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White Noise: DJ Diamond – Flight Muzik

Sunday, 14 August 2011

DJ Diamond – Flight Muzik

Label: Planet Mu

The recent spate of footwork LPs, such as this and Machinedrum's excellent Room(s) may cause those just learning about the genre to ask why the Chicago juke scene has inspired such deeply experimental and abstract music on such a large stage, or even why label Planet Mu is pushing it out there so hard. Hopefully for those still asking, DJ Diamond's debut LP can bridge the gap between dance experimentalism and the electronic home-listening album by marrying the imperative movement in these tracks with the precision and attention to detail only found in the most obsessive beat-choppers.

For what are essentially tracks based on dance genres to work as an album, the mixing and sequencing is key. Luckily here the listener is given an LP where all of this has been taken into account, the tracks are formed like a DJ set with few discernible intros or outros, separating individual tracks and varying styles while keeping the general mood between cuts comparable enough to never feel particularly jarring. This seems an appropriate way to mix an album of footwork tracks, a genre so stripped and trippy that conventional song structure or sequencing couldn't have worked.

It's hard to isolate highlights as all the tracks bring their own unique nuances onto the established footwork style of shifting synths overlaid with aggressive percussion and repetitive vocal sampling, typically embodied in one of the straighter cuts, Pop The Trunk or fantastic early cut Vibe. What makes DJ Diamond's LP special is both the breadth of his stylistic influence and the attention to detail found across the album, seen everywhere from the taut bassline of Horns to the gorgeously shifting percussive noises and strings of Go Hard. Each track is a concise burst of tense energy, never going on too long and always accompanied by disciplined composition and an acute awareness of space in the sound, ensuring the listener is never completely overloaded.

Throughout the LP vocals and synths are clipped so finely that the music feels constantly unsettled, such as in standout opener Rep Yo Clique, but luckily Diamond's movement between samples is controlled enough that the songs unsettle but do not overwhelm, just as good footwork should, keeping production skills and dance-friendliness in the foreground. This is key, as by crafting an album rather than a set of singles Diamond has put a foot in the home listening market where production quality is more important and listeners are just as attentive to the detail and nuance of a track as its force and dance-ability. In Flight Muzik he has taken both needs to heart, as this album has both the high-end production that modern electronic music demands in order to highlight the skill and precision behind it alongside plenty of the weird sounds you only really get in bedroom productions, resulting in a happy 'best of both worlds' situation. This precision has to be partially down to his sample-based approach which allows him complete control to essentially chop everything to tiny slices of rhythm and melody and rebuild a swaying, dynamic sound that never slows even for a moment.

The breadth of styles Diamond has taken on is often spectacular, the bitter bass and slippy percussion of Torture Rack recalls the filth of stripped grime, following standout Decoded melts hard-nosed house and almost-hilarious trance chords into a swirling mass where there's nothing solid to hold on to, which is pretty much the goal of the genre where the speed of the melodic and beat changes is only matched by the blurred legs of those dancing to it. Elsewhere the heavy, minimal post-dubstep of Wreckage really emphasises the excellent middle belt the LP has to offer, and as it brushes up against the micro-edits of Digimon you'll be amazed at just how much rhythm and disparate stylistic influences Diamond can take in, reconstruct and put back out in so few tracks. Each track genuinely wows by itself, from the soul sample allowed to blare out before being chopped to microsamples in Snare Fanfare to the nausea-inducing vocals and irregular snares of Speakerz 'n' Tonguez.

This is clearly an album crafted with an enormous amount of skill and there a lot of great individual tracks here as well as an impressive whole, so it leaves me with only one more question to ask. For a genre so embedded in the juke scene that created it, how does footwork stand up in an LP which clearly isn't simply focussed on getting crowds moving but also being a stimulating home listen? There's no simple answer. Fans of J Dilla and his admirable legacy will enjoy the super-short tracks across the album in themselves as well as part of a whole and appreciate them for their concise expression. However I feel that others may find too little to hold onto here, even the simplest and most percussive of the shorter tracks such as the sweet Uh could sound like a mere teaser to someone who finds the entire genre alien. But at the same time, you can't get into every genre on a cursory listen, and this is certainly one of the broadest and most cohesive footwork LPs out there, so I'd definitely recommend giving this more than a single listen before deciding it's 'not for you'. And lastly, for those able to deal with the constantly shifting sound and who can take in the meticulously detailed production all in one go, you'll already be loving it, and the only problem will be working out how the average Joe can dance to it.


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