Horsepower Productions Horsepower ProductionsQuest For The Sonic Bounty
On the cover there is a pirate with a sort of mechanical parrot on his shoulder. His hands are about to close eagerly on a jewel. His gaze is inhuman, cadaver-like, similar to that of LeChuck’s henchmen in “The Secret of Monkey Island”. A pirate on the cover of Horsepower Productions, and a title like this one, “Quest for the Sonic Bounty”, can only mean one of two things: either the pioneer group of dubstep has left the band of the good guys to join the leagues of the evil and bloodthirsty, or they are moved by a desire for treasure and wealth, more of a desire for money than for blood. History shows us that it must be the latter: Horsepower’s appearance on the UK garage scene in the year 2000 was marked by a discourse with a clearly experimental intention that, with the album “In Fine Style” (Tempa, 2002), positioned itself as the most advanced discourse of the moment on the British underground. Where some only had hysterical divas screaming, and others designed bass lines as thick as the trunk of a sequoia tree, the London trio inspected the texture of their sounds under the lens of a microscope and shaped them carefully, with the same care as a jeweller polishing the edges of a precious stone. It would be reasonable, then, six years after “To the Rescue” (Tempa, 2004), for Horsepower to come to get the booty and let itself be illuminated by the cold shine of gold.
But no. The pirate isn’t looking for gold, but rather to cut throats. He is a bully hardened by swordfights, with scars over 80% of his body, and he has come to battle. This was another possible option: the hard core of Horsepower Productions is no longer made up of the three original members who gave shape to classics of experimental garage like “Fist of Fury” or “Gorgon Sound”. Nasis and Lev Jnr continue to form a part of the project—in reality, Horsepower is not a group per se, but rather a collective that people come in and out of, an artistic commune without the “squatter” connotation of the word– but the one who is carrying the weight of it all is Ben “Benny Ill” Garner, with occasional help from Jay King. And although some of the distinctive traits from before are still clearly apparent, “Quest for the Sonic Bounty” has lost the shine of the original productions. They seem worn or out of context, following in the wake of young producers with fresh ideas instead of blazing trails—this is how sacred cows of the jungle like Roni Size or Andy C must have felt when they saw them arrive with a classic in their hands in 2002. You can also tell that they are stuck in a formula of strength and impact, one that consists of forcing the limits of the booming of the bass. Horsepower have sought out the way of the shadow in detriment to that of the light, and although they never bite with the fury of the old master of the wobblestep sound, the early Caspa & Rusko, some of the cuts on “Skreamizm” by Oli “Skream” Jones, they do jump in to cut ankles and show off biceps if someone is watching. In a way, the idea of an overwhelming Horsepower invites rejection. Not even “To the Rescue”, which already indicated a decrease in the attention paid to the final finishes, was as blunt as this third album that is completely outside of the zeitgeist.
On the other hand, it would be a mistake to dismiss “Quest of the Sonic Bounty” as a muscular, uninspired dubstep album. Because it isn’t a rave album, or the equivalent of Pendulum on the current bass scene. It is an album with a powerful dub influence, as Jamaican-edge as the productions of Digital Mystikz, with an aroma of intoxicating ganja and an accelerated heartbeat. There are details that shouldn’t sound strange: a collection of productions with raga phrases, steel drums ( “18th Special”, the very deep “Kingstep”), samples stolen from old movies, and an echo chamber that booms like a war drum ( “Poison Wine”). But even in this unreserved, unadulterated acceptance of the Jamaican origin of this story—very in tune with the imminent “Scientist Launches Dubstep into Outer Space” that will be released by Tectonic– Horsepower seems to be following in the wake of others (even remixing Lee Perry in “Exercising”). Everything that they show here was already improved on in several albums by Pinch, Mala, and Loefah—even this year’s “Return II Space” from Digital Mystikz has managed to go further in the deepening and futuristic recycling of a dubstep that, in spite of the house vigour of young pups, still remains faithful to the old school, without sounding old-fashioned. The conclusion is that one fine day, Horsepower showed us the way forward, and today they are showing us the way back. Is that what we want?