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Proc Fiskal - Insula Music Album Reviews

Proc Fiskal - Insula Music Album Reviews
Still a child during grime’s original heyday, the Edinburgh producer approaches the genre with a collagist’s appreciation for layering, juxtaposition, and hyper-referentiality.

Joe Powers grew up 300 miles and 10 years away from the epicenter of grime. The Edinburgh producer would have been more interested in plastic blocks than tower blocks back when Deja Vu FM was transmitting from the rooftops of East London. But his debut album as Proc Fiskal is one of the most original records to emerge from the genre’s current burst of afterlife, possessing an outsider spirit all its own.

As you might expect from a musician born in the late 1990s, Powers’ introduction to grime came not through pirate radio but the flattened digital vistas of YouTube, where he discovered vintage tunes by first-wavers like Wiley and Danny Weed. Grime itself is always somewhat distant in Powers’ universe—always mediated, altered by the passage of time, or seen through a screen. Insula is a dense thicket, like an ocean gyre that’s churned a ton of colorful flotsam into an ad hoc territory of its own, isolated from its original destination. Over its 16 tracks you can make out the eski clicks and plinking 8-bit melodies of classic grime; gooey synth tones lifted from ambient music; cut-up drums reaching IDM levels of anal-retentive orderliness; and random bursts of conversation captured on Powers’ phone. “If ma dad knew what was going on he’d fucken’ eat your eyes,” squeaks an adversary on “Achiltibuie,” one of several interludes that create intimate B-roll footage for his emotional narrative.

These voices, often captured unawares, lend Insula an intimacy that’s often been missing from recent instrumental grime, much of which is tooled up for the dancefloor. Powers can do rugged instrumentals too—his first EP for Hyperdub, 2017’s The Highland Mob, was a more clinical interpretation of classic 8-bar riddims, while the recent Hello Boss EP took a detour through jungle and dub. But, as its title suggests, Insula is more introspective, a scrapbook of false memories and eavesdropped emotions.

Vintage grime is broken and rebuilt to provide the album’s basic skeleton; most of the melodies are powered by sounds from old computer software and video games like “Paper Mario” and “Pikmin,” along with an arsenal of classic grime sources like the Korg Triton and the Plugsound VST. The air is thick and alive, packed with clicks, squeaks, and whirrs, as on the 8-bit sugar-rush of “Scotch Precog” and the melancholy chimes of “Future Headache”; on these tunes, the effect is strangely akin to the hyperactive collage beats of early Four Tet and Manitoba. The nod to the past is more explicit on “A Like Ye,” a Scottish spin on Dizzee Rascal’s genre-defining “I Luv U”; elsewhere, standouts “Apple Juice” and “Dish Washing” expand the concept of eski clicks to include birdsong, helium voices, and the simple sound of breathing.

Powers has said that these songs are about “girls, depression, positivity, being unemployed, being employed [and] hating it,” among other quotidian concerns; his phone addiction also features, with social-media notification sounds providing hormonal spikes at random. On “Dopamine” he addresses his addiction through a frantic beat and twinkling keys which have a distinctly “Eastern” feel—a tribute to the historical meta-genre of sinogrime, coined by Hyperdub label boss Kode9 to describe a seam of grime tunes with vaguely Chinese-influenced melodies.

Those pretty keys appear throughout Insula in a style that also nods to the tranquil beauty of Ryuichi Sakamoto’s piano melodies. The Japanese composer has been a key influence on the current generation of grime artists, including Mr. Mitch and Yamaneko—the former taking grime into the zone of minimalist R&B and pop, the latter making connections with ambient and video-game music. Their introspective deconstructions of grime machismo are obvious forebears to Insula, but Powers has forged a sound of his own, too: scattershot and emotional, attention deficient and frantically detailed. As its filigree twists expand into every available space, Insula suggests there are still acres left to explore in this increasingly virtual territory.

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