Somewhere between a producer showcasing beats to attract the right vocal contribution and a rapper trawling the internet for free mixes to vibe on, there exists an obscure space. It’s a high-yielding middle ground that a number of talented artists call home, yet it operates in a domain that’s open for almost anybody to contribute to. Some of the more expected consequences occur in the former category, where lesser-known musicians present their efforts as digital albums that are often available for free or at least allow you to “name your price.” These are beat tapes in the traditional sense; a series of short, sample-based mixes firmly rooted in hip-hop miscellany that expose a structure appealing to lyricists.
Despite the orthodox styles that tend to come embedded within the online proliferation of these mixes, or perhaps even because of them, the most mainstream approaches feed into environments rife with subversion. That’s where intriguing stylistic tendencies bloom, where each piece exists as an intended instrumental, for the very sake of the beat and the fashion in which it’s framed.
On the furthest possible frontier of that domain sits SLF Tapes, a Brighton-based, beat-oriented label responsible for an oddball batch of artists who utterly mangle the preferences of standard production while adhering to the hip-hop substructure in which this phenomenon is rooted. Dating back to October 2011, the SLF website encompasses a blog of deleted audio, haphazard imagery, Bandcamp streams, and broken download links. Although it continues to exhibit earlier material from the terrific LAN ODYSSEY, cblpku, and something called MAGIC FAT GIRL 2, the label is constantly shifting itself through the rugged, lo-fi terrain of damaged tape aesthetics that it wholeheartedly adheres to.
Leading the way through this gorgeous digital junkyard is a wonderfully prolific gent whose identity folds incoherently within the list of monikers adopted for recording; SUSAN BALMAR, _lip, LEWIS CARROL & THE ACADEMY, 0000-A7OU-0075, and WARM THIGHS. The content of these mixes pertain to the same ad-hoc feel as other works brandished on SLF, but regardless of how the music is bracketed, it exposes an incredible gift at handling the technology used to create such mangled and fumbling sounds — for despite the tangled frames these releases inhibit, they are still beat tapes.
A key difference between the SLF modus and any conventional beat aesthetic is an assertive desire to scrunch the sample banks as much as possible. The objective is to create a crippled distortion of original recordings, a feat that is extraordinarily well demonstrated throughout the 12 minutes of WARMTHIGHS 5. The skill lies in being able to hammer out mixes potent enough to cause a fuss, without disrupting the tape’s momentum — check out the looped and screwed vocal on “‘91” or the fractured drum patterns on “STAY WITH ME.” These contortions are achieved through optimizing a profusion of settings, samples, and functions on a limited choice of gear, most blatantly the Roland BOSS SP-202, Roland SP-404, Korg Monotron, and Microkorg. Such high regard is held for the Roland sampler, in fact, that SLF hosted a special Olympics back in 2012, which was dedicated to mixes made using the SP-202 only. Contestants were graded according to a number of factors: speed, length, percussion, adherence to a specific theme, flow, pace, introduction, delay, artwork, sample selection, sample use, and simulator application — all of which indicate just how tricky these things are to master. Although consistently nailing each “category,” WARM THIGHS remains one of the finest practitioners in demonstrating why the execution of his jams is no walk in the park.
At about the same time WARM THIGHS 4 came out, SLF hit up a MediaFire link containing the full discography under that moniker. Lodged within the rugged library of 7- to 9-minute tapes was an original WARM THIGHS recording that featured the first in a mustached man triplet of artwork, as well as a blueprint for the sounds set to follow. In the context of previous material, WARM THIGHS 5 comes as a complement to the ever-mutating SLF catalog. My decision to refrain from harping on about the contents of the latest tape in particular arises from my fondness for the project as a whole, which has altered thematically over time, but has also remained persistently top-notch. Samples stem from commercial pop, soul music, hip-hop, and funk, cobbled together in a fashion that smudges the beats into whatever glossed-out vocals have been laid down alongside them. The garbled slippage that transpires is pummeled through a selection of effects in a process that has been known to occur in a single take, and the contents of this effort far from diverge. So far, each WARM THIGHS joint has exemplified the knack that this young producer demonstrates in handling his equipment and in moving away from conventional forms — he uses his tech as an instrument, which in the context of an industry besotted by software, becomes increasingly more engaging with every release.