A 101 to Orphan101
Robert Davies has been pushing out quality dub-tech tracks from his homebase of Bristol, UK, for a while now, and I’ve been meaning to give some love to his music for a while now. Just in the first half of 2011 he’s released 3 EPs in addition to his debut on Saigon last year. Some of those EPs have included as many as five new tracks, so he’s got well worth an album’s worth of material published already.
My first impression of Davies’ music was the two-part Tribtek single for Saigon. The main difference between Orphan101 and most of the other dub-tech outfits out there is that he puts a square emphasis on the “tech,” usually laying down a hefty 4-to-the-floor bass kick drum on his tracks, but rarely dropping the tempo to traditional techno or house speed. The result is usually an aggressive, slick, beefy burner of a track, and both parts of Tribtek satisfy along those lines. Despite his penchant for fast, propulsive techno influences on his music, Davies still affords himself breathing room, letting each sound rest in the mix with enough space to sound just right. For Apple Pips, he released another 2-track single, with both “Propa” and “Disemble” pulsing with more of a typical techno structure. But much like most of Apple Pips’ output, there’s something slightly off, not really sounding entirely like other contemporaries or traditional techno; the kick of “Disemble” is more of a pulse under the surface while “Propa” is almost a 2-step track where the bass takes a backseat, making it in a way a healthy complement to Tribtek’s in-your-face kick. He’s released two more substantial EPs this year, too. Into You is another one for Saigon, and it picks up more where Tribtek left off, carried largely by very pronounced, uptempo kicks and well organized details. My favorite on it might be “Barraca” with its ominous bending tones and sub-bass patterns. With his latest, the Under the Radar EP released on his own DECA Rhythm label, Davies continues exploring similar territory, but there’s something immensely satisfying about “Sus” and its more comfortable, slower tempo, which not only is a slight respite but also helps emphasize the more aggressive title track that precedes. Elsewhere on “This Junk (Illo)” and “N.I.” he breaks the beat into a more staggered dubsteppy sensibility, lending it a darkness that’s less immediate than on the title cut. Bloodman turns in a remix of “Under the Radar” to round it out, the only time I’ve heard another artist lend his take on Davies’ original material, and while it’s solid and crosses over more for mixing friendliness, I personally prefer Davies’ original.
In the last year Orphan101 has made quite an impression on me, and I’m hoping Davies continues along this trajectory. He seems like he’s really begun to carve out his own sound and voice in what is a relatively dense landscape of artists experimenting across genres and hybrids.