The praises of Hessle Audio have been sung around these parts – and elsewhere – plenty of times before. It’s easy to ramble at length about the stratospheric quality control that’s applied to every release by founders Ben UFO, Pangaea and Pearson Sound; or marvel at the number of game-changing records that have been graced with that unassuming logo since the label’s inception in 2007. ‘116 & Rising’, though, is their biggest challenge yet. A departure from the functional dancefloor 12” which has been their staple diet, the label have called all past contributors (and a few special guests) to provide brand new tracks for a glossy 12-track compilation. To be honest, there was no doubt in my mind that the ever-modest trio would pull this off. But the style with which they’ve managed it is an unexpected treat.
Some producers offer up companion pieces to their past Hessle glories: Blawan’s ‘Potchla Vee’ is an ultra-syncopated garage stormer in the vein of his debut 12” for the label, with just the slightest glimmer of rave redemption setting it apart from the ghoulish paranoia of ‘Fram’ and ‘Iddy’. And Peverelist’s epic closer, ‘Sun Dance’, could be an offcut from his recent Hessle outing; there’s that same curiously frantic/static drumwork, and a blissful, sinuous, Autonomic-esque bassline which is sure to turn heads.
But elsewhere what’s striking is how far these producers have moved on. Cosmin TRG’s louche roller ‘Bijoux’ is miles away from his early contributions to the label, accurately summing up his latter transition from dubstep innovator to house auteur. Elgato and Joe plumb the depths tempo-wise, following a recent trend for UK producers to extend their feelers into percussive house territory. Joe’s ‘Twice’ is particularly strong, clattering and stuttering along at a stilted 116bpm (presumably giving the compilation its name in the process). Perhaps the starkest reminder of Hessle’s far-reaching influence is the presence of post-dubstep poster boy James Blake, whose retooling of ‘Give A Man A Rod’ shows he still has one foot firmly on the dancefloor.
Things are livened up by the inclusion of a few outsiders. Bright young thing Randomer brings the fire with ‘Brunk’, a perversely swung barrage of kick and snare, lightly dusted with ever-so-slightly cheeky vibes chords. Elsewhere, Addison Groove provides a typically light-footed, juke-indebted take on 140bpm bass.
But the real meat comes with D1’s ‘Subzero’, a relic of the hazy days of DMZ whose punishing, mechanistic bass throb reveals itself as a common ancestor of Pearson Sound’s ‘Stifle’ and Addison’s ‘Fuk Tha 101’, suggesting that the current wave of UK drum machine music might not be as exotic as you first thought. It’s curation like this – joining the dots between seemingly divorced strands of the UK bass spectrum to create something coherent but vibrant, teeming with colour and life – that makes Hessle so much more than the sum of its parts. Given the ease and finesse with which they’ve tackled their first major project as a label, it’s easy to see far bigger things on the horizon.