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Hexstatic – Scan Me EP

Trailer Trax's 'Scan Me' EP wallows so deeply in the 1990s that it ought to be buried in a time capsule with a Sega Megadrive and a Blue Peter badge.

'The music business has changed', Hexstatic inform us, explaining this free download. Well, the music business has changed, but the main change is that supply of music now vastly outstrips demand. Acts argue that free releases are a good way of getting exposure, that exposure will build a fanbase, and that fanbase can be monetized via live performances, merchandise sales and various other sorts of fan-funding.

the landscape is changing quickly to one in which music which is perceived to be worthwhile costs money, and all the dross is free.

The music industry, meanwhile, gets on with doing what it always did – finding acts whose music people will buy, and charging money for it. XL don't give away Adele's records for free, Atlantic don't give away Rumer CDs. The only band with mainstream demand who strayed from the traditional path was Radiohead, whose In Rainbows was released on a 'pay what you want to' model. It is telling that their subsequent album: King of Limbs, saw a return to the 'pay what we tell you to' format. What Music2.0 is doing to the music industry is creating a two-tier value system. Quite contrary to the principles upon which it was founded (which were partly the desires of established musicians to escape the restrictions of the old music business) the landscape is changing quickly to one in which music which is perceived to be worthwhile costs money, and all the dross is free.

The psychology behind free music giveaways is really not so very far off vanity publishing. Artists will spout all sorts of nonsense about how they make music for themselves and their friends only, and that it ain't about the money, man. Or that music belongs to humanity and shouldn't be sold. Or that the industry's changed and the music should only be seen as one part of a portfolio of added value that forms your brand. There are loads more, you can read them all, ad nauseum, in the comments on any music blog. The one you'll never see though, is this:

My music is released for free because I am not strong enough to accept that it will not sell if I put it up for sale. Having my friends share it about on Facebook allows me to believe that it has worth, without having to accept that no-one, not even the ones who hit the 'like' button, would go so far as to pay money for it

Strange, that. 

hexstatic djScan Me is a collection of uninspired, derivative-to-the-point-of-plagiarism, formulaic and plodding dance tracks which would have sounded a bit hackneyed had they been released in 1991. Two decades later, they are almost an insult. The final track 'Doner', is passable – a big buildup, rave dancefloor masher, with decent panning and programming, but lacking a coherent groove. It might have been worthy of a Go Bang Records b-side twenty years ago. The rest transparently 'reference' the synth chords, beats, basslines, hooks and grooves of Inner City, Bizarre Incorporated and Olive.

This is dance music made by someone who seems so impressed by cheap music software's ability to sample and assemble beats, vocals and chords in a nice visual user display that it hasn't occurred to him to listen to what is actually coming out of the speakers. In good dance music beats progress and mutate, basslines develop and continue beyond eight bars at a time; vocals add nuance and emotion. It may seem that it's just a case of arranging loops of sound in sequence, but dance music that affects, endures and (let's face it) costs, is made with the same attention to melody, harmony, composition and tempo as any other genre. That this EP comes via Hexstatic, whose musical reputation was partly built on their use of unlikely samples and field recordings, is surprising.

Creating a dance classic is not just about cutting and pasting loops. To draw so heavily on the melody and tone of Olive's 'You're Not Alone' on 'Spirit', even if it does get rinsed with sidewave compression, does nothing but draw attention to how very much less talented Trailer Trax is. The same is obvious in 'Her Scene' a knock-off 'Playing with Knives; on 'So Good': a flaccid Inner City-inflected, bit-hoppy, less-than-the-sum-of-its-parts mess; or on 'Carnival Drop', which does nothing that LFO didn't do twenty years ago.

What's annoying is that the producer clearly has the ability to create interesting beats and builds, but smothers them with 90s nostalgia. Where is Trailer Trax's own vision? The whole EP is desperately lacking in confidence – the confidence to bring in a vocal a bit later, or to strip back the filters and effects to let the rhythms show. It also lacks the commitment that it takes to go out and find a vocalist or a bass player and actually record them live instead of using samples. We can hear the difference. Certainly, it takes more time and effort and money to do so. That's why quality music is not free.

Pretty rough review? It doesn't matter though, does it? It's a free download from http://hexstatic.bandcamp.com/,  so you can decide for yourself. There's only a hundred thousand or so other free releases out there competing for space on your desktop, most of them worth just about the same as Scan Me.

 Hexstatic presents Trailer Trax – Scan Me EP released on May 9th via Lower Level


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