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Prequel Tapes & dBridge - Ionize (Midnight Shift, 2021)

The Singapore based imprint continue to completely win us over with a brainstorming EP from the iconic dBridge and Prequel Tapes, which contains pretty much all the forward thinkingness and cutting edge techniques you could hope for in a contemporary piece of music.

Inventive interplay within dance music will never really go out of style, and when you bring two heads together who share similar ideals in regards to swerve, flow and harmony, then the results are always staggering. Drawing energy from the in-between spaces - the crossroads of audial frequencies, and the moments within a composition where layers overlap and divulge in all manner of directions - is often where magic resides in it's many shapes and forms, with plenty of time dedicated within these tracks to showcasing just how everything quietly builds then explosively grows. We stand abreast of the music and it's ever expansive nature, where feels turn into realities and moments of meaning spread themselves out over not just one but several reference points, with plenty of thought given to how the stanzas within the tracks move from point A to point B and right on down to Z. Adhering to the rules and structures that be can lead to positive results, with the success of this often down to the control in which the artist behind it all has over their creative visions for that channel of inquiry, but in other cases where one or more artists seeks to transpose their style into a new kind of space altogether, then you really do have something special in your hands. Collaboration has always led to moments where artists look beyond their determined audial boundaries and emerge with another's conceptual outlook firmly intertwined with theirs, a coming together of two worlds that does much to push the conversation onwards into a new light, where space and time feel alive with thinking and meaning. It's a seeking beyond the parapet kind of situation, where the ground plain contracts and expands with a water like flow which remains dead set on achieving a tangible yet unfamiliar kind of sound, one that references many other styles and genres but at the same time seems hellbent on causing us to feel the presence of the unknown, and when this is achieved it's pretty extraordinary. Sonics, rhythm, progression and emotion all become these diversifying elements that spend less time on being regular and more time on shifting between the lines, occupying audial structures that remain flexible at their foundation and ready to be manipulated with all manner of applied textures, as we spend the listening experience searching for all four corners of the composition with glee. It's a world that remains very much open, with plenty of feels and tones to look at across the board which pass us by on a continual basis which do much to capture the imagination on a very consistent level, and it is an experience that feels as if there is no end to what might come next. Hybridisation and morphology remain the key words of the day, and it's these principles that keep the boundaries forever being pushed onwards and upwards into new spaces of appreciation and thought, where the consistency of application of bold concepts ensures that we always remain on board with anything and everything which gets thrown at us. It's the kind of music that maintains a forward momentum in many fields, a beacon of excellence and audial ambiguity that seeks out the places which feel less trodden, that feel very much unexplored, and it's these sorts of spaces which we yearn to be given the opportunity to come into contact with. Interplay can go a long way in terms of achieving such wavelengths, and it's no surprise that we hold such records or discographies in such high regard, and will continue to do so probably until the end of days, because the blend innovation in electronics and creative application will never go out of fashion.

a third sonic space.

If these kinds of ideals are what you desire in life, then there doesn't get a much better pairing than D-Bridge and Prequel Tapes, who both before this collaboration have had pretty remarkable careers indeed. Both of these producers share similar instincts when it comes to pairing rhythmic vibrations with melodic blemishes, with plenty of their records containing really beautiful synergies that transcend the genres in which they operate in reaching out and finding those little spaces we didn't know existed yet. Not only that, but the ways in which they have diverted and divulged over the years into so many differing spaces and places remains truly remarkable, and as such we will look into both of their careers to date to this point in time.

D-Bridge remains the most prolific and well known alias of Darren White, who since the mid 90s has been electrifying the hearts and minds of music lovers the world over with his groundbreaking takes on Jungle and perhaps more significantly, Drum'n'Bass, which has been the main musical thread which he has followed for the majority of his career. It's hard to quantify the multiple mutations that have occurred within his body of work, but White rode the crest of the genre's meteoric rise and has very much been at the forefront of it's continued innovation, with a plethora of records that all showcase a differing side to his vision of D'n'B. His razor sharp production techniques became spliced with a ravenous appetite to grow and be bold, with his works always showcasing a particular essence that resided up high but also comfortably down below, with the listener placed firmly in the middle of the unravelling majesty. His style divulged significantly throughout time but never lost sight of it's original meaning, with the flows that persist between releases a delight to behold, as if the previous records fuel the growth of the next one. The relationship we discussed at the beginning of this paragraph is very much alive and kicking in pretty much all of his work, with a blend of euphoric yet calm pads propped up by some incredible rhythmic structures, which glide by with exceptional ease in providing an experience that sits just right in either home or club orientated environments. It's an audial narrative that plays out incredibly well, and just listening back to his records now simply confirms the sentiment that his work under the D-Bridge name is some of the finest d'n'b ever released, with the music very much bridging the divide between the 90s and the 00s in some style. In recent years, he has continued to push the boundaries of the D-Bridge sound with releases that dive deeper into the realms of Dubstep, Techno, Halftime and Downtempo, which goes to show just how far White is willing to push his wonderfully expansive sound. There's plenty of things to highlight in his works, with some of our favourite EPs/singles including the iconic 'Bring Da Flava/Keep It Real' record, which landed in 1996; the rhythmically energetic and flavourful 'China Blue/True To The Craft' record, which arrived in 2004; the sublime feels found on the 'Without Answers/Love's Ugly Child' record, which landed in 2005; the deep and introspective notions that reside on the 'Something To Hide/Belief' record, which arrived in 2005 also; the incredible heavy set tones found on both 'Gemini Principle' records, which came out in 2007 and 2008; the emotive burners found on the 'Inner Belief' record, which came out in 2009; the soft and gentle tones that dwell within the techno leaning 'Passing Encounter/Scarlett' record, which came out in 2012; the dubby and deep as hell 'Trinity Ville/Dead Peak' record, which arrived in 2016; the futuristic leaning sounds found on the 'I'm Feeling Cold' record, which arrived in 2016 also; and finally, the wide reaching swings of the 'Too Late' record, which arrived in 2016 as well. Also, be sure to check out his LPs as well, in particular 'A Love I can't explain' (2018) and 'Lineage' (2019), both of which showcase his talents at moving into a longer play format, and the wide reachingness of these records is unparalleled. In all, Darren White remains one of D'n'Bs biggest heroes, a shining beacon who helped to propel the genre onwards from it's rhythmic rich roots and into a new era where the dynamics shifted into new gears and audial frequencies, all the while finding the time to continually explore how his sound interacts with other genres. You won't find a stronger narrative in UK dance music, so why not go back and give some of his records a listen, they're all pretty phenomenal.

On the other side of this musical relationship is German producer Prequel Tapes, and in many ways his work echos numerous facets of the D-Bridge sound in relation to sonics, space and rhythm. His work has always concerned itself with the minor details, the unravellingness of layered sound as it washes out from the speakers and into the context in which we find ourselves in, and with each record he released we have been further welcomed into a universe that feels alive, enriching and full of vitality. Manipulation of wavelengths remains high on the priority list in PT's work, with deep grooves being carved out across the plains of possibility as we slide down the sides of these audial valleys, with plenty of elements coming our way that do nothing else but astonish. PT has largely stuck to LP releases, and this format certainly helps us to get to grips with the fullness of his sound design, with plenty of parallels existing between his approach to building records up as D-Bridge does, as a number of curveballs get thrown our way in regards to progression. All of his records are worthy of a mention here, starting off with the gently evolving but beautifully hard hitting 'Inner Systems' record, which was released in 2015; the emotive and ever morphing feels of the 'Everything Is Quite Now' LP, which came our way in 2018; the wondrous nature and uplifting notions of the 'Ruin' record, which landed last year; and finally, the excellent 'SHIFTLT003' EP, which came out in 2017 and showcases a more beat laden side to his sound. In all, Prequel Tapes has achieved an enormous amount within his small but incredible discography, with so much to marvel at on each release that you will continually be returning for more, such is the power that is contained within the music being presented. We slip and slide from left to right, eager to lap up all that is being presented to us as the experience continues to grow and expand as time passes by. Wonderful in every sense of the word, be sure to check out his previous works, you won't be disappointed.

A bridging of minds and energies, a confluence of souls and spirits.

This quote is a pretty wonderful summarisation of the bond which these two producers share, an ethereal bond that interlinks their sound which comes right to the surface on the record we are reviewing today, 'Ionize', which arrives on perhaps the most suitable label for it, the incredible genre defying Midnight Shift. From the off we are greeted with the kinds of tones we would come to expect from two sonic masters, but there's still plenty of scope for surprise, as mesmerising swirls unravel all around on you both sides of the spectrum, and as we pass through each cut you always get the feeling that something special is right round the corner. The vibe is incredibly hard to pin down, as the duo move swiftly through the gears to provide an experience that touches upon an incredibly far reaching spectrum of genres and styles, that you will feel immediately placed within a world that seemingly has no boundaries. No end in sight, no horizon line too large or difficult to overcome, simply a sonic universe that will leave your head spinning in all the right ways, all of which come courtesy of one of the most inspired link ups in recent memory. So, without further delay, lets dive right into this masterful piece of modern day electronica.....

Up first comes 'Divisible Cause', and this one begins with droney high pitch noise to get us going. This quickly becomes enveloped in the repeating note that pounds underneath it all, with light spacey drumming aligning itself with the developing pulse, with the short period of silence descending into a rhythmic phase that would have the gods themselves quaking in their boots. The drums are light yet filled with presence, as the bass line dips it's head above the parapet at all the right moments to help strengthen the momentum, and before long we dip from a percussion laden segment before moving back into the main progression, which is allowed to grow in scale and depth. The track then looks to climax with the pads that move into view on the top ends, their solid presence the perfect foil for all the interchangable elements that persist on the ground plain, and like that all the elements start to move away into the distance, content in the knowledge that they have provided a breathtaking introduction to all that these two have to offer. We could listen to that and probably not pick up on all the little intricacies at play, what a start that was. Up next comes 'Stray Thrills', and this one moves swiftly into the percussive structure. The drums swing and sway from side to side, their presence kept consistent but you feel the little manipulations with every bar that passes by, as little bass notes emerge from within to give over a sense of things to come. The segment of double time kicks and snares then gives way to the solid pads to come into view, and just like that we descend into the underbelly of the cut that sees these flickering chordal lines come into the mix, and just as quickly we go back up again in energy to experience the drums and keys in full effect. The composition is enriching to the point of euphoria, it's presence welcoming us with open arms to come along for the ride, with no stone left unturned as tones and textures come at us from all sides, never for one moment leaving us alone with meaningless space but instead finding everything we need to flourish and prosper. The bass notes that emerge around the mid way part in the track are particularly effective at continuing to convey some kind of mood, their presence adding to the vibe with a real sense of intent, all of which comes to a head when the backdrop synth comes into view and creates a sense of scale that again contrasts very well indeed with the intricacies that persist underneath. A real groover, this one.

'Pleasure Systems' arrives next, and this one again brings the drums out at the start to get things going. The pace is touched up a notch on this one, with an Electro/techno leaning feel where all the percussive elements feel engineered expertly, and it's their expressive outlay that gives way to the melodics to come into view. The sporadic energy that is contained within the keys is a sight to behold, as fuzzy cascades slide across the pan with a menacing energy, never persisting in the same space but always trying to make the top half of the track feel bigger than it is. The sequence is then joined by the solid pads to really add emotional weight to proceedings, with the two lines working wonderfully alongside each other as one dips and dives with a frantic energy whilst the other glides through the skies, content to remain solid in order to showcase it's superb depth. Wonderful stuff. To wrap things up, we have 'Mindless', and this one begins with some very dubby electronics to get us going. The kicks pulsate along the bottom ends whilst a series of chordal exchanges occur just above, with the shapes of these chords shifting from these delayed passages before being shifted into more manic territories, with the two frequencies working very well alongside one another. The track moves along with the energy of a runaway freight train, it's convergences acting beautifully as we reach the climax of the vocal line coming into view, with this only serving as a stop gap within the structure. The track continues t build and build, it's momentum never in doubt even as the melodics move away to give us time to get to know the core foundations of the cut, and at this moment the fever starts to wear off as things power down for the night, and the needle stops on this truly extraordinary audial experience. You won't hear much else like this all year.

Interplays remain an integral part of dance music, and it's success often comes down to how the artist or artists behind the music look to start and end their compositions, and on this album D-Bridge and Prequel Tapes have done much to give new meaning to the word. From the off we are greeted with this hybrid melding of sound design and sequencing that contains an enormous amount of balance between rhythmic powers and melodic touches, with both being wrapped up in this incredibly well designed universe that is filled to the brim with things to see and people to meet. The audial narrative is one of bountiful energy, of deep harmonious rhythms and tender ethereal notes that do much to wake up the mind and the body, with the experience taking all the time it needs to provide the most head spinning of experiences. Both D-Bridge and Prequel Tapes bring their A game and a hefty amount of capacity to boot, as both seem content to manipulate one another's creative wills within a soundscape that delivers the goods on groundbreaking electronics. A wonderful and barmy piece of music, this one will certainly be on our best of at the end of the year.

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