Breaking Free review

In life, some look to the past, whilst others to the future. But true visionaries create something different, something unique. With art, with music, and with culture, an individual can create their own destiny, and Breaking Free has been designed to give you that opportunity.

A freedom. A freedom to be, to live, and to dance. A breaking away from convention, expectation and orthodoxy. Breaking Free. An album, a collection of music and a new way of looking at breakbeat hardcore and drum & bass.
The album focuses exclusively on breakbeat hardcore and drum & bass. Breakbeat hardcore, a more mature and discerning relative of the rave scene, has seen an explosion in popularity over recent times. With touches of drum & bass to act as counterpoint, the DJs which the project has brought together guide listeners through a journey into the future.

And the future is bright for a project which has had quite a history. Over two years in the making, Breaking Free is the result of many hours of hard work, toil, and, above all, vision. A vision to bring the free-to-download album to as many people as possible. And now is the chance to enjoy the fruits of this labour.

The contribution of the DJs selected for Breaking Free cannot be underestimated. Ponder and Skampy are firm favourites in the breakbeat hardcore scene, both racking up many years of DJing and radio experience. As producers, they have contributed a number of critically acclaimed and successful releases. Luna-C, meanwhile, has a CV up there with any of the greatest names in underground electronic music, writing music, producing and DJing since the early 1990s.

The album is made up of three quite distinct mixes, provided but the three DJs. All are united in spirit and aim, but achieve their ends in quite unique ways. The first mix is entitled In The Night We Come Alive, and comes courtesy of Ponder.

Right from the opening notes of ‘No Trouble’, from Ponder himself and Wizbit, you feel that everything you have wished for, and waited for, is right here in front of you. Ponder and Wizbit have been true to the scene and the sound for many years, and it is only fitting that the two find themselves at the very beginning of the first mix. The sweet swing and the movement contained in the break capture the groove which Ponder alluded to in the interview which he recently did for this site (http://futureintalekt.com/2012/04/25/breaking-free-interview-1-ponder-in-the-night-we-come-alive/).

It is not an overstatement to say that ITNWCA contains both the what and the why I listen to breakbeat hardcore. Everything fans would want is here. The thought and the effort which has gone into the project become more and more evident as the mix goes on. The selection contains versions of tunes which have been around for a few months in various guises (I’m thinking here of the StrifeII remix of Cat Like Thief’s As Rain Falls, which captures feelings like few other compositions can, and Entity’s Fallen Souls, with its touches of classic-era Force & Styles in its piano breakdown), as well as exclusive, never-heard-before efforts, which lend the mix a strong slant to the future.

Stylistically, the mix blends and blurs boundaries of breakbeat and drum & bass (and indeed this cross-border approach has been evidenced by the success of cuts from the album on drum & bass YouTube channel Liquicity). Each track is enriched by different elements of the producer’s pallette. Epiphany is centered around the ethereal vocals of Kelly Southall, whilst Always & Forever has a euphoric edge to its sound. A close listen gives a chance to really see inside this track, and how the synths, piano and surrounds interplay with each other to achieve the result. Indigo goes beyond what you might expect of hardcore, into new, deeper territory, taking convention into far away places. The delayed drop is a thing of sheer beauty.

The old skool sounding keys of the spacey, solitary-sounding Faces Of Angels are echoed on Higher Functions, which features the mix’s second remix from Japan’s shining star DJ Shimamura. Interestingly, the mix’s ‘title’ track, Under The Skies, somehow feels like the selection’s fulcrum point, setting up the mix, despite being in the middle rather than at the beginning. It is Ponder’s mastery of the music which allows this contrast. StrifeII’s Beacon City Skyline sounds like the future of the planet and the universe, whilst I have described the utterly inspiring Afrika elsewhere as ‘life’s theme music’.

Chimera provides a fitting, descriptive ending, sounding both positive and optimistic. Truly, in the night we come alive.

The history of the Luna-C/Smart E’s/Kniteforce empire is well known, but Breaking Free marks yet another chapter in his miraculous tale. The new Kniteforce webshop is live as we speak, and all of the back catalogue of his various labels has been remastered and is available again. The music on Luna-C’s mix for Breaking Free is, in the main, from the man himself, and is brand new.

Luna-C exploits the cornucopia of chaos on the second mix, Hardkorenakopia: Into The Chaos. The slightly insane opening, filled with on-edge, old skool sounds soon rolls into familiar Luna-C territory, of samples and the cut-up style of Luna’s Supasets, of which H:ITC is volume 12.
The selection soon heads off in strange and unexpected directions, using elements of hip hop, jungle and drum & bass to illustrate the parallels of unity and disharmony which are inherent in chaos. The galloping Brand New Genius contrasts with the deliberate, intelligent approach of Wonko The Sane’s The Mentat’s Method in a similar way the tracks and inserts waver between the frivolous and the serious.

‘The Paradox’ is classic Cru-L-T, and, before a mid-point hiatus, the mix takes a darker turn, with a slightly industrial feel. On Into The Dark by Ax-is, and Black Sky by Shive, breaks still dominate, but are shown to be instruments of darkness and frustration, as opposed to the lightness and goodness which they provide elsewhere on BFTA.

Indeed, H:ITC is markedly different to the other two mixes on the album, and, as befitting a Luna-C project, considers music and the art of DJing in a different way to that which others do. The setting of the mix is one to keep listeners on their toes, and the mix may, on first listens, appear to be less direct, less flowing than its compatriots. Repeated listens, and a deeper understanding, however, reveal more of Luna’s plan. H:ITC is a clear example of the effort and investment required in such a project, both by the DJ and listeners.
H:ITC launches back into mix with the decidedly Kniteforce-sounding A Foot In Both Worlds by Bass & Bias, and later selection The Shivers is particularly on point and successful. Strange Brotherhood’s My Ghost is unreservedly the highlight of the package, with one of the best beats I have heard in a long time – the way it drops back in is simply divine.

The latter portion of H:ITC contains Luna’s ‘Success’n’Mistreet’ megamix. Those familiar with C’s early career ‘successes’ will no doubt appreciate the title, as will those who have had a chance to examine his recently-published book, ‘How To Squander Your Potential’. The megamix marks a fitting closing of the mix, which, on balance, provides a fair mixture of questions and answers.

The introduction to London City Sounds, for those that know – is, finally, a statement of intent. The ‘dance’ of LCS, indeed of BFTA as a whole, brings the tribe together, and the mix which proceeds after Paul E.’s words brings together a assortment of sounds, emotions and feelings.

The mix kicks off by flipping immediately into the fun rip of Renegade Genius’ RM In The Jungle – here the beat starts, and doesn’t give up. Those familiar with Skampy’s DJing, perhaps through his Kraftyradio.com sets (Thursdays, 9pm, Breakbeat Hardcore For The People Dem, dontchaknow?) will be aware of his style and preferred selection – he is rightly known for being at the very cutting edge of bbhc/dnb sounds, presented in a smooth mix style. The mix into Chris Ross & Audioshift’s big, booming You’re Driving Me Crazy tune, with its ruff beat and almost dark, chaotic moments – tempered by sweet pianos – lays the foundation for the ride contained on LCS.

LCS emerges from the tunes selected, which both fit the mix, and become it. Skampy’s first remix of the set comes with his take on Alex Bassjunkie’s Kamiakzi – just the first example of the variety contained on LCS. Those without borders can blend sounds (and whole scenes) together – allowing those with foresight to break free of boundaries.

This is not to make an overly-bold statement that breakbeat hardcore is everything to everybody, it is to restate that it may not be what you expected – and this is of course the point of the album and the project of which it forms an integral part.

Kamikazi is effortlessly matched with and mixed into Refresh by Gavin G. What can one say about Gavin G? – except that his music is beautiful. I will leave it at that, you simple have to discover his music for yourself. Whatever you currently listen to, you will enjoy what he does.

Skampy’s mix spins on, and cuts into Wizbit’s Capacitor (the Bustin & Skampy remix, in what may be a slightly different, or final, take to that which has been played on their various radio shows.) The remix of Capacitor forms part of the first release of the newly resurrected Lucky Breaks label, ownership of which has transferred from the hands of Wizbit to those of Bustin & Skampy. The relaunch is set to ignite the world of breakbeat hardcore, so be sure not to sleep on that.

Other facets of the breakbeat sound are the old skool and reggae influences – and Capacitor has echoes of each. For me though, the tune, and, I am left pondering, the entire mix, album and scene, is defined by the piano break. It has to be heard to be believed.

Capacitor is mixed down into the epic sounds of Tear Your Soul by Ill Advised & Aike, which manages to warm (the intro) and tear the soul (the main part) in equal measure – stepping out of the breaks mould for a moment.

Later, the mix develops into a who’s who of the current scene, with appearances from not only Dave Skywalker, but also the massed ranks of the past and present Eruption family (think TC, TenTun and Skampy) on the remix of Timespan’s Shout Now. The mix effortlessly shows off different types of breakbeat hardcore, and different examples of the breakbeat itself – the scene and the sound has never been, and will never be, just one thing, but is as variable and vibrant as anything you’d care to compare it to.

Future troops and those from outside the subgenre also show up for some fun. AB and Arkitech adequately illustrate that breakbeat has friends and colleagues in freeform . However, it is bbhc stalwart Ponder who provides LCS’s stop-in-your-tracks moment, with the awe-inspiring Calling (See The Light) (Click remix). An out of body experience of a tune, replete with white, shimmering, clean, lights, but with a forceful beat and groove despite this.

In contrast, Rik Arkitech’s Never Trust Authority (in its Ready For Dub incarnation)’s dark overtones of revolution & violence invoke Institutions grinding and stumbling – which is in turn reflected in the music. If you want to hear music like this live, you have the opportunity in the UK this summer, with events such as Freeskool, I Love Hard Beats 2 and Hardcore Underground in London in August. Information on all of these events is available on Facebook.

The mix lifts out of this, into another Bustin and Skampy remix, this time of Dean Anthony’s Set Me Free. Rolling piano, beats, and bass dominate in a great example of a remix which adds and reshapes elements whilst still maintaining the spirit and image of the original – surely fundamental requirements of a remix. The lift towards the end embodies the spirit of optimism and pride contained within LCS.

The title of London City Sounds comes from the next track in the mix. As much as we talk about universality, in many ways breakbeat and hardcore as a whole is, historically a London thing, and ‘London City’ ties things together, as it is handled & reflected by its artists (Supplier, Wizbit, Uplift) and mixer . The socio-geographical placing at the same time balances the breaking out and away from it.

The mixed bundle of Breaks & Insanity is characterised by an old skool-y, bedroom production feel – especially in the keys, and this is also reflected on the Breaks mix of Where’s Your Moog’s Head At – albeit with slightly updated, cleaner and clearer sounds. Two Skampy favourites follow. The treatment of the classic vocals and piano on It’s Not Over truly sets the standard for album and wider genre and the VIP of (Don’t Make Me Get) Oldskool is LCS’s crowning moment.

Into the final furlong, we are given one last opportunity to fly around the universe with Tufftouch, before the battling, bruising close of Fire by D.Trac3d.

In summing up, Breaking Free The Album is about something new, something which hasn’t been attempted thus far. It is aimed to change minds, to open ears, and to move souls. Open up, delve in, and break free.

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