- Breakbeats are tricky. They're some of the most classic and identifiable sounds in dance music, going back to the '80s, so they're a hard thing to make your own. If they're not referencing a certain bygone era, then they're probably making you think of a specific song or artist. Shed is among the few to recently make breakbeats sound fresh—emphasizing their bounciness and elasticity, bathing them in vivid pads—and likeminded producers who follow often earn comparisons to him. Munich label Ilian Tape has been another key player, with a handful of artists who know their way around a breakbeat. Records from Stenny, Andrea and Skee Mask have been some of the most memorable. On his debut album, Shred, Skee Mask graduates from Ilian Tape's secret weapon to their breakout star.
Shred teases out the spacey stuff from two previous EPs. The album is arranged carefully, and Skee Mask takes full advantage of the extra room, doing nothing in a hurry. He eases in with five minutes of welcoming ambience on "Everest," and then introduces damp, mossy drums with "HAL Conv." An assertive kick pattern doesn't appear until "Autotuned," which is as tribal and severe as a Shackleton groove. It's Shred's first clubby cut, but it still takes a sideways approach, with springy drums that cushion the blow of heavier beats.
Skee Mask goes on to test every breakbeat-led mood or idea he can think of. He gets nimble on "Shady Jibbin," taut on "Backcountry" and psychedelic on "Zenker Haze Trak." Every track has a piece of head-turning synth work, so light and fluffy that it sounds like sculpted fog. On softer tunes like "Zenker Haze Trak," Skee Mask emphasizes the motion of the breakbeat—pirouetting like a ballet dancer—rather than its physical power, which is part of what set him apart. Skee Mask is interested in how breakbeats can fit the odd nook and cranny of a musical measure. Even "Melczop 2," the album's sterling centrepiece and most retro moment, has a lightness of touch that defies comparison.
"Melczop 2" also has a breathless excitement, like it's constantly going somewhere new. Shred's tunes often feel that way, starting in one place and ending up somewhere else entirely. Take "Shred 08": beginning like an early Ninja Tune record—all chunky, slow-moving breaks—the track skids through pillowy pads and ecstatic synths, before going back to barebones beats. It's like suddenly slipping in and out of a vivid daydream.
Shred feels like it was conceived as an actual album. The thoughtful sequencing follows Skee Mask through gentle peaks and valleys, through '90s prog, '80s chop-ups, IDM fantasia and Shed-style workouts. With alluring melodies, rich atmospheres and a superlative way with breakbeats and drum programming, Shred proves that techno can be as much about songwriting as dance floor functionality.
02. HAL Conv.
04. Shred 08
06. Melczop 2
07. Zenker Haze Trak
09. Japan Air
10. Shady Jibbin'
12. South Mathematikz