In an age where the majority of human knowledge – and with it an endless smorgasbord of unanchored and potentially unchecked factoids – lies quite literally at the fingertips of anyone with a device connected to the Internet, attaching an air of mystery to an artist and his/her output is fast becoming a good way to whip up interest, whether it be deliberate or not. LHF have repeatedly been described as a shadowy/mysterious collective, yet as someone rightfully pointed out to me recently, they’re not really that mysterious at all – there are a few interviews here and there and a growing body of mixes to feast on, alongside their first three EPs for Blackdown’s Keysound label. Mysterious and shadowy may therefore be slightly over the top, though it fits the collective of seven producers to a tee considering their avowed inspirations and the way in which they’ve chosen to disseminate and promote their music so far. I got suckered by the mysterious thing in a previous review, though I’d say with some hindsight that a more accurate description would surely be that they are the latest in a long line of artists who like to let the music speak for itself first and foremost. I guess that’s mysterious nowadays.
“Keepers Of The Light” is LHF’s debut album for Keysound and, unsurprisingly, it speaks volumes more than any amount of PR could. Collecting a chunk of the collective’s supposed 1000 plus tracks (a piece of their lore I’ve always enjoyed, as it reminds me of the stories surrounding Skream’s early days) the album comes as a double CD with 26 tracks spanning over two hours – as weighty as some of the pressure to be found in the music. All of the tracks from their previous EPs are on there – minus “Triffle” from EP 2 – affording non-vinyl-heads a handy catch-up. Music-wise, “Keepers Of The Light” sticks to LHF’s melting pot approach: a wealth of sample sources, stylistic references and a grounding in dubstep’s key original aesthetic elements – tempo, bass pressure. It sounds and feels a lot like London in many ways, a parallel that has been drawn before and works well enough to be wheeled out again. Their music is an extension of the capital’s rich cultural and musical mix. Like London itself, you don’t have to have lived or live here to be able to tap into its frequencies, as the message is one that resonates globally, though LHF’s music is, I think, best suited for urban dwelling and ruminations.
About as cliché as the mysterious/shadowy reference would be to bring the hardcore continuum into all this, and yet only this morning Blackdown tweeted an old blog post by Reynolds that I’d previously missed on the discussions that surrounded his ‘nuum theory a few years back. The reason for bringing it up is that Reynold’s central argument in said blog post actually fits quite nicely with my feelings about what makes LHF’s music so vital at this point in time. They are a much-needed centripetal force in dubstep, in what dubstep has become. By making use of dubstep’s core structural elements – tempo, bass science, breakbeat science, and I’d add in hip hop’s sample science, too – their productions act as a unifying force in a genre that has become increasingly formulaic, watered-down and barren of its original freeform ethos that anything was fair game. The music on “Keepers” acts like a tractor beam, pulling the listener back towards a genre they may by now feel is passé or no longer capable of delivering that same high it once did. There are plenty of additional flavas thrown in too (to riff off Reynold’s ideas one last time) not least in that sample science. The album makes for good trainspotting, from Wu Tang skits to spiritual speech snippets, Sun Ra classic quotes to the Matrix and Tarantino flicks, yet the samples and their deployment over various rhythmical foundations – from jungle-ish chops on “Supreme Architecture” and “Questions” to hip hop swing on “Indian Street Slang” and 2step flavours on “Blue Steel” – never feel forced or awkward. They are the perfect ingredient with which to spice up the ideas built on those structural elements, capable of catalysing a variety of emotions in conjunction with the melodies – from sombre moods on tracks like “LDN” to more ecstatic feelings on “Candy Rain”.
As far as highlights go, Double Helix’s “Bass 2 Dark” is remarkable, with its DMZ meets Wu Tang mood, No Fixed Abode’s “Indian Street Slang” remains a beautifully weeded blend of half step and hip hop’s sample science, Low Density Matter’s “Blue Steel” pulls off the jazz riffs rather elegantly – always a tricky feat with computer music – and Amen Ra’s “Supreme Architecture” is still one of the best paranoid rollers the genre’s delivered in the last few years. Of the seven producers that are part of LHF only four are present on “Keepers” – No Fixed Abode, Amen Ra, Double Helix and Low Density Matter – and of these four, Amen Ra and Double Helix are responsible for the majority of the productions. Despite this, “Keepers” still comes across as a varied offering, with the dominating producers consistently one-upping each other and themselves through their primary sample choice or riddim structure. Don’t let the variety and exploration on offer put you off, though – let it challenge you instead, and find the rewards in getting past what might seem like a scattershot approach to production. The only downside I’ve really found in LHF’s work so far has been the at times tinny/cheap quality of some of the soft synths used. While tracks like “Candy Rain”, “Hidden Life Force 2” and “Deep Life” are all functional, they do suffer from the instruments’ coldness and simplicity – especially on repeated listening. Though again, considering the collective’s admitted approach, it’s perhaps intended.
“Keepers Of The Light” is a fitting title to LHF’s debut: the collective continues to keep the genre’s original fire burning. LHF have refined their craft enough to deliver over two hours of dubstep that quite literally go everywhere and back again without ever losing sight of what it’s supposed to be.