According to the Internet jungle in recent months, there are two ways to understand Paul Rose’s role in current electronic music: as an opportunist or as a free spirit. Obviously, his haters cling to the first theory-- maybe with an eye to driving their teeth into his jugular after beefs with fans and commentators on Twitter. That’s where his controversial side comes out to debate about football, social movements, or the cold of Berlin, and where he doesn’t hesitate to use rough language, at times bordering on arrogance. On the other hand, the defenders of the free spirit theory limit themselves to brandishing his music as the definitive argument for the crucial role that Scuba is playing in the development of contemporary club sounds. In the crossfire between these two visions is last year’s single, “Adrenalin”. It marked the end of a phase he began years ago as the founder of Hotflush and a pioneer of the nebulous branch of dubstep, which was shifting towards progressive house, and had a touch of summer with commercial inclinations.
Of course, there are two things that remain with Scuba: Hotflush as a stable brand name—this album appears on his label, and could not be on any other—and his changing taste, established in a culture of more solid, varied electronic music than that of many of his contemporaries. If we must take sides with one of the two viewpoints among Scuba’s followers, we go with the free spirit side: few producers have evolved more, and more drastically, in the last five years, while still being themselves. His way of expressing himself outside of the recording studio might be sarcastic, bitter, and visceral, but it might also be a form of self protection, a sign of the existence of a man who is contradictory and unsure behind his façade. Who knows? What is clear is that Scuba’s artistic motivations don’t lie, they are honest, and his music defines itself precisely by not being easily labelled. Some years ago, what he did could easily be identified as dubstep (the 2006-2007 maxis and the album “A Mutual Antipathy”, a now transparent title). Then came his shift towards techno, coinciding with his move to Berlin (the remixes charged to Surgeon and Substance, the EP “Aesaunic” and the first productions as SCB, a phase that culminated in the tremendous “Triangulation” (2010)). 2011 brought the dawn of a new Scuba, more concerned about luminous textures, the return of the old school, and the dissolution of his discourse, all for the purpose of getting something new.
As a precursor, “Adrenalin” partly explains “Personality”, but it isn’t alone. In 2011, Scuba submerged himself in the golden age of drum’n’bass with the volume mixed for Studio !K7, “Jungle Rinse Out 1993-2001”, in which he recovered jewels of artcore, neurofunk and jungle-jazz put out by Reprazent, Photek, Matrix, Origin Unknown or Adam F. He did largely the same for deep house in his other session volume for !K7, the epic “DJ Kicks”. All of this, kneaded together like good bread dough, is what makes up the (solid) body of “Personality”. The title, once more, is not a coincidence: it is a call for freedom, to do what his heart, and not his pocket, tells him to do. Of course his haters will say, once again, that his shift towards house is because it’s in fashion, without stopping to think that Scuba was already in house, years ago, when those who are recriminating him were still listening to the Spice Girls. Scuba has been stuck in a cage that he has been sawing away at, bar by bar, to finally emerge free of prejudices and demands. That is to say, politely, if you don’t agree with his way of doing things, then just get out of the way and leave him alone.
What is the exact sound of “Personality”? It’s a variable sound, but one that finds its point of connection in liquid, luminous textures. If “Triangulation” was a metallic, cold, heavy album (like a foggy night in Berlin, coming out of Berghain, by those rocky abandoned lots), “Personality” is nightfall in the summer on the banks of the Spree, an album that has as its guiding light the a vague idea of happiness: the present and also the past. In many cuts, Scuba activates the neurons in his ex-raver’s memory and a nostalgia for days gone by. “Cognitive Dissonance” is a jungle homage to the brightest period of Moving Shadow and Good Looking; “NE1BUTU” reproduces the mechanics of those hardcore-pop hits put out by artists like Altern-8, with a crescendo of jumpy piano and voices raised towards the stratosphere. And when it isn’t nostalgia for the good old days, it’s well-being and confidence, perhaps a reflection of a good personal period. Almost everything in “Personality” is based on breaks –and not so much on 4x4 drums, which contradicts the theory of the opportunism of the crossover to house– and on breaks looking for a reason to be in funk. It shows an especially wide understanding of electro, far removed from the robotic cliché (“Ignition Key” and “The Key” sound like what was known at the end of the 90s as “coastal breaks”, that scene dominated by Tipper and Adam Freeland, with those punishing synthesizer riffs and a contained epic quality). It could be extended to techno with an uneven gait (“Underbelly”) or to a sort of expansive house like that of “July” and “Tulips”, capable of activating neurons and unleashing a flood of serotonin. Until the very end, with another take of vaporous, pulsating electro (“If U Want”), “Personality” holds its own as an album that suggests an absolute uprooting from Scuba’s dubstep origins; but it opens a new horizon in his career, a horizon that exudes optimism and happiness. This is the typical album that you always come back to for one reason or another, that you don’t let go of, that type of iPod material that makes your day go better.