It has been a couple of years since the Glaswegian wonky scene has made any noise on the international level. Also known as aquacrunk, the wonky sound has largely been recognized for its unstable synth patterns, blown-out bass beats, and its catalog of diverse influences. With this in mind, it’s no surprise that the main criticism surrounding wonky music is lack of direction. Within the last couple of years, however, wonky music creators have worked towards a fuller, more developed sound that has produced some of the year’s best releases. Hudson Mohawke’s 2009 release on Warp Records, ‘Butter’, saw the 23 year old Glasgow DJ employ aquacrunk elements such as glitch hop, juxtaposed time signatures and smooth synth lines, but the album stills manages to come off more as underdeveloped than as purposefully brief. His 2011 EP, ‘Satin Panthers’, on the other hand, adopts a sound that maintains the complex genre elements of his wonky roots — Chicago juke, IDM, and g-funk – but does so without complicating things. The EP’s wonky sound remains, but as a backdrop rather than a focal point.
With this apparent shift from one of Glasgow’s leading artists in mind, it was interesting to see where the wonky sound’s creator, Rustie, would go with his newest release, ‘Glass Swords’. After releasing various singles and EPs on Wireblock Records and later Warp Records, Rustie was largely recognized as a Glaswegian party DJ with too many influences and no way to successfully employ them all. However, his ‘Ultra Thizz’ EP on Warp Records, released early in 2011, saw Rustie follow in a similar path as his contemporary, Hudson Mohawke. Perhaps one of the years most anticipated releases, “Glass Swords” received largwely positive reviews upon its release from many of the go-to critics — Pitchfork gave the album an 8.0, comparing it to LFO’s ‘Frequencies’,and Metacritic currently has it rated as an 82. But like Hudson Mohawke’s newest EP, ‘Glass Swords’ is not so much a wonky release as it as pure dance album. While there are obviously several nods to various genres, the album maintains a cohesiveness that lacks in Rustie’s previous releases. Ironically, however, it is this cohesiveness that perhaps best captures the Glaswegian party and rave scene that supposedly developed the wonky sound.
Notorious for its stamina and lively hedonism, the Glasgow rave scene has long challenged London for the title of UK dance capital. But views as to what music epitomizes the Glasgow scene are nothing short of conflicting. On one hand Glasgow is very much a hip-hop city. On the other hand, Glasgow’s electronic and techno fascinations are undeniable. However, one thing is for sure, however, Glasgow likes to party.
Maybe it was this confusion that lead to the creation of wonky. Perhaps it was the DJs themselves that were confused as to what they should play to quench the thirst of Glasgow’s diverse ravers, so they combined a little bit of everything, from Detroit techno to 80s synth funk to early Flying Lotus-esque dubstep.
Naturally, this seems like it wouldn’t mesh and in many cases it doesn’t. Early wonky releases, even those as successful as Hudson Mohawke and Rustie, suffer from this fact. Of course they capture the diverse range of Glasgow’s party scene, but the lack of cohesion paradoxically prevents any true dance party from forming.
Enter Rustie’s ‘Glass Swords’ album. With trance strings, sci-fi samples and over-the-top bass drops, ‘Glass Swords’ is nothing short of inspired. But instead of transitioning between samples and hooks like a kid without his ADD medication, he maintains them just long enough. In other words, he leaves us wanting what’s next but all the while wishing the current hook doesn’t stop. Tracks such as ‘Surph’ and ‘Cry Flames’ combine the soul and shimmer of R&B classics with patchwork drum patterns and dubstep bass womps, while ‘City Star’ sounds like a Soulja Boy track more than any type of electronic composition. This isn’t to say that this diversity lacks consistency, however. Quite the contrary. Every track on “Glass Swords” is a calculated, complex party of bass, synth, and samples. While the wonky sound has trouble helping any true rave form, Rustie avoids keeping it entirely put-down.
In a dubstep world, dominated by the likes of Skrillex and other ‘bass-womp’ artists, Rustie is anything (and everything) but. In many ways, ‘Glass Swords’ acts more like a dubstep parody record than anything else, teasing the listener with bass womps placed against IDM beats. But this isn’t Rustie’s intention. Rather, ‘Glass Swords’ is a record with no shame and no thought, simply a party soundtrack free from the restrictions of self-consciousness. Rustie most likely won’t make the same splash as Skrillex or fill up as many stadiums as Avicii, but for those seeking electronic music outside of the Billboard realm, there is certainly something here. Or, it’s at least something you can throw on at party.
Dylan is a junior. You can reach him at email@example.com.