Review: Various Artists – Blue Gold [YUKU Music]

Various Artists – Blue Gold

Over the past few years, YUKU has put out an eclectic and flavoursome range of electronic music, with an aim to stand against the digital reduction of listening and encourage its artists and listeners to explore the depths of their creativity. Their latest compilation, Blue Gold, brings together three of the label’s innovative producers: Alex Banks, War and Woulg for a rich and varied sonic journey.

Opening up the EP, Alex Banks delivers two atmospheric heaters with detailed and intricate sound design yearning for the soundsystem. The EP opens with the dubby rhythms of ‘Vire’, with eerie chopped and layered vocals giving it a floaty and melancholic feel. However, this ambience is quickly undercut by a striking and heavy synth line building into a driving climax which maintains the stylistic underpinnings of the opening.

Followed by forward thinking techno cut ‘Awake’, Banks highlights the range of his production abilities, switching seamlessly from certified body-movers to spaced out pads, his sound design is intricate and disparate, yet his tracks are fluid, bringing the listener up smoothly before dropping them into the molten pools of sound that his luscious synths provide.

Alex Banks at Mixmag’s The Lab LDN

Following Banks’ spectacular opening couplet, Montreal based Woulg steps up with ‘Steady’. Whilst its opening is reminiscent of popular dance-floor heaters of the last couple of years, Woulg quickly reveals his commitment to sonic subversion, with skippy rhythms and slowly modulating synths crafting a soundscape which is constantly evolving and morphing into something new, something unexpected and amorphous.

Woulg’s hazy and dense synths provide the glue which binds these disparate and deconstructed rhythmic passages together, leaving space for the drums to take up the forefront of the piece. His second track on the EP, ‘I Will Stop’, again brings deconstructed and glitchy rhythms, this time with an even darker feel. The drumwork consistently throws off the listener, with an intensity unlike that of ‘Steady’. The final recapitulation really yearns for the dance-floor, but it is short-lived, with the experimental and glitch-filled opening taking up the majority of the track. It might not be perfect for the club, but Woulg delivers an exposition of his forward-thinking production here, with two tracks that require your full attention, surprising even the most experienced listeners.

Woulg’s previous releases have been experimental, often accompanied by stunning visual art videos

Tasked with following these rich and subversive tracks is War. Starting with the left-field groover, ‘One Question’, War brings us into a dark space perfect for the club. The balance struck between a straight groover and the extra flavour seen in Woulg and Banks’ contributions really crystallises the approach of the release. Bringing a stomping house beat, ‘One Question’ is an instant head-bopper, but with the surfacing of ethereal synths, War brings it back to the experimental and refreshing approach of the release.

The EP’s closing track, ‘Twice Removed’, does in fact feel quite removed from the rest of the release. This melodic house cut harks back to the sounds of 90s underground house, yet is fused with War’s minimal approach. Whilst it does provide a smooth and laid back end to the EP, with lovely and vivid keyboard layering, it does feel somewhat removed from the experimentation and playful approaches shown in the tracks preceding it, as its title suggests.

Blue Gold takes the listener on a journey from the dark, gritty sound design of Alex Banks, all the way up to the luscious keys of War’s closing track. The artists fuse somewhat disparate styles whilst maintaining a commitment to keeping the listener on their toes, constantly modulating rhythms and subverting our expectations.

These tracks would stand out in any set, and I think that’s what YUKU’s going for here; to craft sounds that require the listener’s full attention and won’t simply slip into the depths of a playlist or a radio set. It’s refreshing to see producers standing against the digital commodification of music we are all living through, and the YUKU crew take a big sonic step in fighting back against this trend, going distinctly against the grain with a strikingly recognisable set of tracks.

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