Martin Clark has long been mythologizing London's urban landscape through the hardcore continuum, and more recently creating it with his own Keysound label. There's hardly been a better match for Clark's keen mix of the theoretical with the throbbing than London collective LHF, snatched up by Clark for Keysound in 2009 and since releasing three EPs. The seven-strong collective (reduced to four names on their Keysound releases) have a heavily hybridized sound with one foot in DMZ dubstep foundations and the other with a toe in every 'nuum wading pool you could think of. Littered with speech snippets, film clips and all sorts of "ethnic" artifacts, they make for a London-centric, dance-friendly analogue to Demdike Stare. Their debut full-length effort is a hefty two-disc affair, buzzing and humming like a foreign bazaar.
While the group seem largely autonomous in the grand scheme of things, the sound they exhibit on Keepers of the Light owes (or shares) a lot to the "sinogrime" or "sinodub" tradition—the act of incorporating East Asian samples into UK dance music practiced by Kode9, Wiley and Digital Mystikz among others. Apparent from song titles like "Indian Street Slang" and "Sunset (Mumbai Slum Edition)," the group find as much inspiration getting lost in imagined third-world urban sprawls as that of their home city, musically manifesting London's considerable African and South Asian diaspora in a way that dubstep has largely ignored.
LHF's debt to dubstep is primarily a lineal one rather than a literal one, long seven-minute hymns that cycle and repeat with little variation. The percussive patterns are more complex and intricate than most dubstep, hinting at jungle and late '90s/early '00s darkside drum & bass. That latter and oft-ignored period proves dynamite in their hands, creating drum patterns that feel invigoratingly familiar yet are even more excitingly foreign and alien. A track like Amen Ra's "Akashic Visions," with its quick brass-knuckle jabs in the dark, seems to fold in so many narratives at once—jungle agility, neurofunk precision, ambient d&b melodic bliss—that the effect it has is just as dizzying as the wildly unpredictable rhythms themselves. Elsewhere they combine the exoticism of Asian hand percussion with those same urban jungle tropes, exemplified best on Double Helix's "Supreme Architecture," possibly the highlight of the entire 26-track affair. Blending together screaming divas, gunshot snares taken right out of the Eski playbook and rolling percussion that seems to mischievously slip out of one bar and into the next one, it's all interrupted by one of those pseudo-scientific monologues that used to define the most paranoid of weed-saturated classic dubstep.
Indeed, LHF have no shame in retreading the past, and it's odd to see so much palpable excitement and dialogue surrounding what is in some ways a throwback dubstep album in 2012. But Keepers of the Light is so impressive and immersive a statement that it deigns to create its own alternate universe: imagine if drum & bass forked off on an entirely different path than UK garage and eventually dubstep. The group flippantly lifts endless canon samples in their music—no doubt you'll recognize the "higher!" screech in "Blue Steel" from countless hardcore and drum & bass tracks, or Loleatta Holloway's ubiquitous "you got me burnin' up!" in the hellish descent of "Inferno." In the hands of other producers these samples would seem like hopelessly confused and shameless appropriations of raver nostalgia, but here it just feels like they're recontextualizing them into their own world.
It's hard to imagine anyone without an ascetic sort of patience sitting through all 150 minutes of snaking rhythms and tribal paeans, but that's just the kind of thing a group like LHF would expect from listeners in their frightening and fascinating alternate universe. In some ways it's arguably dubstep's first concept album, an expansive and visionary "what if," a dreamscape of a post-globalization, collapsed multicultural society where cultures collide uncontrollably.
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Tracklist: LHF - Keepers of the LightCD 1
01. No Fixed Abode - Secret Lagoon
02. Amen Ra - Steelz
03. Amen Ra - Candy Rain
04. No Fixed Abode - Sunset (Mumbai Slum Edition)
05. Amen Ra - Essence Investigation
06. Double Helix - Supreme Architecture
07. Double Helix - LDN
08. Double Helix - Rush
09. Low Density Matter - Questions
10. Low Density Matter - Blue Steel
11. Amen Ra - Simple Things
12. Amen Ra - Low Maintenance
01. No Fixed Abode - Strangelands
02. Amen Ra - From Whence We Came
03. Amen Ra - Broken Glass
04. No Fixed Abode - Indian Street Slang
05. Amen Ra - Fairytales
06. Amen Ra - Akashic Visions
07. Amen Ra - Hidden Life Force 2
08. Double Helix - No Worries
09. Double Helix - Bass 2 Dark
10. Double Helix - Chamber Of Light
11. Double Helix - Inferno
12. Double Helix - Deep Life
13. Double Helix - Voyages
14. Amen Ra - One Toke Wonder
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