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Distal – Eel review

Last year was a particularly strong one for Distal, aka Atlanta based producer Michael Rathburn, ascending onto the global bass music checkerboard at just the right time for his fusionist sound to be embraced. A brief glance at the labels who snapped up his unique wares screams overnight success, with releases for the likes of Tectonic, Fortified Audio and Sinden’s Grizzly imprint backed with no small number of remix commissions.

Distal’s US origins come through loud and clear on this new EP for Starkey and Dev 79’s self styled “Street Bass” imprint  Seclusiasis, as razor-edged mid-range synths form the central tool in his kit bag, a reflection of the widespread embrace of peak-time ravey dubstep across the States. However Distal has more substance to him than that, deploying those ‘chainsaw’ moments for dramatic effect but not relying on them for his sole method of expression.

Opening track “Eel” employs other methods altogether as it shudders with an electro militancy, slamming the beats down hard but never reverting to obvious or direct rave signifiers, instead letting an unsettling, rising dab of synth create the drama. “Kurgan” takes a slyer approach, creeping to life on a half-time beat and sounding positively restrained. Without so much as a snare rush, the buzz saw screech goes off only to be challenged by a more austere dub techno chord stab. It’s still packing the elements to get hyped-up kids flailing, but it doesn’t pander to quite the obvious tropes you might think.

An additional Distal production in “Hut” features on the digital version of this release, leaving little to the imagination amidst the grinding onslaught of mid range. The standard place array of remixes complete this release, amongst them the much respected Machinedrum, yet it is BD 1982 and ID’s takes on “Kurgan” that shine through most. The former rides a UK funky groove and decorates it with deft neon-lit flairs, while the latter rolls on a more languid broken beat tip full of earthy percussion, maximising on that dubby stab.

Oli Warwick