The tautologous and over-used phrase ‘a DJ’s DJ’ may well have lost its meaning by now. But there are still a small handful of selectors whose impeccable tastes, mixing capabilities, and – most importantly – capacity to challenge an audience mark them out as more than just crate diggers. Joy Orbison, AKA Peter O’Grady, is one such figure.
Pushing himself to the forefront of the bass-heavy, post-dubstep UK club scene with his excellent debut ‘Hyph Mngo/Wet Look’ 12” in 2009, he has since produced a number of propulsive, club-ready tracks in collaboration with Boddika, Kassem Mosse, and Pearson Sound for labels like Hotflush, Swamp 81, and Nonplus. While his productions are marked by a consistency of narrative and force, his DJ sets are altogether more unpredictable, but no less satisfying. Playing in the early hours of Houghton Festival this summer, Orbison opened with a spoken word poetry sample before launching into a series of writhing, insidious bass throbs and harsh percussive hits, keeping the crowd intrigued, moved, and ready for more. Now, he has produced a compressed insight into this club mentality with a release on the ‘Dekmantel Selectors’ compilation series.
Following in the footsteps of previous selectors Motor City Drum Ensemble and Young Marco, Orbison’s LP is a tracing of the influence of UK club culture on his own artistry. Rather than tying together his eleven tracks by BPM or genre, the compilation is something of an autobiographical journey through Orbison’s formative musical experiences, encompassing garage, breakbeats, techno, and abstract poetics.
Opening with the same piece of poetry that he played at Houghton, James Massiah’s ‘You Ain’t Got To Go Home’, the compilation soon transitions into the ‘80s electro of Toyin Agbetu’s ‘Heartbreaker’ with its infectious melody and rattling groove. The same sense of bright melody continues on R Solution’s ‘Skinny Long Git’, pitting twinkling synths against the vibrant swing of a classic Chicago house groove. Other highlights include the emotive breakbeat chops of Oblivion’s ‘Lush’ – a nod to the pervasive influence of jungle – L.E. Bass’ ‘Strive (Survive Mix)’, with its metallic Drexciyan bass and imminently danceable rhythm, and JP Buckle’s ‘One For Da Laydeez’, which expertly mixes the lo-fi aggression of early Detroit techno with eerie wavering synths.
At points, the patchwork nature of the compilation becomes apparent as Orbison favours abstraction over purpose. Closing number ‘Arrange’ by Hyperdub newcomer Klein is one such selection, comprising chopped vocals and stabs of piano to alienating effect. Similarly, Bitstream’s ‘Vic Twenty’ and Beatrice Dillon’s ‘Curl’ both interrupt the impelling flow of the surrounding tracks in their slow, building rhythms. Yet, it is in allowing the dynamic differences of these interruptions that Orbison reveals his artistic uniqueness. With a disregard for generic convention or stylistic simplicity, his ‘Selectors’ LP is a curated glimpse into UK club histories and also an historical record of how these multi-cultural influences came to bear on one of this decade’s best selectors.
Words: Ammar Kalia
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