijoux
9. D1 – Subzero
10. Addison Groove – Fuk Tha 101
11. James Blake – Give A Man A Rod
12. Peverelist – Sun Dance
1. Pangaea – You & I
2. Untold – Test Signal
3. Blawan – Fram
4. James Blake – Buzzard And Kestrel
5. Untold – I Can’t Stop This Feeling
6. Joe – Rut
7. Ramadanman – Blimey
8. TRG – Put You Down
9. Joe – Level Crossing
10. Pangaea – Why
11. TRG – Broken Heart (Martyn’s DMC Remix)
12. Ramadanman – Don’t Change For Me