Written By: Amye Broziel
If the mere mention of “dubstep” is enough to induce a skull-pounding headache, Jelly Bots will come as a relief – and a surprise. The newest release from UK dance music producer and DJ Taiko subverts the genre’s commercial reputation, and offers a melodic twist on underground dubstep’s relentlessly dark tradition. Melancholy, yet sweet, the four-track EP is a lyricless lesson in sonic storytelling, and a soothing exploration of human emotion.
Jelly Bots was released in December 2016 on White Peach Records. A month and a half later, the record remains stuck on repeat. The EP marks the conclusion of a career-defining year for Taiko, who started 2016 with Splinted – the second release on fledgling label Albion Collective – and continued his impressive momentum on the cinematic Flummox EP, then a vinyl-only release with bass music heavyweight TMSV. Each project earned a spot on my personal highlight reel, but there’s something special about Jelly Bots that defines Taiko’s treasured place in my heart, and among dubstep’s sonic landscape.
This is not your obnoxious high-school brother’s dubstep. As in the genre’s original, non-commercial tradition, Taiko’s style is sophisticated, minimal, and anchored to the low end; studio headphones or speakers are required to appreciate and even hear his music entirely. But unlike much deep dubstep, there’s nothing aesthetically inaccessible about Jelly Bots. The EP is characterized by a pure musicality that eludes (but doesn’t contradict) the norms of DJ-centric dance music. Each track on the release is a puzzle piece suited for sound system play in live sets, but put together, the EP provides a straightforward listening experience of its own.
Jelly Bots unfolds as a sentimental outpouring, starting with “Absent Kind”. The first track sets the tender mood of the EP with a rolling orchestral melody that builds momentum as the tune progresses, and subtle vocal accents that invoke audible human intimacy. There’s a cinematic quality to the tune typical of Taiko’s signature sound, to an effect best described by its title. “Absent Kind” suggests a relateable context for the EP, both complementing and explaining the emotional resonance of the project.
The EP’s title track is easily the most dance floor-ready moment on the release. “Jelly Bots” unleashes a raw, gritty energy that lends well to live sets, but without interrupting the EP’s intuitive flow. It conveys a certain aggression familiar to anyone who’s ever struggled to keep their emotions in check. The tumultuous rhythm is revisited in “There Dem,” the EP’s closing song. Stylistically, both tunes borrow from instrumental traditions of UK grime. There’s an urgency to the beat, and a sense of frustration embodied by gritty mid-bass and punching sub-basslines.
But the true soul of Jelly Bots is “Never Again”. The gem of a third track encompasses the emotional ambivalence that characterizes the release, to profound musical effect. The haunting, minimal melody that weaves through the tune is reminiscent of a song that might play from a wind-up music box, a whisper of the same bittersweet nostalgia suggested by the title. The bassline below, however, moves forward at a pointed pace, asserting in no uncertain terms that some memories are best left in the past.
Unlike its commercial cousin, deep dubstep is an intimate affair. The style is special for its resonance, not only as it emanates from sound systems in the dance, but how it pierces our own hearts in authentic expressions of what it means to be human. Its character is contained by the juxtaposition of pleasure and pain articulated so poetically by Taiko’s EP. If you’re turned off by the “dubstep” description, perhaps it’s time to cast the bias aside and give the foundational genre a second chance. American dubstep is finally beginning to shake its stigma. Unprecedented sonic innovation is rising from the niche scene, and you’ll want to keep an ear to the astute community’s revitalized soundtrack.