Review Summary: This is my life. This is my music. So fuck you!
All it took was a collaboration effort with We Are Loud and Sonny Wilson, and Dutch duo Showtek were set. Earning number one in the UK with the admittedly catchy radio-friendly track ‘Booyah’, Showtek became far more recognized than they had previously been. Asking listeners what they thought of the outfit’s material prior to ‘Booyah’ earned me a great many puzzled expressions, and then later, revilement when I’d introduce their earlier material. Hard as it may be to believe, Showtek wasn’t always producing the big-room house style they are known for. In fact, they used to have an edge on their competition, rather than siding with them simply because the music happened to be (currently) popular. Showtek used to produce hardstyle, a subgenre of trance defined by its’ repetitive use of kickdrum blasts and bass-heavy, warped synths. Not a particularly progressive nor innovative subgenre to be sure, but the sound had a darker vibe than many of its contemporaries, managing to be accessible but also quite elitist, with many detractors citing it as ‘grating’. Showtek take the best aspects of hardstyle and create a head-on collision with the old skool style of 90’s club trance, thereby creating an album that more than holds its own as a club release, but also as a hardstyle experiment all its own. I was never big into the club scene in the 90s (I wasn’t even a teenager when the millennium hit), but the age of hardstyle, at least in the overground, has long since come to an end, and perhaps this is the reason for Showtek’s defection to the dark side of EDM. Despite this, the release still retains its power in any environment; a cataclysm of popular hardstyle, punctuated by singalong vocals, stuttering synths, and vicious percussive shunts.
The duo are kind enough to include their mission statement in opening track, ‘The F-track’ featuring a humorous conversational piece defending the rights of every club fanatic world-wide, in a slightly ironic, satirical way. Two drops with slight variations on rhythm follow these; satisfactory payoffs that set an enjoyable or irritating precedent on the initial track. The precedent is of course concerning the use of the kickdrum, which punctuates each and every track (excluding interludes) with deep thumps followed by echo and reverb. The beats are thus always exceptionally beefy and hard-hitting, but the sheer volume of these hits is enough to drown out all other sound in the production. This is a hallmark of the hardstyle sound, and despite the fact that it took a while after the album’s release for the world to become fully entangled in the generic EDM club scene, it is a very refreshing change of pace to listen to in 2014. The album very vocally seems to stick two fingers up to the glitchy dubstep bores and interchangeable, complicated EDM tunes to bring to the fore an album of pure bass-driven elation. In addition to this, despite the seemingly blinkered style of the album overall, there is a variety of style present on the release, some of which are far more geared towards nightlife ('Fast Life', 'Here We ***ing Go'), and others which take the rave specs off for a second and try to do things a little differently. ‘Dutchie’, for instance, an overt and catchy homage to marijuana, utilises a high-pitched synth to whine in tune with the sprightly drum loop. The sudden fluxes in volume and pitch create a sense of discord that is never actually present, but appears to be so due to the unspectacular affectation of “Roll it, taste it, smoke it, now pass the dutchie”, as it is repeated over beat.
At the other end of the spectrum are songs like ‘Here We ***ing Go’, an unapologetic and energetic anthem which makes use of the (predominantly British) concert epithet of “Here we, here we, here we ***ing go” as a melody. Crowd chants and the introduction of rhythm after two recitations creates a uniquely live-sounding track, and when the distorted synth is introduced and begins warping the melody into a completely separate rhythm, not to replace, but to utilise simultaneously, it emulates the vibes of a live dance show- a difficult thing to do on recording. Elsewhere on the release, tracks such as ‘Rockchild’, ‘World Is Mine’, and the title track further this ethic of bass-heavy production and wobbly synths, but it is interesting to note that every song on the album sounds different; no small feat for a hardstyle record. There are moments when the music ends up spluttering more than exploding, spending too much time on builds without satisfactory payoffs, or simply maintaining rhythms for the whole duration of the track’s runtime. Such flourishes of electronic wonderment (such as the simple but inspired tune on ‘Fast Life’) exhibit that the duo is capable of creating music with tangible depth- it is baffling, then, that on a number of occasions they take the decision to make tired, repetitive beats with little to no USP. The production is decent, however, as it finds an agreeable balance between the heavy percussion and the other musical aspects. There is a distinct ‘focus’ system in the sound, where certain tics or musical aspects are highlighted due to subtle audio cues or slight increases/ decreases in pitch, tone and volume, and this system is very satisfactory, as it creates a multi-faceted dance release that amounts to more than just the sum of its parts.
Analogue Players In A Digital World is a well-realized and well-executed album, displaying more smarts than its front of brawn and big noise would have listeners believe. It is far from perfect, but it is a refreshing, accessible change of pace from the modern slurry of electronica. Despite the fact the album gained virtually none of the recognition the duo have with more recent efforts, it displays a far more interesting sound- going against the crowd rather than being counted inamongst them.The use of interludes and skits are humorous and serve to break up the floor-shaking crashes, but are ultimately a little irrelevant in the context of an album so seemingly nihilistic. Taste features largely when relating to a genre so abrasive and heavy, but from a critical standpoint, the release ticks most all the boxes to satisfy both the Saturday night crowd, and passive listeners. It demands immediate attention and doesn't let up until the extensive tracklist is complete. Bass porn, yes, but highly enjoyable and not totally devoid of sentiment.