Hype Williams – One Nation
Clams Casino – Instrumental Mixtapes #1-3

These recordings represent the point where the tastes of the Brighton Mindless  meet with those of their Scottish counterparts.  The Brighton boys generally like to listen to recordings of ghostly mops being thrashed till they whimper, while their friends in the North prefer a mix of hip-hop and rock that can only be described using words that start with the letter “A”arty, angular, American, or just plain old arsey will usually do the trick. [1]

It was one of my Southern friend who first introduced me to Hype Williams’ One Nation, a collection of electric dreams that sometimes sounds like the work of a mind trying to think its way out of existence. If the strangely absent sound of the instruments on album opener ‘Ital’ provide a suitably morbid build-up to this concept, then the pitched down narration that runs through the second track ‘Untitled’ literalises it:

The people who are still alive when you die might hurt because you are gone. That is okay.  People love other people and usually it hurts when people we love die.  We even comfort ourselves with those stories that the dead person is… not really dead, and that is okay too.

But of course everyone dies, and you will too…

There’s something of the live band about this, a sense that these songs are happening in the moment, the work of minds and bodies that are reacting to their immediate situation. A lot of this has to do with the halting, tentative quality of the synth playing – set against the generally spacey, metronomic thud of the beat, the melodies have an uncertain quality to them, a sense that they are being recorded before they have finalised.   Consider, in contrast, the work of some of Hype Williams’ contemporaries – most Burial tracks aspire to the condition of field recordings in their attempt to chronicle the long, dark club night of the soul, while Actress tracks are more often than not are conceived like static landscapes, revealing detail through time and close examination rather than movement.  

The tracks on One Nation are similar to those on Ghettoville or Rival Dealer in that they provoke the sense that you’re listening to something that is almost not there, but where those other artists strive through this effect primarily through tricks of texture and structure that elide the distinction between different sonic elements, Hype Williams do so through a mix of texture and performance that maintains their distinction.

To state it another way: ‘Come Down to Us’ and ‘Skyline’ sound like places that you may or may not have come into contact with, while the songs on this album sound like interactions that may or may not be happening now, in real time.  This approach isn’t necessarily superior to ones deployed by Burial or Actress, whose distinct approaches I’ve come painfully close to blurring into each other here, for shame – their work is perhaps more immersive than Hype Williams’, but while you catch site of various Others on the edge of your perception while dealing with their work, listening to One Nation feels a lot like an encounter with a specific Other. [2]

Sometimes, this Other seems tranquil about its own potential absence, such as on the aforementioned ‘Untitled’ track, but my personal favourite run of tracks comes near the end of One Nation, at the point where ‘Mitsubishi’ immerses distressed, backmasked sighs into its in-out backing track, before exploding out into the wild whistle call of ‘Jah’, which recalls Archie Hind’s description of the death twitches of freshly killed cow in The Dear Green Place, “the possible moment of consciousness, when the head loosened and the animal took that last great breath through the chittering windpipe.” [3]

Stripped of the rap vocals for which they were (mostly) originally composed, the tracks on Clams Casino’s three Instrumental Mixtapes create a similar effect.  

Strangely, given their origins as rhythms for rappers to ride, Clammy Clams’ production has perhaps more in common with the soundscapes of Burial or Actress than it does with Hype Williams’ snap and echo. Clams Casino beats tend to rise and fall as part of the instrumentation around them, with the snap of the drums sounding like the thud of a human heartbeat, an intimate part of the ragged exhalation that accompanies it.

Take, for example, the song ‘Hell’ from the third mixtape, which sounds so much louder and more distorted here than it did when A$AP Rocky and Santigold sang and rhymed on top of it, and which nevertheless has a gentle, organic feeling to its rise and fall – an effect not entirely dissimilar to the one produced by Hype Williams’ ‘Mercedes’. [4]

Other tacks like ‘Palace’ (from the second Intrumental Mixtape; also originally composed for A$AP Rocky) and ‘Numb’ (from the first Mixtape; otherwise unreleased) literalise this organic effect by drawing out samples of human voices beyond their usual span, and making killer beats out of human breath.  Listen to these songs on your headphones while commuting to work on a hungover Monday morning and you’ll find yourself looking over your shoulder to find out who’s been whispering away at it – and trust me, I’m speaking from experience on this front! 

The texture of these mixtapes matches the fleeting, performative quality of One Nation for the sense of fleeting individual mortality that’s evoked.  And if it seems unlikely that such fragile records should draw so many rappers to them, just listen to the remix of Janelle Monae‘s ‘Cold War’ from the first Instrumental Mixtape and ask yourself what you hear. Me? I hear the sound of a lone voice, calling out in the darkness, demanding a response…

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FOOTNOTES:

[1] In this first paragraph I set out a theme that will become increasingly important as you make your way through these footnotes: my inability to do justice to my subjects.

While they’re a bit more into the whole hauntology thing than me, the English Mindless have musical tastes far more diverse than my “live from the haunted broomcupboard” jibes allow. As a slightly cross Amypoodle once told me after a day’s worth of trolling back at Mindless HQ, he listens to music that draws on everything from house to grime and beyond, and his beard is *definitely* not haunted.

Similarly, while it’s true that myself and the Bottie Beast share a fondness for American rock and hip-hop, the same can’t be said for Mister Attack, who was officially 200% more Scottish than me last time I checked.

Also: London based The Beast Must Die is every bit as hip-hop savvy as the Dundonian Beast, and despite occupying the geographical midway point between the camps I set out in this opening Andre Whickey has tastes of his own that have been well documented elsewhere.

This first paragraph is total bollocks, basically, and this post would almost certainly read more smoothly without it.

“Why’s it still here then,” I hear you ask.  Well, it’s all about signs of life, innit? Organic traces, the fleeting thoughts of decaying matter, etc.  Or at least, that’s what I’m telling myself today!

[2] Like most any “Other” you could care to mention, One Nation is a lot more complicated than my crude reduction of it.  My worst crime in this regard comes from my total failure to mention the sense of humour that runs through the artist’s name, into some of the track titles, and indeed into some of the specific techniques 

Let’s be kind to my overall thesis by saying that humour is a part of all aspects of life, and that this playfulness is yet another example of One Nation’s engagement with its own fleeting nature.

[3] Hind’s book is one of the great novels of and about Glasgow, and while I might only have picked it up because I was working on a project with the same title (and, as it turned out, some elements of the same premise!) but I’m not taking the opportunity to recommend it to anyone who’s ever struggled with the question of what they’re here for and ended up more interested in the “here” than the “they”. 

[4] Again, I’m guilty of hammering some of the edges off of Clams Casino’s sound in order to better make it fit my thesis here.  It’s not that my take on his music is in any way untrue so much as it’s only a selective portrait.  Clammy Clams’ music bangs, plain and simple, and ‘Palace’ is a good example of this but it’s hardly the only one

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