- An unreal and often punishing mix of jungle, drum & bass and footwork makes for one of 2020's best club records.
- Hyph11E's debut is about holes. Negative space, voids, entryways, spaces that swallow things up. The concept might seem abstract, but it's right there in the record's eye-catching, vaguely grotesque artwork (one of the best sleeves from a record label already known for intense, memorable design). How does this theme manifest in the music? It's not obvious—this is a club record, after all—but Aperture is different from other records on Shanghai label SVBKVLT. It's full of negative space, sub-bass that you can feel and not hear, immaculately textured darkness and breakbeats that emerge from black holes before being sucked back into them. It's a masterfully engineered record that takes SVBKVLT's kitchen-sink approach and refines it down to a wicked formula: jungle, footwork and turn-of-the-millennium drum & bass.
Originally from Beijing, Hyph11E moved to Shanghai after spending a weekend at the club Shelter (where SVBKVLT was born). She's both a product of the Shanghai's explosive club music scene and one of its key figures, scoring the first bona fide SVBKVLT hit with "Black Pepper," a track whose sleek and snarling fusion of gqom and grime still sounds wild today. Aperture works on a similar axis, but this time Hyph11E's attention turns to dark, gnarly drum & bass—think techstep and its more paranoid offspring, neurofunk, but where the macho posturing is replaced with avant-garde sound design.
Nearly every track on Aperture could be a subgenre in itself, but largely, the record sounds like a rough mash-up of footwork and drum & bass. She often leaves kick drums out, emphasizing the invisible sub-bass jabs of footwork: the effect is mesmerizing on tracks like "Knots" and "Accretion."
"Baily's Beads" gestures at hardcore techno using only the sub-bass pulse of the kick drum, like the ghost of a gabber tune. It evolves into a wild run through syncopated rhythms and roaring air raid sirens, full of bizarre harmonics and unexpected turns. Even the silences between the drums are loaded, and it's here where the "holes" idea comes into focus again. Every space between the drums is detailed and ominous, like there's a dark ambient record playing in the background of the whole thing, a sinister dimension that lurks underneath.
Putting the darkness aside, Aperture is a feisty club record. "Knots" is one of the tracks that most closely resembles jungle, but here the breaks are teased in coughs, like the sputtering flame of a tetchy lighter.
Elsewhere, she approximates the eight-armed drum choppage of vintage Photek on "Doppelgänger," and turns the rough, sandpapery distortion and skunk paranoia of old DJ Krust on its head on the crunchy "Barnacles." The album speeds towards a stormy climax as the jungle and footwork influences combine into an unstable mixture, finally exploding on "Shatter," where jungle breaks chase double-time kick drums.
The tracks on the back half of the album are electrifying, but they lead into "Erosion," the album's slow, beatless closer that makes a neat bookend with opener "Encrust." On first glance, these are the typical ambient morsels you get on dance music albums, but they're actually imposing, carefully sculpted sound pieces. Beginning with the rumbling low-end on "Encrust"—one of the record's most aggressive sounds—and ending with the bold but exhausted arpeggios on "Erosion," you feel like you've been somewhere, entered through one gateway and then come out the other end. Aperture is like a black hole with a light at the end of it, a world of foreboding but ultimately uplifting drum & bass as seen through the lens of cutting-edge club music.
04. Baily's Beads
09. Get Out From Under