Continuing to pick and choose from dance music's ever-expanding past for seams of inspiration, Raffertie's single most endearing talent as a musician is that he references without trapping himself too deeply in the tropes and cliches of any particular style or period.
Post-dubstep, although the term is knuckle-bitingly uncomfortable in the cold light of print on screen, is an apt designation. Not a genre, but a location in the continuum of electronic beats music destined for dancefloors. Must we be so clumsy and vague in our definitions? Probably. No sooner is a label pinned on a piece of dance music than an expert (and give them their due, they usually are quite expert) explains why this is not an example of the form. And even with Mass Appeal, the only really post-dubstep aspect to the tunes are the periodic moments of throbbing compressed bass.
But, as the dubstep forum joke goes: back in our day we didn't have dubstep. There were no WOB WOB WOBS. We had techno, and tSSt tSSt tSSts, and were bloody grateful for it.
It's apt here, because amongst the recognisable sources of inspiration are those high-end machined techno beats, along with a host of other instantly datable samples and voices. The joy of listening to Raffertie's work so far is that he is aware of how blissfully fresh, new, and dear so many of those dance music signifiers were to their fans at the time.
it's an honest nod to the floor-killer classics of Quazar or D-Shake
To get painfully semantic about it – he revisits, but doesn't plunder. And so, when in the title track the bass drop comes just when you are expecting it to, it's an honest nod to the floor-killer classics of Quazar or D-Shake, simpler and more subtle than the more recent fashion for delaying the drop beyond all but the most perverse tastes, and in the process damaging the glorious balance of tension and release that is dance music's most refined gift.
If anything, subtle is the keyword. At least in comparison to his last EP Visual Acuity, which took a grandiose technique to composition and ended up creating vast melodic mini-epics with more dynamics and drama than anything on this more reflective set of tunes. Hence the mentions of techno in earlier paragraphs. Although it's far from being a techno record, there are approaches of the genre evident in the sparse layering, separation, coalescence and elasticity of the beats. And the rhythms, to be accurate.
That's most evident in 'Brevity' – the penultimate track of the EP and the weakest of the bunch. Where the other tracks take aspects of various styles and graft them together in suprisingly viable combinations (dubstep basslines underpinning 90s hardfloor vocal hooks for example), 'Brevity' doesn't manage to pull off its combination of arrhythmic bass fills and techno topline. The deadened vocal intrusions and studied interruptions of the song's groove remind too much of Emptyset to be comfortable, and the track is without the quirky individuality of styleclash that makes the opening two tracks of the EP so entertaining. But then, perhaps you like Emptyset.
Elsewhere though, the EP is a joyful mixture of breathy compressed basslines, screwface snare/hi-hat loops and haunting interludes of melody. Title track 'Mass Appeal' is a deeply satisfying tune, well-crafted an predictable in the best sense of the word. The bass drops, the builds, the breakdown and the beats are all where they should be – which means that those few people left in nightclubs who actually wave their arms a bit, won't end up doing so at the wrong time.
Out on Ninja Tune, 6th February
Sean Keenan used to write. Now he edits, and gets very annoyed about the word ‘ethereal’. Likely to bite anyone using the form ‘I’m loving….’. Don’t start him on the misuse of three-dot ellipses.
Divides his time between mid-Spain and South-West France, like one of those bucktoothed, fur-clad minor-aristocracy ogresses you see in Hello magazine, only without the naff chandeliers.