Achimeric multistable fusion

Something said in a primary school playground in a dispute over parental status, one assumes, Hard Normal Daddy is one of my favourite album titles. It’s also one of my favourite albums, although I haven’t lived with it as long as other Squarepusher releases, having come at Tom Jenkinson’s oeuvre in a rather haphazard order over the years. It is widely regarded as his definitive release, the one in which his skills as a producer-composer and his remarkable facility with the bass guitar reached a perfect synergy. It still sounds pretty fresh and raw, more than two decades down the line, owing to the rarity with which serious playing is married to out-there EDM production, and the uncompromising savagery with which he threw down his beats here.

He claims to have been influenced by funk rather than fusion in his composition of this record, but at the tempos he deploys many of the tunes sit at an exact, multistable stylistic boundary between drum ’n’ bass and the kind of frenetic funk-based improvisation practiced by Herbie Hancock et al on Thrust, or second generation fusionistas like Tribal Tech. Jenkinson is the sole credited musician, but the way he programs his drums, and (presumably) his keyboards, seems often to be aimed more at a kind of performative naturalism rather than the inhuman, mechanical precision usually associated with this genre of music. Some tracks are out-and-out EDM, but others could pass as the work of an ensemble of instrumentalists if the listener didn’t know better.

Affectively the whole thing is pretty intense, but it covers a lot of ground. Some of it, like ‘Fat Controller’, is really dark, grinding stuff, designed to propel dancers to exhaustion; other tunes, like ‘Papalon’ or ‘E8 Boogie’, exploit harmonic material to a far greater degree than is usually encountered in drum ’n’ bass, and produce open, contemplative atmospheres, even in the midst of frantic riffing. Jenkinson is a very influential musician, but he didn’t invent drum ’n’ bass music. What he did was to take note of the origins of its materials, its breakbeats especially, and investigate the aesthetic and structural affinities that came with them. His practical knowledge of handmade music doubtless helped him towards this critical understanding, and it was absolutely crucial in enabling him to produce this fusion music. He may disavow the established style of fusion as a creative source for the sounds on this recording, but what he forges here is a methodological fusion, which offers the dancer an atavistic frenzy, while the listener enjoys the same kind of detailed intensity that characterises hard-blowing jazz.  And amazingly, brilliantly, there is nothing remotely chimerical about the resulting sound.

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