Speaking to The Quietus in January 2014, Louis Carnell hinted at a new project in the works: "a sidestep, uncharted territory," he called it. When pressed on the subject he said, "I don't want to change, I just want to develop. I've found where I'm comfortable, but I can't just play on my comforts. I need to play on my ability and go out and explore again." He was talking about Safe, the debut Visionist album for PAN, an impressive glimpse into a sleek, unsettling future.Safe arrives after a long line of adventurous EPs—all grounded in grime, but playing fast and loose with the rules.
Just a month ago, the UK saw the appointment of Jeremy Corbyn as new leader of the opposition party. On his first day, rather than respecting an expected appearance on television, Corbyn opted to attend an event promoting a national mental health trust, drawing criticism from the press. Of course, he hadn’t even appointed a cabinet yet.
Earlier this year, PAN label head Bill Kouligas announced that he was teaming up with Louis Carnell — aka Visionist — to reboot the latter's Lost Codes imprint under the slightly streamlined Codes moniker, with a collaborative EP from producers Acre and Filter Dread heading up the launch. It's no surprise, then, that the debut Visionist LP should arrive courtesy of the mother label itself.Carnell's tweaked out R&B vocal samples, chilly synth melodies and sporadic drum patterns are pure PAN fodder, even as the imprint stretches even further into the weirder corners of the electronic music landscape. That's not to say that Safe is an overtly outré and unlistenable smattering of ironic noise — far from it.
Louis Carnell, if you’re into neat categorizations, is a grime producer. But his debut album Safe squirms out of all such neat categories. Hailing from suburban south London, Carnell is of grime’s second generation, scholarly about its history but not hidebound by its rules. His more conventional productions have leant towards the energetic and darkside—see his 2013 track “Snakes”, the murky swing of its beats accompanied by the crack of gunshots.
For years now, the producer born Louis Carnell has been trying to straighten his head out. The shattered compositions the London-based musician makes as Visionist are largely abstract and hard to pin down, but the titles of his work function as a guide. He called a 2013 EP I’m Fine and another Can’t Forget, all the while using spectral vocal samples as a way of exploring grief and loss.
If grime initially sounded like the echo of Britain's modern urban dystopias, recent years have seen a subtle shift, most notably with the gradual fade of the MC. Producers are pilfering the musical techniques laid down by Wiley and others around ten years ago and foregoing the need to add their actual voices to the fray. It's perhaps no coincidence that this has occurred in tandem with the increased global profile of Dizzee Rascal, Tinchy Stryder and Lethal Bizzle, although there still remains a plethora of really talented MCs operating at a more grassroots level, so maybe it's just a coincidence.