The past year and a half has seen the so-called “new wave of instrumental grime” turn into a tsunami: from the spacey atmospherics of the Keysound family, to the colorful, wacky worlds of Goon Club Allstars and the Boxed crew, to the classic UKG vibes repped by Butterz, to Visionist and Strict Face’s sadboy soundscapes, to the post-Club Constructions hybrids coming from the Gang Fatale/Her Records axis, there’s enough quality grime out there to make your head spin. What’s even better (or worse, depending on how manic you get about this sort of thing) is that all those descriptors are just arbitrary markers to help make sense of a remarkably interconnected global scene of DJs, producers, and label bosses playing (and releasing) each other’s tracks.
Meanwhile, in the MC-led waters where the genre began more than a decade ago, things have been moving at a practically glacial pace in comparison. Sure, Flowdan’s been reaching new audiences thanks to a release on Hyperdub — “That’s Not Me” is an absolute firecracker of a tune — and Wen’s collaboration with Riko Dan resulted in one of the gulliest tracks of the year, but where are all the fresh-faced MCs? Languishing in the underground limbo of basement clashes and YouTube cyphers? That’s where Mumdance comes in, delivering one of the new wave’s most essential statements yet in the form of “Take Time,” a collaboration with 17-year-old Lewisham upstart Novelist.
The beat begins as a simple enough kick pattern before erupting into a minimalist mix of square wave stabs and spinbacks. Although it’s not entirely without sonic reference, sounding a bit as if Untold had set the phasers of “Anaconda” to “brutally murder” rather than merely “stun,” that’s not really the point. Mumdance’s deft production skills ply open the usual eski template and reinvent it as an offshoot of electroacoustic music in much the same way that Jam City gleefully ripped apart the Night Slugs aesthetic nearly two years ago on Classical Curves. Think of it as “909 qua puking, sputtering box-o’-sound” rather than “909 qua drum machine.” It’s an abstract, difficult beat full of the empty space that frequent collaborator Logos deployed to great effect on last year’s Cold Mission.
However, where Logos left those nooks and crannies tantalizingly empty, Mumdance lets Novelist’s breakneck, off-the-cuff flow fill in the cracks. Casually dissing the empty consumerism of other MCs and repping the laidback lifestyle comes easy for the young man, a clearly talented wordsmith with a knack for bouncing his voice in just the right spot. Compared to his similarly skilled peers in the Square, it seems as if Novelist has pulled ahead of the pack based almost entirely on intensity and charisma. Oh, and he also produces (with an instrumental EP on Oil Gang under his belt as of this week), giving him an almost unfair edge for freestyling with a leftfield man like Mumdance. The instrumental is included as the last cut on this release, which certainly will increase the shelf-life of this 12-inch in many a DJ’s record bag, but it frankly only highlights just how brilliant Novelist’s version really is.
Thankfully, though, the remaining two instrumental tracks on here find Mumdance working at full throttle, crystallizing and deconstructing the sound of instrumental grime in 2014 all at once. “The Sprawl” takes an array of stop-start sounds (lasers, cans opening, doors slamming, etc.) and morphs them into what is easily the weirdest club riddim that UK bass stalwarts Rinse have ever put out. “Don’t Get Lemon,” a collaboration with scene veteran Spyro, stands out against the other tracks, wobbly and uncertain before dropping into a jarring (anti)breakdown that borrows heavily from Slackk’s palette of dramatic strings and rain samples. Even here, Mumdance shows that he’s adept at keeping tunes glued together with only a few rock-solid elements. All in all, it’s an essential 12-inch from a multifaceted master. Having recently dropped mixes of classic ‘ardkore and Egyptian Mahraganat, announced a new label with Logos, been accepted into Red Bull Music Academy’s Class of 2014, and posted updates from the studio with the likes of Pinch, Traxman, Cashmere Cat, and John Twells, it’s a safe bet that Mumdance could very well become the key voice in the shape of grime to come.