Review: East Stepper ‘Insignificant Binary’

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Rave’s foster children are everywhere. Sub-genres are surging stronger and dying faster than ever. Drum ‘n bass is a fascinating study in this regard, peaking toward the beginning of the millennium and then giving way to evolution more extremely than, arguably, any electronic sub-genre before it. The movement took off over the later years of the nineties, ballooning into its massive own until it went the way of stagnation and eventual (some might say) decay.

But if drum ‘n bass is a trend in the retrospective, you won’t hear it said in this country. Burgeoning scenes in cultural capitals here attest to its popularity even today – acts like Ox7gen, Bay Beat Collective and Mental Martians are frequent billings across festivals and clubs.

Last year, East Stepper (Abhishek Jha) released a solid eight-track LP called Blue Leaf, slipping local sounds into a lovingly polished mix to make that rare drum ‘n bass which was both original and remarkable. Working quietly away in his studio, Jha has kept mostly to himself on the live circuit.

We at Border Movement have long been keen on sampling his 2013 offerings.

It’s not hard to see that Insignificant Binary isn’t a debut LP. It showcases many things that were right with Blue Leaf – the well-timed breaks are there, as is the indigenous Indian sound; East Stepper is still pointedly stepping away from feeble attempts at UK junglist imitation. However, on ‘A Thousand Burning Cosmos’ and ‘Mind Hole’, commercial effects are an uncomfortable addition to his repertoire.

Of course, drum ‘n bass by definition was always meant to be repetitive; feet are meant to move to the bassline, not to the Amen break. The distinction between repetitive and monotonous, however, is an important one – and on Insignificant Binary’s more disappointing tracks, that line tends to blur.

Stutters like this could probably have been ignored if expectations coming off Blue Leaf weren’t so high. Still, East Stepper represents quality music and there’s plenty to engage the drum ‘n bass enthusiast over the course of the record. The frenetic ‘Ta Kita Dhina’ hearkens to his previous efforts in the best way possible, as does ‘Lighter’, wound around soulful folk vocals.

‘Culture Tech’ takes its time working up a warm groove around a heartbeat bass. It’s interesting how Jha injects tablas and strings late into the mix on this one, and how he lets them marinate before the stuttering vocals kick in.

What completes the first half, though, is the infectious title track – ‘Insignificant Binary’ propels a typical Borgore bass into something far more deft and organic, something you’re bound to keep coming back to. What really numbs ‘Mind Hole’ is, surprisingly, what Jha has shown he is usually proficient at slipping into his beats – the vocals. The album tapers into a steady rhythm over the rest of the second half. ‘Ambush In Jharkhand’ is a terse chase sequence made dance-worthy, tablas punctuating a ritualistic urgency that is unlike anything East Stepper has produced before.

‘Vriksha’ intersperses curious deep drone with flutes and soaring voices, definitely a late standout, and possibly what ought to have ended the album over a comparatively lackluster ‘Love Me Shiva’, a track that seems to focus more on ear-friendly timed builds and drops than it should. It is inevitable that the record will draw comparisons to his debut: but Insignificant Binary is, all in all, what it ostensibly set out to be – a welcome assortment by a superlative producer. Listen in.

written by Tej Haldule

NEWS - 15. September 2013   CITY - New Delhi ARTIST - East Stepper

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