words by Nick Graveline
Coming off his critically acclaimed 2010 album Triangulation, Scuba (real name Paul Rose) had established himself as both a forerunner in the post-Burial UK garage and 2-step scene, as well as the founder of Hotflush Recordings, a label that introduced the world to Sepalcure, Mount Kimbie, and Joy Orbison. Since its founding, Hotflush has maintained an ascetic that’s a blend of ambient dubstep, 2-step, and pitch shifted sample work spread in a variety of directions: Mount Kimbie coming across as intimate and ethereal with folk elements reminiscent of early Four Tet, Sepalcure’s laid back beats and synth grooves speckled with snips of processed R&B vocals, and Joy Orbison’s jungle and 2-step influenced jams that are perhaps best suited for a post-rave afterglow (although “Hyph Mngo” might be an exception). With Triangulation, Scuba came across as a fine protégé for the sound that Burial helped establish, while pushing it further into darker territory. But Personality finds Scuba with a whole new sound that’s both fitting and progressive, particularly when considering the label that bares his signature.
Initially, Rose has some preconceived notions to shake off. “What is it about you that makes you different than other people? Why should I bother to listen when you stand up to speak? They say those who’ve got personality, so is that what you are? Or is there more to you than that? Show me.” In the opening minute of the title track “Ignition Key”, this introspective rhetoric lulls us into a brief existential crisis, leaving us wide open for what’s about to happen. Then Personality hits hard. Heavy drums and bass kick in simultaneously, as pulsing synth lines dispel any notion that Scuba was going to play this one close to the hip. Rather, to take the title literally, this track if anything operates as a launch pad for the series of straight-up jams that is about to follow.
From here on, songs like “The Hope” and “Gekko” are the norm: heavy drum kits layered with bass and synths that pulse like saw blades, yet while somehow still conjuring up a visceral groovy-ness. “Cognitive Dissonance” salutes drum and bass without losing its footing, as synths oscillate and ghostly vocals straddle a line between sultry and jilted.
It could easily be inferred that Rose was going through a moderate to heavy relapse into early Chemical Brothers, Fatboy Slim, and other 90’s electronic releases when he was composing his new record, but not in a way that suggests plagiarism in any sense of the word. Rather, Rose has found a way to meld his influences with his own aesthetic: “NE1BUTU” is a prime example. There’s a lot about this song that drips with the Crystal Method’s debut album Vegas—heavy, big beat drums, pulsing, mind-melting synths, and the wistful vocal insert/drug allusion of “Maybe we should take a trip…”—but the driving piano line, fresh synth tones that steer clear of any acid house flashbacks, combined with moments of 2-step that offset the traditional 90’s beat structures insure that Scuba manages to cop a style that’s all his own. In short, it could be received as Rose’s response to easily one of the Crystal Method’s most iconic tracks “Busy Child”.
While Personality has a few moments that flirt with ambient/atmospheric soundscapes, subtle beat work, and sampling— these moments often occurring at transitional periods throughout the album—the majority of it suggests a major stylistic shift in Scuba’s work. If Personality says anything about Rose as a producer and the art he creates, it would be that he is both highly attuned to the music that inspires him, and even more aware of the legacy he would like his work to leave behind: that he is not a pigeon-holed acolyte of depressed ambient dubstep, but rather a bridge between the 90’s ecstasy filled club scene, and the darker, more introspective, more paranoid, and (probably) equally drug addled one that exists underground in cities around the world. Like any artist looking to establish a voice, often the most cutting edge work has established norms to thank, often starting with something over-done or over-looked. But there’s more to Scuba’s work, and more importantly his new direction, than what has already happened in the Blair/Clinton era rave scene. As his title track suggests, he’s proved there’s more to him than that.