After some philosophically questionable releases from the likes of Zomby and Machinedrum, it’s been hard not to wonder recently how much more ghetto-influenced electronic music the scene can support from comfortably distanced aesthetes. But the fact that Misty Conditions is the pairing of arch-pranksters Henry Collins and Richard Wilson — both veterans of Planet Mu (as Shitmat and Burnkane, respectively) and responsible for all manner of breakcore mayhem in their time — gives some indication of the slightly less po-faced nature of D’zzzz. In fact, if that snoozy album title is anything to go by, they seem bored of the whole shtick too.
To some extent, this is parody by one-upmanship: from the elephant on the cover to the dismal-sounding tracklist, Misty Conditions adopt wholesale the cartoonishly heavy aesthetics that are the bread and butter of grime and trap fetishists. Lead single “Dank” continues the joke, further blackening trap’s signature 808s — big, booming kicks and pitched, syncopated snares — with screeching feedback and a moronically repetitive voice to create something utterly joyless. Like how Aphex Twin’s “Come to Daddy” was of the Prodigy’s then-popular “psycho-rave” style, “Dank” is a reductio ad absurdum of today’s vogue for trap music.
It’s a smart trick, but thankfully it’s not the only thing on offer. Having taken the style to such an extreme, Misty Conditions are free for the rest of the album to play with its sounds, reclaiming and re-contextualizing them at will. It’s not that they are unbothered by cultural specificity — Collins’ previous projects have all been, in one way or another, bizarro takes on Britishness — but here, as outsiders, they seek to place their chosen music in much wider contexts than are usually considered.
One aspect of this is the rediscovery of the 808’s long history in dance music: it is easy to forget, given its current ubiquity, that the drum machine has been with us for over 30 years and has been at the forefront of countless other new trends in the past. So “Drizzle” plays with Drexciyan electro and “Drowning” with Artificial Intelligence-era electronica, while “D’mmmm” and “Damiana” offer forays into the ferocious free-party styles of gabber and acid. These elements undermine the seriousness of so many ghetto-fixated fakers by highlighting the sounds’ historical links with much quirkier (and often actually heavier) styles.
Another aspect is the ironic counterpointing of the sounds with apparently unrelated ones from around the world. D’zzzz was apparently a long-distance collaboration, with the pair sending their contributions back and forth across the Atlantic, and it willfully challenges the music’s usual London-, Atlanta-, or Chicago-centric attitudes. The percussion sounds that augment “Dusco,” “Drizzle,” and “Death” may be African, Latin-American, or Indian in origin, but their cross-rhythms jar and jive with the otherwise Anglo-American electronics, transforming the darkness with unexpected life. Again, the effect is destabilizing: the contexts of grime, trap, and rest are not ignored, but they are knocked off their pedestal and placed in a wider, global perspective.
Without demeaning the plight of those genuinely “trapped” in their tough situations, then, D’zzzz delivers a healthy dig at anyone tempted to fix, perpetuate, or fetishize their aesthetics. At times, on tracks like “Demonoid” and the too-brief “Death,” it approaches the styles of some of the scenes’ true innovators — the strange architecture of Jam City or RP Boo, the clattering roll of Peverelist, the brashness of Dizzee’s Boy in da Corner — but this seems almost coincidental. Misty Conditions are really doing their own thing, reminding us that it is creativity itself, and not any specific form, that is worthy of emulation.