Music Reviews
With U

Holy Other With U

(Tri-Angle) Buy it from Insound Rating - 8/10

What we know about Holy Other can be summed up in a few clauses: he's either a Berliner or a Mancunian, he plays with a black cloth over his head, and this year he released an EP called With U on Tri-Angle records. I've never been to one of his live shows, but thanks to YouTube I watched him play at the Rewire festival, in the Hague. It was excellent and strange; that fucking cloth makes me wonder how he sees the buttons he presses – the place is so dark. The atmosphere seemed cold, digital – funereal, befit for a requiem.

Because I believe that dubstep is where the new music is at, its state (you can substitute that word for other abstract nouns like health, body, form, et al.) constantly intrigues me, but I also know I am at a fault for being such a detective about it, because it operates in Europe, mostly in England, and I live in Brooklyn. So when 4AD releases The Vision by the Joker, a horrible record that'll be forgotten in a month, for sure, and it gets all this turgidity that he'll “eventually gain massive crossover appeal,” I'm wondering if American audiences are being fooled, that perhaps the Joker won a lottery held in London called The New Dubstep Artist for America! You'd think the World Wide Web offers a solution to this whole living across the pond deal, but it doesn't; it makes dubstep doubly elusive, plagued with mass-media marketing and sociological inconsistencies. Then I've got this gem of an EP by the next I'm-Not-Showing-My-Face producer (Burial, Zomby, Holy Other...there will be others) to deal with. It's no doubt the best EP of 2011, but where did it come from?

First: who the fuck is going around calling records post-dubstep? Post- anything is defined in my Oxford-American Dictionary as “after, in time or order.” But isn't dubstep occurring right now? Or did I miss it? Did it die? Or what? Names of genres and their history have always been problematic. They say punk was birthed in 1977, a time when The Clash and The Sex Pistols were making records. But listening to Funhouse by Iggy Pop and The Stooges, released in 1970, and MC5's Kick Out The Jams, out a year earlier, suggests otherwise. Post-punk (Joy Division, The Cure, Gang of Four) still had passion, but were more depressed and existential – it's apparent in the lyrics, the fashion, how they played live with less aggression, blah blah blah. Of course, the artists themselves don't care about the pigeon-holing, but I sure do.

I mention all this punk, post-punk rambling to compare it to dubstep and post-dubstep. I'm listening to Skream, who I safely assume is a dubstep producer, not post-dubstep, and I hear its grime, the upbeat, how danceable his songs are. And now, Holy Other. It's slower, more emotional, deeper. Compare it to post-punk's lesser amount of aggression, if you will. It gets me wondering: if all music has to do is slow its tempo down, does that change its genre? Post-hardcore becomes emo...big band becomes cool...well, I think it's a trend, but I don't think that it's a shift. Part of why dubstep's sudden stylistic and abrupt permutations are occurring is because at its center, it is a traditionless music, devoid of years and years of history to build upon, to cage it in nostalgic timidity. Another big reason: computers, turntables, loop generators and the rest are getting simpler while offering more complex options for recording music easier.

So: Holy Other might be a post-dubstep producer. It's up in the air, but the mutation of dubstep and its live show isn't. Lizzi Bougatsos of Gang Gang Dance, in the November 2011 issue of The Wire, wrote about dub shows, saying: “All the lights are down and you're just feeling it. No one can see each other, people are freaking out and the lights are down and no one can see you.” That's exactly what I'm seeing on that YouTube clip of Holy Other at Rewire. Funny how in the video, I don't see anyone, but I hear a din of whispers coming from behind the camera, which isn't close to Holy Other at all. Regardless if the place was packed or not, if I were there, experiencing a psychotic reaction from snorting too much molly, I doubt people would notice me, or give a shit. On the other hand, watching Skream perform in 2009, I see tons of people, drenched in neon led lights, tripping out. Tons of drunk girls, sweaty bodies, hands waving in the air, big beats. People are on drugs and you can see who's fucked up and who isn't. Strange how different an audience is when you slow down the meter and turn off the lights.

There are two species of dubstep, but I don't think one precedes the other. Zomby drops Dedication this year, closer to what Skream's doing, just a bit more melodic. Burial drops Street Halo, which is more of what Holy Other is about. The necessity to have the choice of going for big beats and grime with the alternative of slower, more intricate, intimate music has always been a choice for all types of music. In the end, it all goes back to major and minor tonalities – feeling happy or sad. Timothy Leary said that there are two acid trips: the extroverted (in his words: “one should bring to the session: candles, pictures, books, incense, music, or recorded passes to guide the awareness in the desired direction”) and the introverted (“no light, no sound, no smell, no movement.”) Dubstep and post dubstep are kind of like those two types of acid trips, respectively.

No light, no sound, no smell, no movement. But there is sound. Like Burial and Andy Stott, Holy Other's music samples vocals and distorts their timbres to produce speech-like sounds: moans, grumbles, cut-off words – and he loops them until orgasmic ecstasy. Beats are still layered underneath, sidechained under echos, MIDI and other electroacoustic experiments. With U's atmosphere is as dark as a bad break-up in the middle of winter. The BPMs loop slowly. It repeats samples and interjects sad R&B-sounding voices into the mix. Some of these voices are in a deep register – a huge weeping giant. A high-registered voice usually accompanies this giant, to both provide variety in the song structure as well as insinuate some sort of tragic duet – a Romeo and Juliet argument through text messages. And lastly, the song titles: Yr Love, With U, Feel Something. It's nothing but deeply romantic, cathartic, contemplative, and destructive.

It's not just the hooks of the songs that make this EP so bewitching, it's also a prophecy for post-dubstep. This is what it's all going to sound like the next couple of years, I know. The computer age was never the age of stronger connections between friends and family, despite our mouse-tap culture of instant gratification. In time, it will be written in the history books that this age was that of ghostliness and disconnection, an age where, as the artist Paul Chan wrote, “one can be surrounded by, and in contact with anyone and everyone, and still feel inexplicably abandoned.” Perhaps Holy Other's black cloth is a metaphor for the alienation an artist has with their audience. Thus his music is a paradox: it so easily establishes a connection with his listeners but its themes are about break-up and separation.

We experience communication with others differently from that of the past, and the same goes with music. Holy Other's sound is “a voice that desires a reply [that] sounds different than an echo that wants attention” (Chan again.) In the words of Ashbery: “For the speed of light is far away, / and you, sooner or later, must return / to a deteriorated situation.” Or we return to Holy Other's music, and perhaps grasp what is embedded and entangled in it: our moment right now.