Sheffield is a city apart. In the 1980s, it was socialism that made the so-called People's Republic of South Yorkshire stand out. Today, it is the city's tight-knit music scene. While the local underground has generally been notable for its eclectic open-mindedness—as evinced by legendary club nights such as NY Sushi and Kabal—Sheffield music from whatever genre has also, simultaneously, pivoted around two key features: heavy electronics and bruising bass. You can hear that shared sonic DNA in sources as disparate as early Human League and Warp Records, Bozzwell and, latterly, the city's love of bassline. There is also a keen interest in reggae locally. In the electroclash era, Sheffield's White Trash and Fat Truckers were powered not by tinny beats, but tough rhythms—a sound you could call the Sheffield Shunt—that mimicked hard, half-stepping Jamaican ragga. This is how Pulp's Steve Mackey and scene stalwart Ross Orton came to write "Galang" for MIA. rhythm
At first glance, Sheffield's most recent break-out star, Toddla T, might seem distinct from that lineage. This clown prince at the crossroads of dubstep and electro, urban pop and hip-hop is, surely, more a product of the post-everything, Web 2.0 world? In fact, Tom Bell is utterly rooted in his environment. Scratch the surface of his music and you can trace an obvious path back from his jump-up, shout-out Jaxx-like tracks, to Cabaret Voltaire's attempts to echo the sound of the area's steel mills.
Watch Me Dance: Agitated reasserts Toddla as Sheffield's native son. A wholesale re-versioning of his last album by his musical mentors—the aforementioned Orton and DJ Pipes—it strips the tracks back to their potent essentials: punchy drums, fathoms-deep bass and what Toddla has previously identified as, "this Sheffield clangy thing." Vocals from the likes of Roots Manuva and Shola Ama are retained, to varying degrees, as a sweetener. "Streets Get Warmer," led by an indignant, politically-charged Wayne Marshall, sees the brutal Sheffield aesthetic (essentially, digital ragga crossbred with classic bleep techno) employed to maximum dance floor effect. "Take It Back," in contrast, harks back, brilliantly, to the raw Chicago vocal house of Ralphi Rosario. "Lose Control" is a Gameboy grime track of spiralling avant-garde energy, recast in Sheffield electro. "Body Good" is how Nicki Minaj would sound were she working with Richard X. Both, like the provocatively three-note repetitive, "Watch Me Dub," bring the ruckus with a contagious, Major Lazer-style energy.
Agitated flags, eventually. Using the same toolkit, Orton and Pipes don't quite manage to dramatically reboot the slower "Heavy Girl," or "I'm Agitated." However, there is a lot of pleasure to unpack here. The Steel City retains its unique edge.
Tracklist: Toddla T - Watch Me Dance: Agitated by Ross Orton & Pipes 01. Fly
02. Streets Get Warmer
03. Watch Me Dub
04. Take It Back
05. Lose Control
06. Body Good
07. Cherry Pickling
08. Badder Man Runs
09. I'm Agitated
11. Heavy Girl
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