The nation’s club venues are in something of a crisis. Increasingly councils seem keen to ‘gentrify’ areas whilst police forces are set on clamping down on all sorts of behaviours leading to licences being revoked. Emblematic of the shifting pressures on the club scene has been the loss of super club Fabric in London following two drug-related deaths in the space of nine weeks last summer. Somewhere between Islington council being worried about local residents and the police having security concerns, Fabric was closed creating varying waves of anger and anxiety amongst the dance community. After a long and arduous fight, logic has prevailed and Fabric has resumed operations.
It is within this context that beat freak bluebloods Sherwood & Pinch deliver their second long player Man Vs Sofa. Sherwood & Pinch met whilst both DJjing at Fabric and the venue was the inspiration for their creative partnership. They have even gone as far as to donate a track for a compilation to help support the campaign to get the venue re-opened. The title Man vs. Sofa goes some way to suggest an invite to take sides; stand up for what you believe in or benignly stay in on the couch?
Given this, it would be understandable if Man Vs Sofa was some raging call to fight for the right to party. It is no such thing. Instead, it is a broody, beat and bass heavy collection of electronic music. Hugely dub influenced the tracks are often minimal, tautly textured layers which will worry the hell out of any inadequate subwoofers. It is music you feel, physically feel, as the low-end vibrations shudder through you time and again. If you are feeling highly strung then this not the soundtrack to your comedown. Often there is an underlying sense of the ominous and that something grizzly is just off in the shadows. ‘Itchy Face’ is a good example with the thundering drum track feels like someone is trying to do chest compressions on you. Juxtaposed with this are mellow piano chords (care of Primal Scream’s Martin Duffy) which float across the surface of the music. This serves only to make the backing track even more sinister creating an edgy dissonance. ‘Midnight Mindset’ follows along in a similar vein and evokes an equally nervy feeling. Important to mention ‘Retribution’ at this point. This was the track donated by Sherwood & Pinch to the Save Fabric compilation. It is proper militaristic minimal hardcore punctuated with these cycling, circling shifts of electronica. Think of mechanical mosquitos swarming overhead in an android rainforest and you won’t be far off. Uneasy listening and then some.
The danger here is that for all the superior intricacies of the music it can end up feeling like a bunch of tracks waiting to be a soundtrack to the latest blockbuster box set. When listening track upon track there is a risk of a lack of focal point. This possibility is cleverly offset by the judicious use of guest vocal artists. ‘Lies’ sees living legend Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry lend his beautiful weather worn tones to some fabulous musical shades which allows a tonal shift away from the unease and the darkness. Taz joins in on closing track ‘Gun Law’ which is a towering collision of grumbling dubby bass and sparse snare. Taz’s rhyming gives the whole thing this thrilling grimy influence. The album is worth it for this track alone. Outstanding.
It is not just the keen-eared employment of vocalists that helps make Man Vs Sofa a cut above. Sherwood & Pinch also have a fine way with a sample or two. ‘Unlearn’ pilfers samples about how children can be educated for the better across a looping soundtrack. Better still is ‘Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence’ which mashes up Ryuichi Sakamoto’s oriental infused electronic motif with some frankly oddball breaks and mechanical meltdowns. It is as if Sakamoto’s keyboard is having a crisis of confidence and starts having some kind of existential collapse.
Man Vs Sofa offers up a selection of superior sinister tracks from a range of music sources. It is an album that has its roots deeply in the clubs which are being systematically shut down across the land. We are being sold out whilst those that can sell up. The creativity that Sherwood & Pinch showcase is under threat and we all have a duty to get off the sofa to protect it.