Traxman's new album is here, and even the sleeve art scares us, an image that could be used as a test for psychoanalysis. Remember the Rorschach spots, popularised by the character of the same name in “Watchmen”? It's something like that: an ambiguous form in which anybody can see whatever they want. My first thought was of a rave, one of the hard ones: an anthropomorphic skull surrounded by screaming lights, flames, maybe, with white light shooting out of its popping eyes. Abduction guaranteed. But music journalist Iván Conte's tweet shed some light on it: “the sleeve art and the jazz touch reminds me of a 21st century version of the Impulse label!” Which was when I realised that each half of the 'skull' is Cornelius Ferguson's face in profile, which makes the image somewhat less frightening. It's like the sleeves from said label's 60s and 70s free-jazz albums, on which Pharoah Sanders and Archie Shepp were pictured with ethnic and electric flourishes.
To look for similarities between Planet Mu and Impulse! could get messy, but there is a certain jazzy air on “Da Mind Of Traxman”. Furthermore, Ferguson definitely broadened his horizon with regards to the classic footwork pattern, a genre very much from the ghetto, picked up by Mike Paradinas and which last year started to get mixed up with other genres: Phillip D. Kick with his reinterpretations of drum'n'bass classics, or Slackk cutting the mad breaks up with 80s funk tracks on the two Patrice & Friends releases. The LP may be the culmination of that tiny stylistic revolution: with a bit of good will, it could be to the genre what Kenny Larkin's “Metaphor” (R&S, 1995) was to Detroit techno, or Armando's “One World One Future” (Radikal Fear, 1996) to Chicago house. In the first place, the samples he uses are remarkable: while footwork in itself is already sample-based, the label must have spent a fortune on clearing the snippets used here. But it's been worth it. Like the early 90s hip-hop records, the samples don't only provide the backbone of the tracks, they also create textures; hence the importance of the sources being jazz and funk on “Itz Crack”, “Setbacks”, “Lady Dro”, “Chillllll”.
Those styles are the binding thread on the album, but they're not the only wells he's drinking from: “Footworkin On Air” is based on a marimba sound that gives the track and ethnic feel, and “1988” is pure acid, over a minimal beat, blessing the tune with a feeling of infinite space. Kosmische Muzik meets braindance, one might say. There are some other, more popular influences, too: “Let There Be Rockkkkk” is what the title indicates - a gloomy, colossal rendition of AC/DC's classic, reminiscent of what Venetian Snares did with Black Sabbath. Bon Scott's voice becomes that of an evil robot, Angus Young becomes industrial, and the intelligent use of a drum machine and silences does the rest.
Accordingly, an important characteristic of this musical style - which started as music for dance battles - is that the rhythm is marked both by the out of control breaks and by the silences: even when there's no sound, the cadence is unstoppable. And that's Traxman's biggest achievement: he preserves that original effect, giving it a new twist. At the end of the album, on the epic “Lifeeeee Is Forever”, he samples Prince saying “Electric word life / It means forever and that's a mighty long time”. Juke will fade away at some point in the future, like every style, but this record is forever.