Artwork by Shayna Leib
After being absolutely blown away by the teaming up of October and John Osborn in Berlin at Watergate earlier this year, I was excited to learn that same night that they were starting up a label to go along with their new TANSTAAFL franchise. But I wondered about the actual product. John Osborn is known exclusively as a DJ — an excellent one, to be sure, but purely a DJ nonetheless — and October was known to me as a bit of a chameleon, someone whose tastes and talents often came out more in his (again, excellent) DJ sets and mixes than his own productions. What exactly would the label sound like? Both producers have sets that paradoxically straddle house purism and basswise futurism, incorporating both hot new dubplates from the UK and vintage Chicago and Detroit records. The first release kind of sounds just like that, as vague and insufficient a description as that stands.
Epoch4 marks the proper production debut from John Osborn, and it shows that maybe he deserves to be known as more than just an incredible DJ after all. Both versions of “Epoch4″ here exhibit a surprising sparsity and restraint that are either the marks of a nervous newcomer or a confident veteran, but either way, it works. Version one centers around a low-slung thrum, like a tranquilized, blunted interpretation of 2562’s ubiquitous “Aquatic Family Affair,” and the way it builds is equally druggy. Slurred, liquid chords and dubby pings coast their way in beneath the bassy drums, and the result is a set of skeletal elements throbbing in meditative unison, equally rigid and locked-in-place as they sound like they’re about to melt away into chaos. The “version” speeds up that ultrasound heartbeat and adds a dusty hi-hat for good measure, rearranging the elements so the whole thing sounds shoved over a few inches to the left. What it lacks in the zombified “hands in the air” quality of the original it makes up for in rhythmic invention, the swung and skewed “bass music”-appropriate counterpart to the original’s slight streak of conventionality. One for the purists, one for the futurists, sounds about right: it’s TANSTAAFL in a nutshell, and the first salvo from the coming together of two of the brightest minds in bass music. They aren’t exactly new, but this configuration is, and it’s pretty damn exciting.