ALBUM REVIEW: Subp Yao – ‘Infra Aqual’: deep into the dark IDM ocean trenches

THE DUTCH producer Subp Yao is on a journey deep, deep offshore in concept and music with his forthcoming album Infra Aqual.

A producer known for his love of drum-skitter and massive bass, Gert-Jan van Stiphout was moved to begin to investigate that (aquatic) elephant in the room, the littering of our oceans. (If it’s a subject that interests you, then permit me to just briefly don a literary hat and recommend Donovan Hohn’s Moby-Duck as an interesting and off-kilter read).

But he was soon washed down and into a world that for all our homo sapiens confidence in our powers, we really don’t know  – or fully understand, as he explains.

“This album was inspired entirely by the world that exists parallel to ours, beneath the surface of the ocean. While it was the appalling pollution clogging bodies of water across the globe that originally motivated me to create this work, it was what I discovered in my research for the record that really blew me away. The unimaginable depth, the infinite darkness, the undiscovered areas, and otherworldly species, it all really struck me. 

“Over the course of two years, I wrote and recorded this project in my studio in Heerlen. Working with, and without intention, getting lost, finding focus: it was a real journey.”

And it’s a real sonic journey he presents, with its tentacles curling elegantly across the sphere of dance, from burrowing ambience to hard tech and drum and bass. If you’re a follower of electronic musics, perhaps think of Infra Aqual as a dark and hard-edged yin to the yang of Loscil’s blissful, spacey Submers.

You’ll get exactly where I’m coming from on opener “Chasm”, which has an ambient sweetness of drone and cascading violin, with a chiming clock tone lending a more abrasive edge; it’s dark, down here, so dark. The violin is almost like one of those lit cameras that investigated the wreck of the Titanic; sediment swirling, silt patterning the lense, shapes almost making themselves known at the edges of the brightness. And then it just bursts, absolutely bursts, in a shearing tower of digital sound. Make sure your speakers are OK, as it lurches out towards the Autechre of LP5, all post-industrial snarl. And then it’s gone.

“Wax And Wane” works out from that grinding bass-base in the other direction; it’s like some dark techno machinery at work, with washes of minor-key melody playing through; there’s even a distant human voice loop or two. Relief comes in the shimmer and glimmer of bell tones, bubbling up and past you as the track takes on a more dubby aspect,  moves through glitchy-coated piano, is gone.

“Closed” takes that big, big percussive grind and blends it with a slow soul lope,  courtesy of a kindly treated vocal sample; which blends nicely with the echoing triphop mantra of the aptly named “Shimmer”. This track drops into a Mo’Wax Excursions-series type groove, with space to breathe.

And thus the album proceeds: it draws on so many of the electronic music traditions of the past three decades, bending new shapes, challenging the brain, one moment teasing softly, the next abrading and pushing the harder edge of floor-fillers. “Hush” rises from expansive washes into a Warp Records junglist thing; you’ll swear at one point you were almost listening to a lost Polygon Window track.

“One More Step” uses a discorporeal MC urging you to “pick it up high” for a snarling techno-junglist essay, and stays deep in those juddering oceanic trenches for “One Man”. It feels like a deliberately edgy period, which lessens just a little into almost Weatherall haunted breaks of “Reelwitu”, which canters along through currents of fuzz and a helium vocal hook. 

“Mad And Mean” hisses and gnarls with the lyrical accompaniment of guest vocalist, Jamaica’s Warrior Queen, who brings a suitably tough verbal sway to the party, pronouncing and chanting and saying it proud. We’ve embedded this for you below to take a groove on; hang on to your hat.

The following “Trenches” suggests we’re Mariana-deep, and you wouldn’t be wrong; undiscovered creatures of electronic sound shoal, a basso profundo voice filters cyborg speech, and when the dark end drops it’s an awesome thing, in both senses, absolutely uncompromising. “Filter Feeder” stays down in those depths and adds a little distant free-jazz brass exploration, pulses and squeaks in the lowest register. Much of the back half of the album will sound absolutely hair-raising through a proper rig. Scalp-raising, come to that.

Gert-Jan shows some mercy to us oxygenated types fathoms up in the slow breaks of the closer, “Lost (Floating)”, which does indeed inhabit the darker end of a slow breaks atmosphere, almost Death in Vegas in it’s metallic-edged grace.

It’s a hell of a journey through a subaquatic scape; it has the uncompromising, alien (and alienated) harder edge of that strand of specifically Northern European hard tech and gabba and suchlike. If you have great sub-woofers, the neighbours are in for an experience. As are their neighbours, and theirs in turn.

If you’re a fan of the shearing and crushing end of the dance music spectrum – anything from (on-form) The Prodigy through Harthouse and Tresor styles – and fancy the idea of that real defleshed aesthetic spliced with some darker downbeatz interludes, this is a record you’d find rewarding to explore.

Subp Yao’s Infra Aqual will be released by Yuku on digital download and 2xLP on November 17th; you can pre-order a copy now at Subp Yao’s Bandcamp page, here.

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