Send me your track


Shackleton - Fabric 55



Over the last half decade, Sam Shackleton has gradually honed his take on the UK’s garage/dubstep sounds into his own distinct brand of hypnotic yet haunting bass music. Skull Disco, the label Shackleton founded along with his friend Appleblim, became an island of creative experimentation in an increasingly diluted sea of annoying dubstep ‘womp’ (or wobble…whatever). Now defunct, Skull Disco and its militant shaman spirits were not forgotten: Shackleton’s next experiments were captured in the form of a 2009 full-length album release for the venerable Perlon imprint.

More recently, Shackleton’s live sets have garnered widespread praise, and his successful appearances at London’s fabric club earned him the rights to this, fabric 55: a live set and the artist’s most successful realization of his sound to date, as well as a wonderful hint of where he might go in 2011 and beyond with his new projects (including a new label, Woe to the Septic Heart, whose sounds are featured here). In 22 continuous tracks and 75 minutes, he draws a challenging course through a jungle of warm, organic percussion and narcotic, effects-laden vocals and melodies, weaving through sections of familiar, officially released material and others that are unreleased (some of which, he says, will never be released).

“You’re beginning to come up,” a high-pitched but hushed voice intones with the set-opening “Come Up”, as acoustic drums warm up and set the 135bpm pace. Sharp handclaps join in and a few minutes later a sped-up, dubbed-down bassline rises insistently from below. A brief but foreboding “Moon Over Joseph’s Burial” gives way to “Hypno Angel” and an achingly mournful hymn. Then, trademarks of Shackleton’s style: reverberating percussion is pitched up and down to create a disturbing sort of chromatic melody, and the hymn is subjected to its own modulations and long, psychedelic echoes, emphasized by the huge sense of space between the sparse percussion. A well-placed interlude eases the tension, before a swirl of noise and off-beat drums move into “Operatic Waves”, a new groove with subtle strings and shrieks… and a new voice spitting out short, stern, condescending messages.

Soon, the listener is dropped into “Negative Thoughts”, with its motivational sermon juxtaposed – and again modulated and looped – against a rising series of keyboard flourishes. This leads to a Skull Disco classic, “Death Is Not Final”; originally a slow tribal stomp, here it’s noticeably sped up, and it moves back into unfamiliar territory with the odd (at times almost angelic) choral exclamations of “International Fires”. Next, the listener learns that “everyone starts from point one,” according to another vocal loop; with “Deadman” this simple message brings the set to one of its more intense moments. Sharp droning chords become more and more dense and the vocal is twisted and splayed out at odd angles over a rhythm that constantly bottoms out with a deep bass-line and kick-drum attack.

Another interlude has the same speaker from “Negative Thoughts” drop in again for a quick word of advice, while Shackleton brings in a suite of material from his new record, Man on a  string 1 and 2. Simple, bass-fronted grooves maintain the pace, with occasional solo flurries from the drums, as a whole bunch of granulated, incoherent vocal snippets and melodies build into a swirling chaos… and then a simple question slowly emerges, itself twisted upward and suffocated by effects processing.

A series of gorgeous chords briefly float into the mix before the machine-gunning bass and synth stabs of “Ice”, which quickly moves into more material from the Man on a String 1 and 2 record: the strange, light, percussive melodies and elastic vocalizing of “Busted Spirit”. The set next arrives at the droning oscillations and chants of “Bottles”. Things calm down a bit as vocal sounds are woven around the drums, which gradually intensify before almost everything falls silent, summoning the voodoo exclamations and deep bass modulations of “New Dawn”. For me, this a transition from new material to old marks a definite highlight in the mix.

The end is near, as a spoken-word story, describing a particularly strange gentleman, is layered over more foreboding tones, which curl around the reduced, hypnotic drums of “Massacre”; this percussion races through set-closer “Stripped” as Shackleton makes one final push before pulling almost everything away, leaving behind little more than a hollowed-out atmosphere and a final, reassuring message from a now-familiar voice.

Shackleton’s fabric 55 set shows the artist experimenting and enhancing his sound as he moves – or maybe, given the pace of this mix, he runs – away from dubstep and really any other established dance music ‘genre’. It is hard to describe this set as good or bad; as Shackleton says shyly in the interview notes, it’s not for everyone. Personally, I find this set quite addicting. I think it hurls itself forward with purpose, and for such interesting (read: druggy/insane) sounds, I don’t think the artist ever becomes too self-indulgent; all of the dramatic moments are, in my opinion, precisely executed. At the very least, it should be sufficient to say that fabric 55 successfully recalls Shackleton’s past, and looks forward to a future sound that continues to defy easy description.

Brian Kolada

Reader Comments

There are no comments for this journal entry. To create a new comment, use the form below.

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>
« The Fun Years - God was like, No | Main | Brian Eno - Small Craft on a Milk Sea »