Skeptical & Alix Perez – Without A Trace EP
Words by James Budd
When the Without A Trace EP landed in the hands of OHOD, I jumped at the chance to sample the latest fruits of Skeptical and Alix’s labour. I’ve been hammering a lot of footwork and halftime recently, and Perez’s work with Taso, Rashad and Ivy Lab kept cropping up whenever I was drawing for ammo in the mix.
This is nothing like any of that. It took me a few plays to come to terms with the lack of 808 kicks at 160bpm, but after a mental readjustment it was back to appreciating the true and pure DnB we’ve come to expect from this combination. The title track – ‘Without A Trace’ – lures you in with climactic tones akin to those in old sci-fi B-movies: a single, metronomic “tick” providing a direction for your ears to follow. An unearthly crescendo with plenty of tension, followed by a drop with the subtlety of a train crash. From here on in it carries weight and impact by the bucket, with that fat, relentlessly invasive synth smashing your ears and those half-step kicks shaking the walls. Perfect.
Next up it’s ‘Solitude’. Another for the techy roller brigade, this is leaning a little more on the minimal side than the title track. Not so in-your-face, not so loud, but not to be taken for a slouch by any means. Those dubby vocal snippets are the cherry on one very intricate cake, and the more I come back to this, the more I notice. The atmospheric susurration, the constant manipulation of that drum pattern, with a little distortion here or some glitching there. If you’re going to make a track with minimal elements those elements have to be perfect, and this is close to it.
Now we come to the business end of the EP. The first two tracks impressed me, but it was the second half of the release that truly caught my attention. ‘Taurus’ is nine minutes of adventure into everything Skeptical and Alix Perez are about. It’s almost a throwback to yesteryear, filled with luscious chord progression and vocal fuckery from the jungle ages, the glimpse of the odd amen, that ultimate techy duo of rupturing synth and hammering kick. There are distinct changes in tone and emotion, moments to raise those hands in the air, and times to throw a hood up and jump in front of a rig, but it comes together effortlessly. The dials are turned to eleven for the final stretch. This is a proper journey: a killer in the dance or a chiller at home.
The release draws to a close with ‘Killa’, and it would be rude not to wind things down with some halftime. Very typically Alix Perez, but there are jungle influences in amongst all that weighty synth and stomping kick that are refreshing after weeks of listening to his ‘U’ and ‘Ghost’ EPs. My one gripe with this genre is that it can get monotonous if there’s not enough going on. It’s the little things that count, that tiny bit of reverb, a variation on a break for a couple of bars, anything that makes you have to pay attention to what you’re hearing to take it all in. Lashings of Jamaican vocal stabs and drum breaks keep the ears guessing, providing those essential layers that bring it all together.
Some things in life that never fail to work when you put them together: Cheese and toast, tea and biscuits, Bono and Geldof. They are individually powerful in their own right, but it is when they come to form like Voltron that shit really kicks off. Like two well-oiled gears in a steampunk drum machine, it seems the stars are set to align every time Skeptical and Alix Perez collaborate. Whether it’s behind the decks or behind a computer, these two fit like Lego.