In 2013, what separates UK bass from house music? Mark Gurney's 2nd Drop Records has historically been a harbinger for the former, hosting early records from Ramadanman, DjRum and LV, but never quite gaining wide recognition for it. As the UK dialogue has veered off into house, the formerly dubstep-centric label finds itself in a bit of grey area. Future Foundations, its first full-length release, seeks to define 2nd Drop by its current roster. But what it ends up showing us is that its identity is just as in flux as the scene it's a part of.
"Future" is an ambiguous term. Is it meant to be predictive? And if so, of what—the label, or UK dance music? It seems like 2nd Drop is actively resisting turning into a straight-up house label, instead cherry-picking swung or uptempo bass tracks from the UK's new generation of house stars. Sometimes it works—Alex Coulton's clamorous opener "Grande Swing" sets up a strong foundation. But sometimes it doesn't—the slow pendulum swing of Last Magpie's "Without You" keeps its lead feet stubbornly on the ground, with a hammy vocal that weighs it down like a sopping wet coat. South London Ordnance, in the midst of building his name on agile techno, turns in the drowsy "Daphne." The bloated waltz moves so slowly it seems like he's stalling as he tries to figure out where to go next.
Future Foundations is actually at its best when it avoids the polar ends of straight-up house and garage-indebted bass music. The ever-inventive DjRum turns in a slow-motion whirlwind of dislocated drum & bass basslines and operatic vocal snippets. Manni Dee & Deft cinch it with "This One, Art Of The Possible," closing the LP with a splash of cold water after the long warm bath that came before. At 160 BPM, it's not quite footwork and it's not quite drum & bass. While the music here is undeniably solid, it's rarely as exciting as the moment of genius it closes with.