Let’s step back a second and reflect on the vastness and granularity of club music. The incredible variety of styles over the years, recombined into new scenes, technical innovations, and DJ sets, dwarfs almost any other genre family, at least in the sheer number of signifiers that DJs and producers have attached to these variations. For many years, distinguishing the boundaries between styles remained somewhat simple, assuming you knew the language, but as the net enabled cross-pollination of geographical scenes and the easy exchange of tracks (not to mention DJ and music production software), it has allowed formerly hermetic communities to include the innovations of the global scene. It’s also opened these scenes to former outsiders: brostep’s square-ish cult still rages on, and regional sounds like Chicago’s juke/footwork can now no longer fly under the radar. Janus, the Berlin party co-helmed by M.E.S.H.’s James Whipple, recently hosted DJ Nigga Fox, a key player in Lisbon’s Afro-Portuguese dance scene, which for many years operated out of housing project apartments. M.E.S.H.’s Scythians EP evidences the collisions between these scenes on the level of production, combining elements of dub, deep house, grime, and even hardstyle trance into an experimental framework.
“Scythians” and “Imperial Sewers” both feature vocal cut-ups that wouldn’t feel out of place on Oneohtrix Point Never’s R Plus Seven, but their context feels much more grounded in the demands of club rhythm than an exploration of a hyperreal, futuristic VR simulation. Even so, the dense layering of audio on Scythians does create unusually spatial relationships for club music. Varying amounts of reverb and echo drench each stratum, the size and level of which determines the location of particular sounds in a simulated sonic space. Each layer seems to occupy a different area, as if Scythians itself is a massive club with different shows occurring in a variety of rooms, linking up with each other along a rhythmic axis. Whipple guides the listener through the complex’s liminal spaces, alternately swelling and burying sounds in the mix as we step through its thresholds.
This sonic geography seems to reflect the physical geography of Whipple’s sources, with the omnipresent kick drum manifesting as the basic foundation of the entire complex. Snare hits echo off the walls in a distant space; melodic passages from hardstyle trance cross the hall to a hip-hop beat as rearing bass lines enter from an even greater distance; a brief vocoder sample even seems to threaten a dubstep drop; the ambient act rounds out the night in the last room, while distant strains of bangers echo in your eardrums. Scythians seems purposefully disorienting, never allowing the listener to reside too long in any particular space, always threatening the primacy of a new sound. Even the drum patterns fail to remain stable, though always in rhythmic lock. As we enter each space and move into it, the complexity of individual sounds deepens, constantly distracting the listener with a new fixation, as if the production were a manifestation of a euphoria-laden psyche struggling to take in the vastness of a festival.
It’s this immense variety within Scythians’ brief runtime that reveals the release’s avant-garde framework. Although never straying into difficult or pretentious territory, it’s doubtful that Scythians’ tracks will find much play outside of Whipple’s own (and his comrades’) sets. Club music ultimately relies on some ease of expectation, on anticipation. It’s especially obvious when the least sophisticated examples reduce the anticipation-release tension into ridiculous, gimmicky bass-dropping. In constantly undermining expectations by exploring so many styles and therefore so many different codes of producer-audience dynamics, Whipple has pushed his hyper-stylizing into the realm of reinterpretation. On Scythians, he doesn’t merely appropriate or borrow styles to integrate into sonic spaces; he uses them against themselves, eroding their original language and combining the results into a novel patois.
This new language still speaks in bass, melody, and rhythm, accessing pleasure centers even as it engages the cerebrum. Like a club Esperanto but without the painful artificiality, this pan-electronic language is becoming a valuable tool for producers across the high-low spectrum that enables them to access and recombine scenes in both intellectual and physical spaces. It’s a globalizing process, but it unites only those who already speak some of its tongue — an untapped world scene that as yet only meets in discrete events. Although Whipple may prefer to keep people moving rather than thinking, Scythians epitomizes the broadening of the club’s system to the headphone, the extension of the dancefloor to the internet. It’s this mind-body complex that Scythians balances, revealing that mental and physical space are one and the same.