After releasing the Terrorist EP on Innamind, the elusive Karma has returned in illusive fashion. The young South-London producer has gone from strength to strength; experimenting and refining a style that would at first garner the attention of notorious Japanese dubstep baron Goth-Trad before going on to enable him to release on labels such as Mindstep, Innamind and SYSTEM. As such, Karma has become synonymous with a new generation of sound system architects recently gracing the scene, bringing a unique and often innovative approach to the craft and becoming an influential force of organic, iconic system rattling.
Returning for another installation on Vivek’s infamous vinyl imprint SYSTEM, we are reminded that a distinct feature of Karma’s artistic methodology is this position amongst dubstep’s current vinyl vanguard; those who tend to exclusively focus on distilling the purity of their bassweight on the purity inscribed in acetate. The first track “Static” has been closely sought after, with many fans having experienced the fleeting presence of a track, which up until now, was only listenable via various DIY radio rips scattered throughout YouTube or Soundcloud. Yet, finally, “Static” is seeing release and escaping into the world under the watchful eye of Vivek and Karma for SYSTM015 – one could almost say it is a track that has finally seen the light of the day – were not for the fact that this a tune so morbid, ominous and outright demonic that it is perhaps more suitable for it to continue thriving in its own murky shadow-realm.
Immediately, as the track unfurls, one almost imagines waking into a nightmare. Your vision is blurry, your head is spinning and your heart suffers palpitations as you flounder in cerebral dissonance; however, your ears are keen and as a listener, “Static” inundates you with the murmuring and rustling of strange creatures or distant enemies. As one imagines trying to acclimatise to unfamiliar surroundings, these noises haunt the periphery of a dank, dystopian ambience filled with other unique industrial textures; metalwork and pipes, the attenuation of sirens beyond concrete walls, the distant shuffling of monsters or machines.
A sharp, pitch-bending drone signals the onset of each stage as the nightmare unfolds, all this imbalance somehow preserving a hobbling, but steady and vibrant rhythm; the percussion penetrating the song with a vacillation between stopping and starting, faltering and moving forward, the textures coalescing on top of a tempo that is almost dressed to dance in a kind of macabre waltz. For example, a sample of clinking metal becomes a chilling surrogate for the typical dubstep snare, with other samples also clawing each other out the way in order to try and replace the snare with their own morbid presence; the sound of a phone line going dead or perhaps a grimey clang that bellows in steep quantisation. These touches all amount to finishing the composite portrait that represents an incredible piece of sound system artistry: experimental, dark and inimitably forged by the hand of Karma.
The second track “Jade Pit” announces itself in a creeping heartbeat, the rhythm fading in as an arterial bass begins pumping an ethereal ambience into the atmosphere, bleeding and flooding our ears with an immediately recognisable aesthetic of sound, especially for anyone familiar with Karma’s previous dub-tech inspired anthem “How Ya Feel”. Building from the hybridity of pulsating techno and reverberating dub, Karma yet again explores the sonic legacy formed by these foundations, inscribing the dub-tech sensibility with care but precisely administered weight. The track is considerably more minimal than its predecessor, only implementing minor progression; whether a warbling analogue radio, a dubbed-out snare garnished with extra delay or the raise-ya-lighta synth melody that chimes as the song develops; these occasional splashes of colour seep into the more stripped-back canvas of meditative sound and do well to awaken its audience from any somnambulism.
A must-have track for any techno aficionados who can keenly recognise the influence of cross-genre pollination with legendary artists such as Rhythm and Sound, “Jade Pit” definitely stands as an example for those interested in the artistic possibilities of infusing dub with strains of other meditative, bass-driven flavours of sound. All in all, this is a track that holds a beautiful contrast with its predecessor “Static” and goes a long way to rounding off SYSTEM015 as a varied and colourful package of sound system weight, whilst also demonstrating the versatility of Karma’s creative imagination and his practical abilities as an audio engineer. SYSTEM015 is one for the purists and brings an eclectic mix of vibrations sure to be reverberating from open windows on sunny days, or disused warehouses on dark nights, striking at the essence of the karma in the knowledge that, well, it’s all in the balance.