Beta 2 – The Beats Inbetween EP
Words by Tony Ferguson
Sitting (or standing) at your computer on a Monday morning as many of us do, opening up emails and doing a little social media crap, it’s not all of us that get the pleasure of seeing the words ‘Metalheadz Platinum’ in your inbox, followed by a pleasant sigh of relief, knowing that it’s not going to be another fucking terrible week and that Beta 2 will have a lot to do with that. Gushing aside, we all know and love Metalheadz, a label that offers up a consistent flow of bangers and thought provoking riddims, and their latest Platinum release sees Beta 2 return to the table to continue his steady flow of releases on Goldie’s imprint. Now I don’t mind saying at this point that I am unfamiliar with Beta 2’s previous works and so what, I’m not a fucking encyclopaedia, get over it. But seriously though, this is when I love music the most. There aren’t many better feelings than diving headfirst into something brand new (to me anyway) and actually fucking loving it. Hello Beta 2, I see you now. As ever I intend to peel this release open like a ripe onion and the outer layers are so far very smooth and refined, almost giving me the impression of sharp tear-jerking shit in the centre which is fine with me, bring on the feels. Browsing through these tracks for the first time gave me the impression of a journey. But it’s actually more of a story, with strong scenes and characters, emotionally driven and full of energy that’s controlled in the right ways and at the appropriate times.
We begin with ‘Black Dahlia’, and with its reek of cold cases and film noir it doesn’t half give me the chills. I can honestly smell the room, a dark and smoke-filled space found down a sketchy back street somewhere in ‘the valley’. Three guys on stage, harsh lights force them to keep eyes down, the double bass propped precariously on the edge of the tiny platform amid pinstriped suits and cigar smoke. You can hardly see but the stench of carpet dried scotch and tobacco is enough to navigate a jungle, thick and oppressive, concealing shady deals between the underbelly of a decaying city’s corrupt police and broken politicians. What a tune this is. Steeped in atmosphere and life, you can really hear strings and animal skin being abused across every note and percussive hit, it’s just lovely. Without huge sine waves of sub and rasping break samples you’d think there would be no energy – and you’d be so wrong, it hurts. Just feel that kick, it’s round and has a purpose in every hit. Then move up to that glorious rim, coarse but perfectly situated, and the higher up in the frequency spectrum we go the more nuanced it gets. A shaker here, an opening of the hats there, and all with its human interface being audible. The click of a physical drum stick being cracked off of brass and the skin of a hand wrapping over double bass strings is, simply put, magic.
As I start ‘Speckled Dots’ I still feel the vibes from that gloomy venue of depravity in which the ‘Black Dahlia’ held us, and now it seems the chase is on. Something went south back there and it’s time to run – perhaps it’s us being chased – I just can’t tell at this point. The energy is palpable and drenched in adrenaline (and probably liqueur) but I feel like there’s an element of control, it’s discordant for sure but maybe that’s the sickening subbass talking. This tune is both raw and terrifying. ‘Speckled Dots’ is all about low end presence and a constantly replenishing energy source growing amidst those eerie synths and atmospherics. It’s thick with tension from the first sound to the last. This morphing from the sombre ‘Black Dahlia’ to the all out danger of ‘Speckled Dots’ is fast, aggressive, unrelenting and you must be ready. The transformation is stark and yet we’re in the same headspace, the same sounds crop up through the kick and hats. But we get a fizz and bang from the mid bass, the sub arrives with an intention of speaker damage and this all comes together with added percussion and layers of fear. The seemingly hand-crafted atmosphere also remains. Yes, we get sprawling synths now and wonderfully delayed percussive stabs, all creating a huge amount of space and tension, but if you dive into ‘Black Dahlia’ and ‘Speckled Dots’ back to back you will get what I mean. There’s a tether, an unseen link between two seemingly opposite tunes and I need to offer a great deal of respect to Beta 2 for creating and developing such an intense sound.
I honestly keep returning to this place, this track, over and over again. The percussion really cracks off the speakers. It’s crunchy but there’s air around each sound, thanks in part to that taut ride cymbal and the wonderfully EQ’d hi-hat which leaves all that space in the mids to allow the snare and a massive kick to really punch you in the chest. In essence, ‘Speckled Dots’ really is the reason I get up of a morning to listen to and write about tunes: big energy, dark and murky vibes packing serious weight in the low end and not afraid to show it. But whatever happened in the night before the morning, ‘The One That Got Me’ then gets you feeling like the drive home. 5am sun starting to breach the horizon, it’s not cold but there’s a bite to the air, enough to clear the stench of booze and sweat even if it’s just for a moment. Adrenaline wears off and fatigue starts to take hold but there’s enough movement in the percussion to keep me going and get me home. There’s a solid low end offered up here but overall it’s the percussion that really does it for me. There’s a subtle modulation and syncopation that has me focused in on the rhythm; it’s only now that the drums start to shine and come alive, there’s a lot of intricacy here and it’s rather splendid. As much as I love the percussive elements in this track, along with a silky smooth low end that really does light up the woofers, I just can’t help but feel that it’s a weak point within this EP. No I’m not saying it’s bad or even that I don’t like it but more like there’s just something not quite right, and running up against the three other tracks on offer here I just feel like there’s something missing that I can’t quite put my finger on.
Don’t worry though, because soon you’ve arrived home, smashed from the long night but still too amped to crash, and that’s when you put the final track of this EP ‘Slides’ on. Smooth and heavy, the low end is enough to carry you for another hour at least. By then you might as well jump in the shower and start the day, pound some coffee and go over what happened last night, it’s a lot to process but you’ve got all day so get to it. I’m trying not to get too lost in that snare with a lovely slap back delay to keep it interesting, and I can say once again that Beta 2 is a master of percussion and drum tracks. Lots of nuance and just a great sound selection, fitting with the rest of the EP but at the same time creating something unique in each individual track. You might hear the same kick or snare in more than one tune but Beta 2 has processed and arranged everything in such a way that it still seems to sound fresh and exciting. ‘Slide’ brings the excitement for sure with more ‘tops’: we get some lovely ride cymbal action, sharper hi-hats and this is essential to cut through the thick textures that sprawl across the stereo field giving me chills as they do. Good stuff indeed.
Beta 2 has a lot to say, this much is clear. The story is told over four acts and there’s enough information to piece together quite an image. And although that image is open to interpretation by the listener I can’t help but feel the majority of people will see a rich set of scenes, filled with details of sound and smell that can, if you let them, take you to a place of intrigue. Much like Beta 2 I have tried to set a scene, to put into words what I see and feel when listening through ‘The Beats Inbetween’. For the most part I might not have made sense to some of you and that’s OK, the way we each perceive music is unique. I understand that so I have still mentioned the production, the instrumentation and the good ol’ low end to keep all the bas(s)es covered. I do hope, however, that in offering an insight into how this particular set of tracks makes me feel and the images it lets me see can in some way enhance the listening experience for others and perhaps allow some of the audience an escape to a new and exciting place.
So musically Beta 2 is on point for sure. I expected nothing less really but it’s important to dive deep and check it out. We can never blindly follow labels and producers without challenging them to deliver what we know they are capable of. In this case that’s an interesting and insightful set of tracks with the clean and precise presentation. Standout moments for me have to be ‘Speckled Dots’, loads of power paired with an eerie atmosphere that is right at home in my collection. Coming off of the strength of this tune though I found ‘The One That Got Me’ to be a little weak, it fits the narrative beautifully but stand alone doesn’t do much for me. As a whole though I enjoyed this release thoroughly and will no doubt dive in for more over the coming weeks. Mostly because there’s something about the percussion and atmospheres that excites me. If you let yourself get deep in there you can really enjoy some nuance and subtlety that elevates the music and for me at least, allows an extra level of enjoyment and also respect.
The Beats Inbetween EP is out now on Metalheadz, and you can purchase it direct from the label by clicking here.