Having had recently been introduced to James Holden via his 2013 release ‘The Inheritors’, I’ve found myself perplexed by his style of production. Over the last decade, Holden has managed to craft some seriously fresh and musically complex tracks unlike anything I’ve heard before, without abandoning the qualities intrinsic to dance music. Rather, he has in a sense re-examined what these qualities are, or should be, to begin with. As we continue to see dance music popularised in the charts through bass and synth heavy tracks featuring shit rappers shouting misogynistic lyrics, Holden challenges this seemingly natural gravitation by creating both intelligent and accessible electronic music. In a very real sense, Holden’s contribution to dance music and the whole movement he has been a part of feels like a reaction to the dominant style of production we see today. Regardless of whatever level of analysis one may choose to engage in, Holden first and foremost really is just a fucking great producer. Indeed, whatever preconceived notions I had of IDM being pretentious have been dismantled by seeing him live.
Holden’s set was overall very well formulated and paced. The majority of his tracks were played individually rather than mixed into one another; something that surprisingly did not affect the energy in the room. For whatever reason he chose to perform this way, his songs are certainly effective enough as standalone pieces. Important to this structure was that every element to Holden’s set was thought out and served a purpose. His music contained bursts of distortion and glitching synthesisers that smashed through a cosmic soundscape; both discordant and exciting, providing contrast to the smoother ebb and flow of other sections. This sort of juxtaposition was a recurring feature of his set. Tracks such as ‘Gone Feral’ particularly illustrated this. So too was the visual experience of the show effective, with a projection of morphing black and white images as seen in the film clip for ‘Renata’ cast on the stage.
An interesting addition to his performance which I had not anticipated was the use of a live drummer on an acoustic kit. It’s prominence in the mix was not overwhelming as I had expected it to be, but rather it complimented Holden’s sounds to great effect. The complexity of said production required an extremely dynamic performance from the drummer, something he for most of the set managed to accomplish. Particularly I enjoyed how the drumming accentuated the tribal elements of the songs, granting them an organic pulse that simply can not be achieved through exclusively electronic equipment.
In an electronic music landscape dominated by synth heavy pop anthems and overly compressed hip-hop beats, the sophistication of Holden’s music shines brightly. I highly recommend going to one of his shows – even if producers and DJs aren’t usually your kind of thing, he’ll challenge your ideas about the state of electronic music.
Hometown: Exeter, England.
Latest album: The Inheritors, released June 16, 2013.
Sounds like: Nathan Fake, Aphex Twin, Luke Abbott.
Say what? Holden put out his first release when he was just 19. 4 years down the track he had already founded his own record label.
Deaf, cold and drunk, Leo signing off.