If you don’t know about Russia’s trailblazing record label Sight By Sight by now, it’s time to take notes.
After an incredibly fruitful 2020, the Sight by Sight crew have enjoyed an increasingly broad list of international features and crossovers, including a flagship article published on The 3000 Network several months ago. The Perm-based collective has continued to go from strength to strength with their ever-improving roster, and has displayed a sonic maturation process with production quality and consistency reaching an exciting run of form in house.
On the back of this success it seems only fitting that Russian scene standout Digital Koala would drop an impressive pair of releases with the label. ‘System’ is, in some way, a concept album split into two parts (System PT. 1 & PT. 2), with the first looking to chronicle Russia’s historic relationship with UK underground music. In their words, System looks to:
‘Narrate about our common roots: the British raves, the speed garage boom, the echoes of the old Sheffield, the pioneering producers, label owners and promoters whose interaction led to the creation of a stage with a legendary story.’
The above is a feat and an idea that is impressively represented across the first six tracks on offer. The record kicks off with ‘Vibes and Rhythms’, a bouncy ode to both the church of old school bassline and the roaring wave of uptempo NUKG that’s still being enjoyed across the UK and beyond. The blend of styles is tastefully performed and serves as an appropriate segue into ‘Glide Effects’, the next track to step up to the home plate.
Leaning into house sensibilities (with a couple of playful nods to UK breaks culture), Glide Effects is another effervescent entry with plush synths and rubberlike bass work, teasing a ‘Rhythm of the Night’ sample for good measure. ‘By My Sight’ revels in its wonkier sonic profile, bearing hallmarks of the style pioneered by the Off Me Nut collective, as well as flirting with bassline’s more recently favoured sounds. The latter is a trend continuing well into the next track with ‘Bubble Jam’—an uptempo bass house stomper with dense low end. ‘Power’ further crystallises the developing grotty aesthetic, frying under the heat of distorted bass licks, 4×4 drum patterns and spacey pads. ‘Rehab’, the closing track of the first section, is a furious propulsion into drum and bass territory with sub drops, noisy breakbeats and all-action parallel bass movement—a formidable end to a choice exhibition of UK-tinged sounds.
System’s second portion represents another assortment of bass music, with the Russia native opting to explore drum and bass, UK bass/bass house and 4×4 sounds, all whilst generously helped along by some of the UK’s foremost talents.
Not shy of a dramatic opening, part two leads with ‘Crossed the Line’—a drum and bass tune dripping with festival flavours, legato vocals and roomy drops. The uplifting introduction tees up ‘Grandmaster Flash’, an immediately anthemic NUKB track with West Coast and jackin influences. As far as big room music goes, this is as tasteful and as tight as it gets, and this is reflected by the support from a number of DJs in the scene. ‘Kush Guide’ enjoys full furnishing courtesy of a Griz-O vocal, a responsibility that the Gloucester-born MC takes in his stride. Sordid vocal hooks bob on top of a grubby bass house beat and come together to stand as a solid effort all-round from both men.
A highlight of the LP, if just in terms of the names associated, is the following track, ‘Don’t Let Em’, a collaboration with the ever-deadly Eloquin and seasoned soldier of the game, Dread MC.
In what has now become a well-refined formula, Eloquin lends his experience in producing the grim and the grotty, setting the stage for the urged vocal lines; Dread MC implores the listener to not: ‘Let them do you like that’ and to ‘Push forward and attack’—appropriate thematics for the aggressive music beneath it. ‘CPSU’ sees the Russian go it alone along similar lines; the end result is an impressively melodic stomper wrapped tight around its supporting elements. ‘My Name is SK’ serves as both the last joint effort on the LP, as well as something of a coming-out party for the eponymous MC. Discordant scrapes, tension building synth and stereo work and blistering vocal delivery marks the penultimate track as a barn burner, an ephemeral flash before the chilling conclusion. ‘#STAYHOME’ is a haunting, uptempo banger with a distinctly industrial feel— recondite vocals lurk in the gaps between phrases along with the dissonant clangs, swelling horns and a tireless drum rack. With the world’s suffering shared throughout the coronavirus pandemic, #STAYHOME certainly feels like a bleak vision of an apocalyptic future, perhaps no better imagined than with over a year and a half of inspiration.
As two revered entities in their own right within the Russian underground, Sight by Sight and Digital Koala have successfully combined forces to lay out a consummate manifesto for bass music in the region. With a burgeoning scene growing over in the East, the release seems to come at the right time and ought to be sufficient inspiration for up-and-coming artists to simultaneously up their game and acknowledge the international potential of their work.
With exciting new figures bursting onto the scene such as: baadwrk, B-Founder, Bearonbike, Digital Koala, DNL! and Swamp Cake, amongst many others, the future has never looked brighter for a truly international Russian bass community.
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