Emerging into a post-‘Untrue’ landscape at the tail end of 2008, low frequency producer Spatial made his remarkable debut on his own Infrasonics imprint with an EP journeying into rumbling, echoing, haunted dancehall minimalism. His immediately apparent attention to evocative detail in his music was equalled by a marked reluctance to self-promote; “Here is my sound,” he seemed to say “and that’s all I need to tell you.” In some hands this anti-stance could have been massaged into an attention-diverting image in itself, but Spatial made then, and continues to do so now, a compelling case for the virtues of less versus more, naming his tracks with five-digit codes, dressing his EPs in starkly minimal sleeves, and releasing a series of increasingly clipped and swung exercises in spectrally-sleek dancefloor dynamics.
One of the first artists to be described as “future garage” – a tag the man himself has been keen to shrug off ever since – Spatial’s technologically-enhanced re-imagining of the sound’s 2-step origins assimilates garage’s stutter-stop shuffle, snappy woodblock hits and compressed emotion within a framework that also incorporates older rave elements like Detroit strings, Berlin-esque synths, muscular machine-funk, and microhouse clicks, in the process creating a highly distinctive sound world. Most of all, though, it’s his expert manipulation of space to give a sense of buoyancy and loosened gravity that make stepping inside his music so inviting.
This CD compiles all eight tracks from his quartet of 10-inches released between December 2008 and October 2010 – including ‘80207’ and ‘70810’ from the long-sold-out ‘Infra001’ EP – and adds five further tracks which were originally made available as free downloads in association with each physical release. None of these works have been available on CD before now, and hearing them unfold in series across an 80 minute sequence is as absorbing a trip into dark euphoria and flooding bass sensuality as you’re likely to come down from this year.
Although he’s not been too visible of late, Spatial’s body of work collected on here shows that he still stands out from a crowded nexus of garage futurisms. It features all four of his 10"s, spanning 2008-2010 and 13 tracks between them. There’s a very good reason why everyone from the academic likes of Alva Noto to London’s road-running Wifey crew praise his sound. If you don’t know, this is the best place to get acquainted (well, wax would be preferable but they’ve all gone, innit!). Highly recommended! Play loud!
Upon releasing his first, limited edition 12" in 2009, Spatial was compared to Burial. Two years on, it’s a comparison that looks frequently less and less valid. Where his early work drew clear influence from the likes of Burial and Basic Channel, Spatial, his eponymous debut album, boasts far more subterranean funk. Sure, the crackling atmospherics, unfeasibly heavy low end and sparse production are all still present, but there’s little in the way of creeping paranoia or breathlessly intensity. Instead, Spatial teases and titillates with dancefloor promise, as rhythms pulse, acid house synths stab and reverb-laden vocal snippets ricochet between the speakers. It’s dubby and atmospheric, but it’s also a lot of fun.
It seems little is known about London producer Spatial, an elusive nature that stretches across all areas of his work. Take the mysterious numerical track titles on his debut, self-titled album (‘80723’, ‘90731’, ‘81012’ etc), or the stylishly hidden links on the website of his own imprint, Infrasonics. A self-proclaimed aversion to self-promotion sits nicely with the largely minimalistic approach to his music, one that spreads to all aspects of his debut release, from the plain white cover dotted with minuscule squares to the enigmatic track names themselves.
A sonic range from delicate rhythmical clicks and spacious synths to pounding kicks and cutup vocal slices are the order of the day on Spatial, evoking both the airy nature of ISAN’s tone poetry, and the more tied down, dancefloor orientated swing of earlier 2-step. Indeed, it’s no coincidence that Spatial has been earmarked as a proponent of the ‘future garage’ form.
After the gentle coaxing of ‘70707’, full of rattling percussion and phased chords, ‘80723’ sets out Spatial’s stall with a burrowing kick drum pattern rolling along underneath low frequency synths and smooth sub-bass notes. The range of frequencies on show throughout the album really serves to highlight not just the amount of space in these productions, but how that space is expertly wielded as a compositional tool. Take the spectral vocals of ‘81012’, or the delayed chord stabs that tame the flurrying beats of ‘90113’.
There is always a chance of overkill in Spatial’s frank style, and this 13-track collection, compiled from the pooling together of four previous 10’s covering almost two years, is a little too much to digest in one continuous sitting. However, the set does sit comfortably with the low attention span approach of shuffle features and single track spins from DJs in their original extended single format, and the almost Coldcut playfulness of later tracks such as ‘100319’ and ‘100402’ benefit from the context given by those that came before.
While Spatial’s style demands the focused attention of the 10’, this full length works as a sparkling CV for an exciting talent.
Spatial’s self-titled debut album consists of his collected singles and download extras to date, spanning from 2008 – 2010 and ordered in chronology of release. As a complete retrospective, listening should, realistically, take into account that earlier productions will potentially sound dated and that later material in the record will be stronger. With this in mind, the progression in style and success of Spatial – as both record and artist – is noticeable and makes for a rewarding listening experience.
The first seven tracks of the album progress through a selection of spacious, dubby 2-step tracks from 2008 to 2009 and, while there are a couple of instances where things stray a little too close for comfort to Burial-homage, these are most reminiscent in swing and tension to El-B, Horsepower Productions and some DMZ. The addition of cavernous delays, reverbs and synthesizer work gives a kind of Basic Channel-meets-London vibe that doesn’t feel solidified, but quite promising.
In the latter half of 2009 something changes and the productions take on a fatness and unpredictability that was previously missing. Content is the key, with much of the original choice for space instead now crammed with elements. This change is a distinct step up in gear from the preceding tracks and signals the beginning of something more individual through a particularly economic use of minimal material, repetition of motifs, and unpredictable track structures taking in more overt techno and tech-house references.
The final three tracks show Spatial’s newfound strength of compressing content into tightly packed lattices of rhythm, and is dramatic in its reshaping from the previous three offerings, let alone the former half of the album. Excessive reverb is stripped to chamber-size, giving a far leaner, aggressive edge to more radical sample usage, FM synthesis, homophony and permutations of highly limited material that parallel these tracks with SND and Mark Fell.
Although these productions are all available digitally as singles, Spatial is an excellent long-playing case study in the transformation and development of a producer, unfolding in an interesting context, and accelerating impressively through accomplishment when played sequentially.
Unlike most artist albums, a collection of a single artist’s previously released works provides an overview of their growth and stylistic evolution. Albums often lack information as to when their contents were written and recorded what came first, what was last, which song had been kicking around for a couple years. With most collections that information is often more obvious, from the sequencing of the record to the more thorough liner notes. Infra001-4, Spatial’s collection of four EPs and various downloads from 2008-2010, is roughly ordered in the same chronology of their release. It’s a remarkable charting of not only Spatial’s output, but also of the mutating sounds of dance music over the past couple years as well.
The first quarter of the record involves minimal house styles, with ‘80207’ being the most exemplary of this approach. A light dusting of female vocals repeats in tandem with the escalating intensity of the track. Spatial employs squiggly keys and, in the climax, a dramatic minor key pattern that emulates strings over stark that bubble with quiet relentlessness. This track also serves to segue ever so slightly into a more half-step beat, with the following ‘70810’ expanding on that thought. Even though Spatial doesn’t go fully into garage, the pattern, deep bass and mid-range synths feel in line with the Loefah/Kryptic Minds take on this genre. Slow, methodical, atmospheric, this track vaults Spatial into a different realm. ‘90121’ is perhaps the most dubstep leaning song of the set, with echoing percussion and bending bass lines cutting through the middle.
Showing further growth and a clear ear to the ground is ‘81012,’ which feels kin to the garage-leaning sounds of Joe and FaltyDL while pushing forward into a unique cinematic sound of his own. Likewise, ‘90807’ sounds like garage filtered through five years of dubstep, using textured bass and minor key melodies in conjunction with cut up vocals and 2-step style beats. Towards the end, particularly with ‘100402,’ Spatial starts playing with juke BPMs, presenting a more mechanical and faster-paced bass track, complicated patterns of beat splayed over jerky melody with abandon. The closer ‘100505’ sounds similar to what Machinedrum is doing within this style, pushing more melody and lighter textures to the sometimes rough style of bass music. Infra001-4 presents a wide range of styles over a significant amount of time that mirrors what has been happening in the global dance scene. However, Spatial shouldn’t be seen as following each movement, but rather filtering the changing sounds of bass through his own production techniques and perspective.
Utmost thanks/respect to Andi Studer. Also to Bill & Joe at Cargo, Jason & Leon at Transition, Freya, Wifey crew, Thor & Wiretap crew, Netaudio LDN crew, Freerotation crew, Colony crew, Mat, Gosia, Radek, Joanna & all the Unsound crew, DQ, Raz, Drew, Brian, Seze over the pond, Sally, Marly, Joel, Danni, White Rhino in upsidedown land, Oli W at Schmorgasboard, Oli M at Sonic Router, TVO at Broken 20, Rik at Take, Bookmat crew, Torsten at Hardwax, Rupert T, Rupert C, Jamie G, Jack, Ike, Christo, Mark Harwood and everyone else keeping it real.