Electronic music has always had an uneasy relationship with genre. To a scene that thrives on defying its own parameters, on progressing forwards, stray too far into abiding by strict definitions and you’ll often veer into the realm of the overly literal purists. Some of the most famous flashpoints in the history of underground music have sprung from blind experimentation, from overwriting the past to pushing forwards (think ‘90s Jungle). What space does this leave for the crossovers, the genre-referential grey areas? Can producers not be mindful of genre, of context, yet also totally innovative? It takes rare moments of genius to prove that there are uncharted hinterlands between well-established genres, traversable to a gifted few yet totally alien to the rest of us. After hearing a debut album on Blackest Ever Black from Bristol’s own Kristian Jabs, better known as Pessimist, you’ll be sure of it.
Jabs’ recent productions have come at the crest of a new, scintillatingly experimental wave of change in the fault lines that make up electronic music. Key labels like Berlin’s Samurai Records and UVB-76 have spearheaded a reconfiguration of what’s traditionally been thought possible with music produced at 170 BPM, mapping stripped-back, monochromatic aesthetics traditionally under the ironclad remit of Techno onto a more malleable DnB or Jungle beat-pattern. From his 2015 release, The Woods / Lead Foot on Samurai, to last year’s Balaklava EP on Osiris Music, this fusion developed within Pessimist’s own discography. Disparate elements edged closer together with more fluency — where stepping, gun-finger techno and thunderously pulsating jungle merely mutated together on ‘The Woods,’ by the time Jabs’ Pagans EP was released a few years later, these sounds became fused together into something more dynamically modern.
Pessimist’s eponymous showcase album is comprised of 10 tracks, arranged to emphasise the cinematic, narrative quality of his sound. Portentously murky openers like ‘Grit,’ and ‘Bloom,’ digress through radioactive yet brooding dystopia of ‘Spirals,’ or ‘Glued’. The ebb and flow of the album is underpinned by ‘War Cry,’ a yawning excursion into the producer’s ambient capabilities, only for more up-tempo twisted Jungle trips to re-emerge with dizzying hysteria on ‘Through The Fog.’ The scale of Pessimist’s achievement is not only in the total uniqueness of his production, but also in the flawlessly operatic arrangement of the album itself. As ‘Outro,’ plays, a track suitably delicate for re-entering normal life, it’s hard to shake the impression that Pessimist’s album is something exceptional: a compound expression not only of underground music in its most holistic form, but also of a dextrous production style that somehow makes it all sound easy. Pessimist makes music that sheds the tired limitations of genre-clichés, augmenting them instead to create something entirely new. Essential listening from a remarkable producer.
Pessimist is out now on Blackest Ever Black. Order it here.
Words: Alex Davidson