It’s hard to put your finger on what 8ULENTINA sounds like. In the past few years, other artists and collectives that have been working outside of the dominant club music canon have quickly established their own loose constellation of labels and sounds, from Fade to Mind to Janus, NUXXE to UNITI. Though their output is varied, a number of conventions have emerged, such as mixes of disparate styles, and ambitious bootlegs where hardcore meets pop. Feeding off online DIY culture, this new aesthetic has emerged alongside a proliferation of Soundcloud producers, bedroom DJs and net labels. What once were novel ways of producing have become their own conventions, like when a relative of UK bass trickles across the web into scenes bored by techno’s conservatism and hi-fi snobbery to be named something like ‘hard drum’ by London’s Her Records.
A glance across audio distribution platforms shows a plethora of emerging artists uploading ‘edits’ and other self-released tracks. But amidst the sheer amount of material produced, how can artists maintain an exploratory, innovative approach? Some continue to seek different staples to play with or reject. 8ULENTINA’s debut EP EUCALYPTUS, released via their own Club Chai label (co-founded with FOOZOOL) on March 1, unsettles these staples, cutting them apart, and repairing them by sculpting them anew. Loops skip unexpectedly in and out of the mix, and though brief, all its tracks transplant rhythms you expect to hear in a club context into a friendlier package, at once suited for listening alone and in company. From further-fragmented breakbeats to the Middle Eastern percussive sounds that pepper the release, the Oakland-based producer has managed to craft an intriguing mix of sonic elements. One of the most noteworthy maneuvers is in their further fragmentation of broken drum rhythms, and their removal of its conventionally masculine drum n bass context.
Anchoring EUCALYPTUS around themes of self-care, ritual and healing is its curious shifts in mood. Opening track ‘Metal Clip’ moves from an ambiguously mournful melody into delicate moments of flute whistles. The assemblage of warm sonic objects with a homemade quality is telling of 8ULENTINA’s interest in sound as substance, which comes from their origins and process as a visual artist. This isn’t exactly standard music to be heard on large systems or raves. Instead, EUCALYPTUS pushes self-healing forward by nurturing smaller spaces and the rituals of bringing like-minded people together, while highlighting how healing (and important) this can be.
The way 8ULENTINA plays with and develops material is audible. They grab distorted synth lines, occasional techno kicks and half-time grooves, scattering them through the EP in a curious mesh of genres and atmospheres. In ‘Soiled’, they play with the familiar sound of an Amen break, splaying and teasing it across two minutes. The sample is punctured by an array of slightly incongruous synth melodies in what is a highlight; curious choices in these varied components create an intriguing, lo-fi take on production.
Their utilization of warm, thick drum timbres, alongside the DIY feel of recordings of sampled bytes imbue the EP with its most interesting quality — a kind of tension between the hi-fi production of much of contemporary electronica, and a warm, homemade quality. In ‘Wander Flute,’ rhythms and melodies are spat out haphazardly — as soon as one begins to become familiar, it is rapidly replaced by another and the breadth is surprising. ‘Dissolve in Water’ is unsettling, constantly jumping across foreboding, bassy drum arrangements to longer, twinkling pads. The slow breakbeat of ‘Rope Swing’ is mildly sinister, with driven, distorted textures cementing its ominous groove. This balances out nicely with the signature saccharine style of Organ Tapes, featuring on ‘Mint’, which carries delicate, melancholy undertones. Though tracks are brief and could be developed further, they mark an exciting take on certain dance music tropes. 8ULENTINA’s wry adoption and refusal of musical staples makes EUCALYPTUS an unusual, charismatic assembly of sounds.**
The Club Chai night, featuring Foozool, 8ulentina and more, is on at London’s VFD on April 19, 2018.