The words inked across Blawan’s knuckles—KICK DRUM—offer shorthand to the UK producer’s credo: a paean to the life force that is rhythm, the pulse at the heart of all things. The heart, of course, is also a muscle, and Blawan—real name Jamie Roberts—has spent the past 13 years sculpting percussion with a boxer’s obsessive focus. His drums (often, his tracks are nothing but drums) are big, bruising things, swollen with ill will and latent violence. Behind every beat lies the threat of a knockout blow.
But Blawan’s latest EP, the thrilling and bewildering Dismantled Into Juice, complicates things. It is one of the heaviest records of his catalog, yet those kick drums are practically nowhere to be found. Rather than the elegant symmetry of the four-on-the-floor, the record evokes a maelstrom of distributed violence. Rhythm as matrix, rhythm as mesh; a sticky web of mayhem bobbing in the breeze, snaring everything that comes close.
Take the opening “Toast.” The vibe is jittery, over-caffeinated; the drums thrash in spasms, fibrillating wildly, kick and snare locked in a vicious shoving match. Paroxysms of rolling toms establish a bizarre call-and-response pattern with gurgling rave stabs, like a machine gun in conversation with a water fountain. Warps in the groove give the impression that the tempo is perpetually speeding and slowing in bursts, like an industrial-strength YKK yanked back and forth across battered rows of interlocking teeth. There’s something almost cartoonish about the song’s lumbering motion, but where tracks like Pearson Sound’s “Earwig” or Pangaea’s “Bone Sucka” are spirited and goofy, “Toast” just sounds deranged.
“Panic” is even heavier, riding a bass-fueled bulldozer that recalls the Bug’s speaker-shredding low end. This time, Blawan shifts his attention from rhythm to texture. His drums sound like they’ve been hollowed out by termites; the high end quivers like crinkled cellophane. “Body Ramen” does even more with the same damaged patina. On the surface, it’s an almost-conventional mix of halftime beat and Knife-like trance arpeggios, but the real action is in the sandpapery surface, the gravelly pocks in the varnish. Despite the sound design’s cataclysmic crunch, there’s a weird clarity to it—most of the frequencies have been sucked out of the mixdown, leaving pockets of severe highs and crisp mids silhouetted over an ominous, ultra-low throb.
The textural fuckery extends to the vocals, which are credited to one Monstera Black, but sound, in their abrasion and confusion, like the output of an AI. Swaddling a dulcet refrain in the close, clammy reverb of a clogged drainpipe, “You Can Build Me” toggles between sweetly major-key passages and rude explosions of atonal bluster. Everyone knows that Cocteau Twins represent the apotheosis of dream pop, but what this track presupposes is, maybe they were actually an industrial sludge band?
“Dismantled Into Juice,” whose bubbling sounds seem to have dropped us directly into a witch’s boiling cauldron, is the most batshit of them all, not so much for its charred vocal melody but for the tricks it plays on the timekeeping. Set to a brisk andante, the swinging rhythm glides easily yet doesn’t quite make sense. It’s like two contradictory gaits fused into lockstep, a three-legged race that’s jaunty and determined, tottering and lithe, all at once.
It’s this counterintuitive approach to rhythm that makes Blawan’s record so dazzling: Beneath a shroud of dry ice and woodsmoke, he has completely discarded the conventional cadences of dance music. There’s nothing here you could easily call house or techno or drum’n’bass, nothing that shows even the slightest interest in familiar templates. Since the nascent days of jungle, UK dance music has always been about switching up the beat, throwing fresh kinks in the syncopation—finding new places to put the kick drum, basically. In that sense, Dismantled Into Juice is part of a long, proud tradition of UK club tracks that turn the dancefloor on its ear. Blawan’s two-fisted attack flips it much further, and more giddily, than usual.