Thursday, October 31, 2002
Zed Bias Live

Firstly, it simply cannot be overstated how perfectly “Ring The Alarm” works as an opening salvo. I don’t know about everyone else on the dancefloor, but the thrill of recognition sparked by the half-speed reggae intro put me in the best mood I’ve been in for ages, a high only topped when the groove dropped, with those slippery breaks that sound almost out-of-time, suspended against the groove. It’s hard to explain what Bias does here, or the effect it has; the closest I can get is that you end up dancing at the beats rather than too them, like the rhythm is a mentasm riff or 303 hook that you have to demonstrate your appreciation for.

But “Ring The Alarm” is more than that: it’s the glorious contrast between the dolorous reggae wail and the machine-gun MCing, the dramatic seriousness of the bassline, the irresistible chromatic density and s(cr)umptuousness of the Jamaican flavour and the outrageous exploitation of slow/fast dynamics, all combine to make “Ring The Alarm” garage’s best pop song this year, more endearing, more impressive, more irrepressible than anything around.

The rest of the set was a slight comedown – how could it be anything else? – but it was still terribly enjoyable. Bias showcased his favoured new sound: an intensely addictive and sexy minimal latin-flavoured approach that is quite at odds with the harsh abstraction of his Forward peers. Oddly, the closest reference I can think of is tribal house, though this stuff was more compelling than that comparison might suggest. Perhaps what Bias and the producers he spun are doing is constructing a non-pop, non-R&B definition of “feminine garage.” I’d hitherto thought of Horsepower Productions as doing this, but even Horsepower merely retain the femininity inherent to the slinky 2-step beat; this stuff was almost mono-maniacally focused on intensifying it.

Which makes sense, as when I interviewed him a few weeks ago Bias was anxious to stress the importance of keeping the ladies on the dancefloor, and the need to focus on swing, to not fall into the trap of simply making masculine garage. The interesting result of this overtly tropical sound is that, while it’s as syncopated as anything in garage, it’s also surprisingly easy to dance to. The rhythms feel more natural (but not in the leaden, numbingly obvious manner of breakbeat garage) more logical to the body if not the brain. It was quite an odd experience – much of my physical enjoyment of garage is derived from the challenge its grooves provide – but it made the music horrendously enjoyable, with all the befuddled dancers around me finally moving in perfect sync.

Zed also played the two big Menta tracks – the clicky, nervy “Sound of the Future” and the implacably booming, constantly mutating Ms Dynamite joint “Ramp” (how does Dynamite inspire garage producers to make such a virtue of minimalism, I wonder?), and even these harder, very slightly scarier records fit right in to his modus operandi, as if by sheer contiguity Bias was bringing to life the subtle, flickering snake-line sexual energy that pulses at the heart of these tunes (and likewise, they were oddly much easier to dance to than they should have been). Fittingly, Menta is a bit like an odder version of Sticky, the heavy reliance on dynamics and unusual grooves contrasting with a rough’n’ready no-nonsense production approach, such that when you get a good partnership – as is the case with Dynamite – the result is a bit like a garage spin on The Neptunes’ recent work. Unsurprising, maybe, seeing as “Grindin’ (Selector Mix)” in particular sounds just like a slower take on recent garage.

Somewhat disappointingly, Bias ended with an extended session of the syncopate-sophisticate jazz/funk/house he makes as part of Phuturistix, and although the sounds were nice, there was an immediate reduction in tension, in vibe. Clearly he needs to ditch the sonic refinery, get back into the studio and make more tracks like “Ring The Alarm.” As many as he likes, I don’t care – I’ll love all of them.


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