Joy Orbison – Ellipsis review

Back in 2009 Simon Reynolds derided Joy Orbison’s 2009 breakthrough track “Hyph Mngo” as “moist n’ milky minimalism”, implying that he’d rather be “aving it apeshit” to 16-Bit’s “Chainsaw Calligraphy” than dancing to Orbison’s more polite hybrid of dubstep and garage. If the collision of Reynolds’ beloved hardcore continuum and Orbison’s lighter influences was pronounced in “Hyph Mngo”, it practically slaps you in the face on “Ellipsis”. Originally appearing at the beginning of 2011 via the now standard YouTube rip, the track has become another totemic production which a new wave of young producers are attempting to clone with results that yield ever diminishing returns.

But let’s not forget, that when “Ellipsis” first appeared, it marked something of a watershed moment, being one of the first tracks from a “post-dubstep” producer to actively experiment with house, and when Orbison – otherwise known as Peter O’Grady – showed a more personal side in his music and he began to become a more human proposition than simply more fodder for the hype machine. Using a sample from a 1996 interview with drum & bass duo Source Direct and placing it in the middle of a house track was a bold move, connecting two worlds that had never really had much interaction. In the interview’s original context, the duo’s Phil Aslett talks about his feelings of being a musical outsider when he was at school in his teens, being more interested in techno, house and breakbeat, and as he says “cutting edge music”. “We just used to like… do our own thing” he says, a statement that O’Grady uses to form the emotional backbone of the track, intermingled with spine-tingling keys. By using such a sample, it’s hard not to see O’Grady making a direct comparison between his experiences as a teenager into jungle and drum & bass, and those of the duo, adding a distinct whiff of nostalgia that makes “Ellipsis” one of O’Grady’s most personal tracks. But it’s the tension between that sample, harking back to an bygone era, and the musical genre that O’Grady places it within that is the making and breaking of the track, a collision of worlds that will incense the likes of hardcore purists like Reynolds, as well as rigid house fans who see anything that veers into the world of “dubstep” in any way as highly suspect. Those who choose to see the track for what it is however, will find much to like in its clunky charm and churning bass, which although the result of a young producer finding his feet with a sound he doesn’t yet fully understand, is infinitely better than the imitators that have tried to replicate this unique combination of house and bass forms.

It makes sense that O’Grady should choose Rene Pawlowitz – the man better known as Shed – to remix “Ellipsis” under his (power) house leaning Head High moniker; both have largely shunned the limelight, flitting between styles while maintaining a high standard of quality control, but like O’Grady, the Berlin resident has taken a similarly carefree approach when it comes to genres, willfully hacking apart techno, dubstep and house and recomposing them however he sees fit. Those expecting an “It’s A Love Thing” style redux will be surprised by his revision; choosing to channel the hardcore spirit at the heart of Orbison’s original, he twists what sound like reversed jungle breaks around the original piano sample, while deploying savage bass frequencies straight out of an underground Brixton dub night. If a nod to the “good old days” was what Orbison was aiming at with the original, Pawlowitz drops you straight into a jungle squat rave circa ’92.

It’s telling that O’Grady has already seemingly abandoned house as a form, choosing to spend his time creating ever more abstract techno with Boddika. But that’s why he continues to generate such interest; rather than get locked in a cycle of refinement, he would much rather move on to something else that interests him. He’s a divisive figure, certainly, but few producers could claim to have had the effect on an entire movement in the way he has, and “Ellipsis” is the historical document to prove it.

Scott Wilson 


Tracklisting:

1. Ellipsis
2. Ellipsis (Head High remix)