Across the past six or seven years, nobody in dance music seems as intimately connected with the doomsday end of the dubstep spectrum as Sam Shackleton. With seminal head-warping releases like "Death is Not Final," "Blood on My Hands," and "Stalker" stretching across his co-owned (and sadly defunct) Skull Disco imprint and labels like Perlon, Scuba's Hotflush and Mordant Music, Shackleton's become one of the form's most forward-thinking and consistent producers. Whether in a DJ set or booming from an apartment stereo, you recognize a Shackleton cut from those first murky moments: thick sub-bass pulses, African percussion that patters around the edges of samples that moan like a cold wind and subtly shifting melodic tones that creep underneath all the pounding.
As Shackleton would be the first to admit though, his dour and often claustrophobic material is perhaps not the sort of stuff you'd typically associate with fabric's eminent mix series, nor with the club itself. But his entry in the series, Fabric 55, was in fact an attempt to recreate one of his sets from the famed London venue, mixing previously unreleased tracks with tweaked versions of past material for Perlon, Hotflush and Skull Disco. Consider it a Halloween mix of sorts, issued just a little too late to celebrate the date. The result is, obviously, bound to be paired with Ricardo Villalobos' own Fabric 36 as not only one of the best in the series, but as an opportunity for those of us not privileged to catch the man live to hear unreleased Shackleton tracks as they might first appear in a set.
Opening with the midnight buzz and echoing hand-drum clatter of "Come Up" and the mournful vocal samples of "Moon over Joseph's Burial," Shackleton introduces an intense atmospheric gloom that he's able to sustain throughout the entire eighty minute mix. If he has spoken in the past about an affinity for acts like Throbbing Gristle, there's a certain industrial churn binding his work together here that, at times, resembles a beatsmith's take on post-punk in tone. Blurry drones simmer underneath samples culled from relaxation tapes; vocals are elongated into ghostly flickers of noise at the end of his slow tribal rattle. The two unreleased parts of "Man On a String" are almost anarchic, blasts of dissonance that slowly settle into insistent rhythms. "Busted Spirit" is far more subtle and refined, forest chimes and rapid tumbles of bass.
A moment of bleary tension, the unreleased "Deadman" sounds at times almost like a stranger heard breathing just steps away in the dark. It's disturbing, sure, but it's also a kind of giddy fright, like watching an Argento film at home alone when the sun has died. As it closes with the whirling melodies and steady wooden chatter of "Stripped," it's hard to overemphasize how flawlessly Fabric 55 is sequenced, allowing it to maintain this steady moody insistence throughout. Shackleton doesn't stretch toward peaks or valleys; he just continues to boil. This is bump-in-the-night music of the finest sort, unsettling, kind of delirious, but endlessly transfixing.
Tracklist 01. Come Up
02. Moon Over Joseph's Burial
03. Hypno Angel
05. Interlude: Blood Rhythm With Wishy Drones
06. Operatic Waves
07. Closeness to Nature
08. Negative Thoughts
09. Death Is Not Final feat. Vengeance Tenfold
10. International Fires
13. Interlude: Point One, Sense It
14. Man On A String (Part 1)
15. Man On A String (Part 2)
17. Busted Spirit
19. New Dawn
20. Something Has Got To Give