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Goth-Trad - New Epoch

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Artist: Goth-Trad

Album: New Epoch

Label: Deep Medi

Review date: May. 18, 2012

If you spend an inordinate amount of time on the Internet — which you probably do, as it is the law — it would seem dubstep exists more as a meme than a living genre. Peep this tweet, an enlightened ambassador from the realm of Skrillex punchlines. But in the rush of excitement and praise for the latest Shackleton, you might also stumble upon this delightfully diplomatic take on the current state of the term: ”Now dubstep is such a common word with the youngsters and yet for me, even though it’s a very defined sound in many respects, in the common parlance, it’s a bit of a misnomer because there’s no real two-step element and there’s no real dub element, do you understand what I mean?”

Anyone who’s had baptismal moments with the hardcore continuum and dub will surely get what he means. Goth-Trad is not resynthesizing dubstep from scratch here, and he seems too idiosyncratic to be an ambassador for anything other than himself. His approach is more like burrowing his way in from the very different urban landcape of Tokyo and his own lengthy career scampering over electronic music genres with homemade gear. He’s clearly deep in it: New Epoch is historically and affectively informed without losing any of genre’s original urgency or being a mere showpiece, far from skimming signifiers off the top in the service of massive drops, or really any drop at all. It’s a standard-bearer — this is brink-of-apocalypse dubstep, wringing your guts with its internal tension rather than banging you over the head — without being didactic. It’s a good fit for Digital Mystikz’s Deep Medi Musik label.

Deep Medi is not the only label keeping the 140-bpm flame burning. What sets Takeaki Maruyama’s latest as Goth-Trad apart is less identifiable as a genre trait, but it guides the experience: the willingness to be difficult. That could be read as a reductive idea of intelligence — certainly purposefully difficult music stands as good a chance of being garbage as the stuff that’s too eager to please — but it’s meant to underline that New Epoch is a record that takes time to open up. Starting with the tension-building opening of “Man in the Maze,” Goth-Trad maintains a balance between forward movement and ominous gyres, earning your attention with idiosyncratic, textured samples and cavernous, steely rhythms.

If the album has a white elephant moment, it’s “Babylon Fall,” in which Goth-Trad has the utterly sound idea to call on Max Romeo for vocals. It makes slightly less sense to threaten to drown Romeo out in an early spume of “wobble bass,” but the producer’s overexcitable side is kept in check by the addition of a creepy toy-piano counterpoint. It’s out of character with the bulk of New Epoch for Goth-Trad to come on with this kind of widescreen vision, but as the track’s full scope comes into view, it justifies itself. The music provokes Romeo into fighting for control over the track, which he handily wins with a light touch and ever-timely meditations on, well, Babylon’s fall.

The moody New Epoch embodies financial, social, and cultural precarity and unease with the same taint of radiation that marked Kode9 & The Spaceape’s Black Sun, an interesting and incompletely realized album that lacked, perhaps intentionally, the visceral force that balances the atmosphere of torqued dread here. But New Epoch isn’t merely a corrective, to that album or the genre as a whole. Goth-Trad is not breathing new life into a genre that’s become somewhat stale, he’s tailoring it to fit his needs and in the process showing the sound still has purchase. Making do, in the expanded sense.

By Brandon Bussolini

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