Squarepusher – Ten of the Best

This is a completely arbitrary format, as no artist’s discography can be reduced to ten tracks, nevermind someone with as varied and continually experimental output as Squarepusher. That’s why this is Ten of the Best, not ‘The Best Ten’. Sure, everyone’s got their own list and I could do another ten for Squarepusher sometime, but for now lets enjoy…

10) Welcome to Europe (2006)

I always found Hello Everything to be a patchy album, not in quality so much as coherence, or lack of it. It feels like something of a compendium collection, combining disparate elements from the huge range of styles Squarepusher had covered up to that point. You’ve got live bass guitar and amens on Hello Meow, avant-garde jazz on Bubble Life, spacey synths on Planetarium, etc. Squarepusher has a very distinctive way with melodies and I’d say Welcome to Europe is an example of the most Squarepusher-y melody of all: it has that cosmic/spacey vibe and there’s a progressive feel to it, like you’re going on a journey, it zigs and zags its way upward, overcoming the odd moment of jeopardy here and there but ultimately good triumphs over evil. This track has all the perfect elements: breakbeats, acid bassline and that spacey melody which all combine for devastating effect around two minutes in.

9) The Exploding Psychology (2001)

It was hard not to just stick the ten tracks from Go Plastic on this list, as in my view that is basically a perfect album. But The Exploding Psychology is a standout of an outstanding bunch. The track begins with an apparently simple beat, lifted out of its garage context and placed alone in a dark cavernous warehouse, where it’s gradually joined by ominous metallic synths and the sounds of hardware chaotically malfunctioning. The chaos threatens to dominate everything but the beat steadily perseveres until all carnage breaks loose around 2:20, into some infernal future-garage rave up on the USS Sulaco. The forces of good triumph in the end as the original beat returns accompanied by a circumspect melody to round things out, ending in pleasing symmetry.

8) Rustic Raver (1997)

Rustic Raver has a real lo-fi raw feel to it – the unmistakable signature sound of the old-school analogue gear it was produced on. The track could be no one else but Squarepusher – marrying 303 Acid, breakbeat and freewheeling musical virtuosity. The track begins as a straight-up acid/bass workout, but the spacey melody that kicks in at 3:00 just takes things to another level. Don’t get me wrong, I love minimal music and repetitive loop-based music, but this just has that inimitable feeling of music made in real time by a human being; alive and unpredictable.

7) D Frozent Aac (2015)

It took me a while to get into Damogen Furies, even by Squarepusher’s standards it’s an inhospitable and unforgiving sonic landscape, with nary a shred of softness or comfort for the fragile listener. D Frozent Aac is the last track (or first if you have the vinyl) and is just…sick basically. All the tracks on Damogen Furies were produced entirely on Jenkinson’s custom-designed software, which he had been developing over the preceding years, and they all share the same shiny, spiky, synthetic sound palette. As with many other ‘pusher tracks, this would work well as the soundtrack for a climatic Sci-fi battle scene: jets blasting, lasers firing, spaceships nose-diving across the cosmos. Fully epic.

6) Dedicated Loop (1999)

Released during Squarepusher’s purple patch in the late 90s, Dedicated Loop is in that perfect sweet spot between acid, garage, breakbeat and jungle. Spacey melodies – tick. Hypnotic 303 line – tick. Irresistible urge to nod one’s head – tick. And because the BPM is somewhere in the 140s, there’s a lot of fun to be had mixing this with tracks at the pacier end of the Techno spectrum.

5) Journey to Reedham (7am mix) (1997)

Journey to Reedham is probably the Squarepusher track most non-diehard fans are familiar with – and rightly so. Reedham is a village in Norfolk and I always assumed this 7am mix was an anthem to soundtrack the journey home from a rave somewhere outside the M25. The chiptune intro gives way to a soaring triumphant chorus, perfect for rousing spirits as the sun rises. The beat never quite ruptures into full-on Jungle carve-up, but instead, like an old Ford Escort struggling to get going on a frosty morning, it putters along with the occasional disturbing rumble from beneath (at point sounding like a heavy sack being dragged down a flight of stairs). With the charming innocence of the 8bit melody, ricocheting snare rushes and arms-aloft melody this is the perfect distillation of that frantic feelgood element of 90s rave/post-rave music.

4) Bonneville Occident (2001)

Bonneville Occident is probably one of the best syntheses of Squarepusher’s live bass playing and manipulation of sampled breakbeats. As the intro swaggers along, it’s hard to tell what’s bass guitar being strummed and what’s percussion – the sound of wire being beaten on a fretboard and then filtered through goodness knows what. The middle section of the track can only really be described as pure madness: the sound of Jungle and UK Garage being turned put through a mangle and then spun into a double helix. But out of the madness, structure returns, along with the same swaggering bassline, not before a brief detour through breakneck Jungle carnage. Badass from start to finish.

3) Beep Street (1997)

Something about the backing melody on Beep Street is so comforting and familiar to me; it makes me think of a grey overcast day, watching the world go by through drops of rain spattering over a car windscreen. There’s something inexpressibly melancholy yet also comforting about it. From the opening rat-tat-tat snares it feels like it’s going to be a straight up Jungle track but then it just glides into this beautiful, rolling, dreamy suburban soundtrack. Lovely stuff.

2) Tetra-Sync (2004)

Ultravisitor felt like Tom Jenkinson stretching his creative, musical and technical capabilities to the very limit: a culmination of all the styles, ideas and techniques he’d been experimenting with over his career to that point. And in terms of pure artistic ambition and outta-sightness, I don’t think he’s ever topped it. Which is partly what made Hello Everything which followed it, seem like a bit of a let down. Ultravisitor is also a deeply personal album: from the front cover’s self-consciously serious portrait, and the way the tracks are peppered with crowd noise (and some encouragement from Jenkinson himself) and segued to make it sound like one continuous concert, delivered live directly to your ears. Tetra-sync is the magnum opus, within the magnum opus that is Ultravisitor. The track is essentially one long epic climax. Like much of Ultravisitor, the breakbeats are replaced by live drums, and coupled with frantically plucked bass guitar. The two intertwine, with plenty of spacey sound effects and epic pads, gathering in urgency and intensity. Tom’s bass playing as the track approaches its peak, is out of this world and as things descend into full maelstrom it’s clear that no human drummer could physically be keeping pace.

1) Venus no.17 (Acid Mix) (2004)

For a long time, I only knew the acid remix of Venus no.17 from Tom’s set on Mary Anne Hobbs’ Breezeblock show, which was broadcast around the time of Ultravisitor’s release. Though it’s essentially the same track, there’s something about the looseness and roughness of the live version that is just more intense. As my burnt CDR copy of the mix approached the cataclysmic breakdown around 3:30 I could never resist cranking the volume up to max and then feeling like the fabric of reality was being torn asunder as acid lines thrashed and writhed like flailing proton streams. After that detour round the edge of a wormhole the last minute of the track is all out madness; essentially taking Acid, Jungle and Rave to their logical conclusion and exploding the results. Banger.

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