- Hear how the sounds of Durban, Taipei and Beirut are intensifying UK club music on this excellent compilation.
- Few London labels are currently serving the dance floor so competently, or so enthusiastically, as Nervous Horizon. Last year's release of cofounder TSVI's first album defined the label's emerging musical interests, particularly when standout track "Whirl" was absorbed into Aphex Twin's live show, that dubious badge of honour for rising producers. But TSVI and Wallwork have never had strict parameters for the Nervous Horizon sound. Instead, they've kept pace with the shifting currents of club music, evolving from vivid, splattery drum tracks—often infused with grime, footwork and UK funky—towards a sound that's increasingly placeless.
Nervous Horizon's third compilation consolidates this shift by inviting producers from outside the UK. Among them is Melbourne's DJ Plead, whose thundering Pleats Plead EP was one of 2019's most memorable records. Plead's intricate drum tracks are inspired by his Lebanese heritage and the kind of slamming dabke music he'd usually encounter at family weddings. Here, he puts his folder of hyperdextrous hand drums to work on two tracks. Along with the smouldering "Ambush," there's a strange collaboration with TSVI called "Force Field," which feels like a departure from previous Nervous Horizon releases. A low-down, stumbling 6/8 groove flips the piercing wail of a Middle Eastern mizmar into a kind of Fourth World take on gurgling acid.
Comparing this stuff to Nervous Horizon's first compilation, which was heavily steeped in the whomping syncopation of UK funky and the cartoonish excess of grime 2.0, highlights the changing priorities in UK clubs. The label's earlier affiliates included NKC, credited with developing the "hard drum" sound from the remnants of UK funky—heavy on skull-smacking drum hits and light on melody and fuss. Now, the likes of the Italian-Ivorian producer Ehua rework this sensibility in their own image: the off-kilter tarraxinha stomp of her track "Meteora" is echoed by Wallwork's "Detonate," a shunting groove that also explores Arabic modal melodies.
TSVI's "Labyrinth" takes a similar tresillo rhythm and grafts an angry wasp's nest onto it, which certainly captures the prevailing vibe: dark, twisted, euphoric, vaguely nihilistic. Other overseas guests include the Taipei- and Shanghai-based Tzusing, who adds a note of Teutonic dungeon-techno to "24hr," and Italy's Chevel, who, alongside Wallwork, takes "Carbon 12" in a kinky industrial direction. Closing the loop is the Beijing-raised, London-based producer object blue, whose "Neo Noir" is the compilation's most out-there moment.
Yet none of these tracks would sound alien on a London dance floor right now. What's especially noticeable, too, is the total infiltration of South African gqom into the UK soundboy universe. The majority of these tracks are based around gqom-like syncopated drums with a hollow, tactile thwack to them. It's a sound, often haplessly described as "tribal," that's neither electronic nor indexed to the rock or jazz kit.
Gqom's influence is also audible in the long, droning bass notes that underpin the percussion. The mood is tough, almost apocalyptic. As well as echoing the darkest stuff from Durban, the sour atmosphere is in line with the recent output of globally dispersed club producers like AYA, Ziúr, Tayhana or Santa Muerte. Consequently, Nervous Horizon Vol. 3 is less like a grab-bag of tracks sourced from the usual suspects, as per the typical label compilation, and more like a record of its own, nailing down certain major trends while expanding the label's vision.
01. TSVI - Labyrinth
02. Chevel & Wallwork - Carbon 12
03. TSVI & DJ Plead - Force Field
04. object blue - Neo Noir
05. Tzusing & TSVI - 24hr
06. Wallwork - Hacienda
07. DJ Plead - Ambush
08. DJ JM - Peak
09. Ehua - Meteora
10. Wallwork - Detonate