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Zomby - Where Were U In ’92?

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Artist: Zomby

Album: Where Were U In ’92?

Label: Werk

Review date: Apr. 30, 2009

Let’s get the headline out of the way: dubstep producer releases improbable full-blown rave album as debut effort. Yes, after several vinyl sides that hewed to the ferrous skulk, damp gloom and pneumatic slurp of fellow Hyperdub banner acts Kode9 and Burial, Zomby has gone on a time-machine detour to the frenetic, Day-Glo bustle of prime ‘ardkore. Given his handle, it’s of course been too often said that Zomby has reanimated rave music and that such displacement of the sound from its spatial-temporal moment renders it uncanny. But then again Zomby’s own tracks already posses a deranged giddiness, daren’t call it wonky, not to mention a definite wistful streak: he both discombobulates Prince’s syrupy “Diamond and Pearls” and favors bubbly tones and cartoon lasers reminiscent of Sega Genesis cartridges. And anyone who has been tracking Simon Reynold’s ongoing postulation of what he calls “the hardcore continuum,” perhaps most convincingly pitched at his FACT lecture, can see a certain logic in this seemingly abrupt transition.

Not so much a digression but a materialization of certain genetic elements in dance music lost to time, mutation and sublimation, Where Were U in ‘92? is forensically persuasive. For its first three tracks, Zomby manages to unload practically every tic, trope and trick in a mad zoom. Starting mid-break, “Fuck Mixing, Let’s Dance” is strewn with niggling chipmunks and Doppler blips. There’s even the child-like voice possibly lifted from some early morning kid’s program, symptomatic of both E-addled wonder and conviviality plus dawn’s stoned comedown bathing in the colors, shapes and rhythms of such visceral TV fantasias (the trope was perhaps most famously exemplified in the Prodigy’s “Charly”).

Zomby ably replicates the fluid, seesawing emotional tenor that courses through rave music: the mélange of hysteria and pleasure. Rude bwai heckles and piano vamps mix with the impossibly high chirps and coos of pitched-up divas looped insatiably. The only missing agent may be acid’s tingly arpeggio squiggles. But, overall, Zomby manages a most convincing tribute-cum-pastiche, as he zips through clipped junglist beat-clusters, Orb-grade spliff clouds and snappy house clatter. By the fourth track, he’s retrofitting Daft Punk and, later down the sequencing, incorporating MC verses that are more bling and bluster and less Zionic revelry. Where are we in ‘92, exactly?

There’s a distinct momentum to the first side that almost allows for a cognitive wormhole, even if the listener wasn’t ever there. (And it does seem Zomby would want this record discussed in such LP terminology given that he tacks on simulated vinyl hiss and a needle lift after the CD’s final track.) As the disc plays on, more contemporary details reveal the actual provenance, even if Zomby is employing, as he claims, vintage gear and “92 studio techniques.” But it’d be hard to argue that he isn’t aware of such past/present conflation. In fact, doesn’t "the hardcore continuum" call for such intersections in the name of reclaiming and repurposing? A small monument and its double, Where Were U In ‘92? both memorializes the passing of a distinct period and shows how its ghosts and echoes lurk on, like it or not.

By Bernardo Rondeau

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