Release Date: Jan 31, 2020
Record label: Warp
Genre(s): Electronic, Electronica, Pop/Rock, IDM, Jungle/Drum'n'Bass, Experimental Jungle, Drill'n'bass
Electronic visionary Tom Jenkinson's work as Squarepusher is defined in part by his creative restlessness. Where his early work in the '90s pushed drum'n'bass to its limits, Jenkinson's drive for new sounds would see him experimenting with electro, demented funk, live jazz, and music composed with the help of artificial intelligence. Squarepusher's 15th studio album, Be Up a Hello, manages to be both a sharp about-face from recent pursuits as well as a return to some of the fundamentals of his weird genius.
If the optimistic title of Squarepusher's latest record, Be Up a Hello, doesn't speak to its playful nature, then the briefest of listens will. One thing that's obvious from the outset is that he's quite clearly having tons of fun. A lot of that is due to the fact that Tom Jenkinson has decided to return to the equipment with which he started his career in the early '90s. After a slipping on some ice during a visit to Norway at the start of 2018, Jenkinson was stuck with his arm in cast. Since tinkering with drum machines and ….
Since Damogen Furies, the latest Squarepusher record and probably the closest we will get to a pop record from Jenkinson, he has been working with his band, Shobaleader One. They toured with their faces covered by undulating LEDs and released an album, Elektrac, which included live recordings from concerts. Now Jenkinson has returned, ready to lead everyone into his own Nintendo-themed, instrumental, avant-garde wonderland.
The cultural cachet of the leftfield electronic music of the 1990s is higher now than it's been in years. Aphex Twin headlines festivals; Autechre set the internet alight with radio appearances and DAT tapes of unreleased material; younger generations' output is peppered with copious references to acts like Plaid and B12. But what about Squarepusher? Tom Jenkinson was a huge part of the original IDM boom, not to mention one of Warp's core artists during its late-'90s golden era.
Ever since the beginning of the last decade, Thomas Jenkinson, aka Squarepusher, has been producing in a new way. His sounds are much more digital, with the noodly jazz of Music Is Rotted One Note or 2009's Just A Souvenir a hundred miles away, and owe more to video game music than the jungle breakbeats that initially inspired him. The previous Squarepusher record is described as having been "recorded using the system 4.0", perhaps a software Jenkinson has designed for his productions, but in any case the style is enjoyable and intriguing.
When I first heard the music of Tom Jenkinson, AKA Squarepusher, as a teenager I was blown away by how fearless it was. It tapped into my love of ravey sounds coupled with frenetic drum 'n bass breaks, basslines that made you smile and enough glitch to make you check that the CD was working correctly. This ability to mix brutalist acid with an avant-garde sensibility really excited me.
In most cases, electronic music artists, especially those connected to the club, are reacting to what's going on around them. On a basic level, some produce in line with trends, while others produce in opposition to them; lots of slow music leads to lots of fast music, and so on. It's possible, though, that an artist as singular as Tom Jenkinson is more in reaction to himself than anyone in his environment.
E merging in the mid-90s as part of the generation of artists defining Warp Records' IDM sound, Squarepusher now presides over a discography that positions himself directly opposite the genre's ideological associations. His dense, frenetic electronica interprets sonic complexity as a million open invitations, rather than as barriers to entry. Pairing machine programming with dazzling live performance and eschewing loftiness in favour of embracing the straight-up silly, his is a sound that presses its abundance of influences into something that can only be processed through movement.