Ikonika - Bodies EP (Don't Be Afraid, 2020)
The utterly compelling narrative continues within Ikonika's musical journey as she releases a stunning saunter through blissed out and tenderly powerful techno.
Music filled with emotion and playfulness is always going to get the blood pumping, and its varying shades have been showcased throughout the ages in a myriad of ways and techniques. Synths and keys have been moving people for a long time now, with the endless amount of manipulation and blends only becoming limited by the imaginations of the person making the music, their creativity and vision guiding the tones and the feels of it all to realms considered beyond reach before. Its about pushing the boundaries of what melody and keys are capable of, of finding and nurturing a voice within a sea of possibility that strengthens through journeys which meander and weave through all manner of spaces and contexts. And that comes through from the music maker's relationship with their hardware, and what they are willing to give over and times give back. This kind of interaction provides so much creativity and depth to develop within a producer's body of work, where time and again we hear familiarity but also a broadened scope to see and feel more, a set of boundaries that remain continually expanding as the sound multiplies and grows forth from simple shoots into bountiful mature trees. Within electronica its important to convey a full range of engagement through the music, as often lyrics are absent so the manner in which keys and drums are co-ordinated and shaped becomes paramount in conveying euphoria or serenity, joyous expressionism or inner reflection, it all boils down to the soundscape being presented through an individualised creative lens and leaving the rest up to us. Depending on what kind of experience we want to take from music, we become drawn to particular producers who craft specific sonic environments for us to loose ourselves in, as to fill in our moods at the time or the room we might be playing to, it helps to have that kind of association established so that people are aware of what is on offer and the possibility of what might flow next. We endear ourselves to particular producers who craft these moments in our lives, their effortless breezes through their creative spectrum providing a window into a shared musicology that is gives over as much as we imprint our ideals into it, an escapism that is facilitated by our passionate wonderings. Melodic and key orientated elements are often the key drivers for all this, as they lay upon beds of rhythm that set the physical tone but not the emotive one, with the nature and feel of the keys acting as a guide through the universe of human emotion, moving us between crossroads and down paths maybe not as well trodden as we would have liked. Its the parts of the track that really speak to us, channelling into the mood zone that helps us to craft an narrative that could be as intricate or simplistic as possible, with its complexity very much dictated by the composition laid out before us. To come across music that shapes our thinking in this way is always a beautiful thing, and it forms the beginning of a connection we have to that producer's sound, one that remains in the back of our minds as life ebbs and flows along, with the twinkling of keys sounding away in the distance, calling us back to revel in it all once more.
In the words of Hyberdub label head Kode9, the draw of Sara Abdel-Hamid's music was its presentation of 'technicolour', and when describing her sound its certainly one of the many visceral descriptions that immediately springs to mind. Releasing music through her Ikonika moniker, Abdel-Hamid has spent a significant amount of time honing a audial narrative that remains very much her own, a journey that has become increasingly compelling since her 2008 debut on Hyperdub, whom she has released frequently on since. From the off, her sound was established as inherently diverse and compelling, with a large emphasis placed on the usage of synths set deep within dubstep and techno laden drumming patterns, which in turn saw a morphing of these two genres into something that remained very much unique to Abdel-Hamid. The joyousness and sheer delight that resonate from much of her work is utterly infectious, with so many sequences expertly woven around each other which provide experiences grounded in loosing yourself, but also presenting themselves as thoughtful and with careful dexterity. There's a blend of not only varying genre stylings but the imprint of her own visions for her music found within each release, with this relationship something which comes off constantly through listening to her records, be it where the blend leans more towards dubstep, or house, or techno, or anything else for that matter, its always bound together by her overarching ideals and musical characteristics. This sentiment is no more evident in her superb usage of synthesisers, that play and interact with one another with boundless energies, as if Abdel-Hamid is conducting the sequences to channel right into the hearts and minds of those who flock to the sounds, utterly transfixed by the display of light, sound and well, 'technicolour'. Its highly inspiring to listen to, as if time and space are slowed as to showcase every little facet of warmth and joy which resonates from her wondrous spread of keys, with her talents on full display on every single cut that comes through on her records. No one does it quite like Sara Abdel-Hamid, and throughout her discography there are so many moments to shine a light on, with some of our favourites including her 2008 debut, 'Millie', that saw Ikonika announced to the world via a highly refreshing take on dubstep; the equally compelling 'Sahara Michael/Fish' record, one gleamed with by now the traditional hallmarks of the Ikonika sound, which came out in 2009; the beautifully varied and sonically intriguing 'Ikonoklast' record, that arrived in 2010; the wickedly melodic and pulsating 'I Make Lists' record, which stands as one of her truest forays into techno yet, with the album arriving in 2012; the sublime tones and flows that run from the 'Position' record, which arrived in 2014; the intensely groovy vibes that ebb with the passages of time on the 'Oral Suspension' record, which landed in 2017; and finally, the dancehall, grime and UK Drill influenced sound that is found within the excellent 'Hollow EP', that arrived earlier this year. With her EPs showcasing snapshots into the musical world of Ikonika, her LPs dive even deeper into an expanded universe featuring all manner of experimentation and exploration, which began with her excellent 2010 release 'Contact, Love, Want, Have', before flowing right into the key driven brilliance of the 'Aerotropolis' LP, which landed in 2013 and really showcased her credentials as a producer to really keep track of, and finally, her latest LP release, 'Distractions', that slide into our view in 2017 and has remained very much within the relevancy ever since, as Ikonika further showcases her abilities with a mix of high octane burners and slow rhythmic saunters through electronica. Both the Rarities Vol 1 and 2, both of which can be found on her bandcamp, are also well worth checking out, with so many slices of gold to be found on both mini albums. In all, Abdel-Hamid weaves a narrative that draws together the best stylings of numerous genres and channels them through a kaleidoscope of her own making, combining the best of UK Bass, dubstep, chiptune, Grime, house and techno into a sound that remains completely compelling to follow as it swerves between differing points in time and space. Its held together effortlessly by the feeling and the atmospheres crafted by Abdel-Hamid, ones that welcome you into the fold like an old friend and melt your heart with their wonderful serenade, moving between the lines effortlessly in order to provide an abundance of emotion which graces us constantly with its presence. If you like your music highly intriguing, indefinitely deep and beaty, and melodically brilliant, then Abdel-Hamid's music is the one for you, and we cannot recommend her stuff more to you.
And now, we turn our attention to the subject of today's review, her latest release to come out on vinyl, 'Bodies', that came out on the Don't Be Afraid label. A record three years in the making, it is probably Ikonika's most techno leaning record yet, and also one of the most personal, with the record's content and release date very much influenced by Abdel-Hamid's recent emotional and maternal experiences, with its introduction to the world coming at a time where she felt in tune and in love once more with her body. As a result, its a deeply profound record, one where the hallmark synth applications remain as present as ever but their tones and swells less dense, less complex and intricate, the focus now turning to the sound of sweeping chord progressions that wash over rather than envelop, that ebb and flow rather than mingle and morph. A inherent beauty runs throughout proceedings, a meander through tones that hit hard with their application and mood, a feeling that emerges which gives over so much to us, reflecting a passion that burns inside all of us, a record that induces compulsive listening not only for its sonics but also for the emotion that runs deep within the core. So, without further delay, lets dive into this wonderful piece of music......
'Your Body' arrives first, and the intro highlights the main top tier of the percussive structures to come. Its not long before the first synth swell slides into view, and its a delicate one to say the least, moving between two chords as its touch remains one of quickly traversing the panning from a small point in order to fill up the whole space. Little key lines punctuate with their deft application, adding little sequences of texture in order to give a strong foundation to the wondrous swells that occur on top. The drums by this point have come full circle, adding a consistent structure within their ranks that provides a fuller sub base for the track to work on top of, and before long we arrive into the first breakdown where we get a moment to pause and reflect on the momentum, and just like that we arrive back into the fullness of the melodic section. The track always builds up and away to the main two chordal swells, their presence never far away even if they are not present for a series of bars, and whenever they arrive back into our view its simply mesmerising. Just everything about this track is pulled off expertly, with so much focus afforded to every single element, crafting an experience that is truly engaging from start to finish. Amazing stuff. Up next comes 'Nobody', and this one begins with the drums and bass line kicking off proceedings within a really dubbed out spectrum indeed. Their interplays are allowed to flow onwards by themselves for a few sequences, but before long the key melodic driver arrives on top, in the form of beautifully considered synths that remain steadfast in their conviction but will remain the core melodic notion within this cut. The evolutions all occur within the foundations, as the drums sweep through little flurries and flickers here and there, content in progressing the track forward with little steps rather than enormous leaps. The track moves into its breakdown of sorts around the 3 minute mark, but quickly picks itself up to transition back into its core structure, with its subtle hypnotic feel easing us into whatever context we might find ourselves within. Sheer dubby bliss.
Up next comes 'What Kinda Pain Are We Talking About', and this one starts off with the highly expressive drums that we all know and love about Ikonika's music. The choppy nature of the kicks crafts a sublime sense of groove, one that contains as much space in the world for future elements to align themselves within, and just like that the arpeggio sequence comes into the picture, laying itself over the bed of intoxicating rhythm with such grace. The main synth riff arrives soon after, helping to craft a sense of emotional presence in the track, whilst also acting as an anchor for the other melodic features to act around. The drums fluctuate with the times, seeing micro evolutions occur frequently in relation to texture and tone, along with the bass line that rises high on occasion with a feel that keeps the blood pumping very fast indeed. Intensely deep, profoundly moving and rhythmically excellent, its an experience you won't forget in a hurry. To wrap things up, we have 'Bodied (Roller Edit)', and this one starts off once more within the deep drumming stylings that have characterised this excellent record. The short melodic note that rings out across the track is a pre cursor of things to come, as the drumming builds and builds in terms of tone and feel, filling up the room with a density of epic proportions, and this is when the synths come into view. Warm, lush and moody, the track then moves swiftly into its core structure, one where the main key riff is joined by further sequences that do much to craft space and scope, and the drums by this point are simply mesmerising in terms of their depth and complexity. From the very bottom end to the highest peak, every element is impeccably presented and calibrated, allowing us all the time in the world to take in all that is on offer. The track takes a break for a moment, but doesn't remain stripped back for long as we move right back into it with the fullest of force, and like that it plays itself out almost as immediately as it came into being. What a record.
Sara Abdel-Hamid has overseen an amazing body of work, and one that remains very much her own in terms of sonics and depth. With this record, there is a step further in a new direction, one where the melodic sequences certainly seem stripped back and further manipulated within new realms of expression, and its pulled off with a real skill and flair, as we are really transported to realms where techno reigns supreme in the cornerstones of our minds. The nature of the keys is one of sober reflection at times, at others quite bombastic, but overall convey a series of moods that Abdel-Hamid went through when making the record, and we really get a insight into these experiences as we traverse through the blissed out synths, complex rhythmic patterns and expertly conceived progressions. Its a world of emotion and insight, and we cannot get enough of it. A real thing of beauty, this one.
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