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Up to this point, Illum Sphere's trajectory contains some pretty notable plot points. There's the establishment of Manchester based club night Hoya:Hoya in 2008, with resident DJs that include Lone, Éclair Fifi, Krystal Klear and Jon K. Connected with that is his notably perpendicular approach to Djing, which draws from a wide and restless palate, to thought-provoking and booty-shaking effect.
Then there's his independent approach to production - seemingly less reliant on the replication of specific genre tropes, but instead attuned to, and reflective of, mood and environment. It's wholly cinematic in that sense, and this latest record feels like a movement between different physical spaces and shifting perceptions. It consists almost solely of tangents, splinters of unknown origins.
Ninja Tune is a responsive platform for alternative electronica; its releases (in part, and certainly not exclusively) can dictate trend, or at least pencil in its parameters. Interestingly, Illum Sphere sits alongside Bonobo, an artist whose progression has been notably meteoric - developing from the outer fringes and dragging them dutifully inward. There's a sense for that here - as experimental or adventurous concepts are reconfigured in a way that makes them more digestible, without the end result feeling entirely washed out. The record produces a thematic blend of organic soundscapes and artificially sculpted, bass driven spaces. It's seemingly familiar and unfamiliar, the former a precursor that hooks you into new experience.
Tracks like 'One Letter From Death' play havoc with live and simulated experience, a talent that also finds parallels with Darkside's debut - as the real/unreal conflict and coalesce, with neither element predominating. The track fades into a kind of slow waltzing circus piece that certainly feels like it belongs, yet, much like many other tracks, isn't a slave to the whole. In fact there's a prevailing theme of autonomy - each track supporting it's own weight, rather than feeding into a conceptual overtone that spans the entire record.
But it's not only only the physical and overt clash of acoustic and programmed qualities that cause friction; it's the artificial reimagination of genres whose tropes are steeped solely in live instrumentation. Funk, classical Jazz, even folk; notable tropes - baseline grooves, celestial organ motifs, complex syncopated rhythms, ethereal vocal slices - each run through a compressor or subtly edited, somehow tainted with a tang of artificiality. The organic and manmade aren't just colliding, but also coexisting -- in intricate and subtle ways.
I read this Quietus essay recently, detailing the emersion of new genre forms that draw on the digital language of computers; interference, feedback, system overloads, file corruptions, each an instrument in the musical ensemble of data. It's a great article, and certain elements of this record felt heavily relatable. The music of machines, as they create and create arbitrarily, with an almost human sense of creation.
Ghosts Of Then And Now is a rich and dynamic listen, threaded with a strong sense of purpose that's wonderfully engaging. Recognised by the industry as a strong and unique talent - even since first entry onto the scene - it seems the organic momentum of Illum Sphere's growth is now picking up real pace. It could carry him into some really exciting realms; maybe even place him at the healm of burgeoning counter-trends, one of only a handful that dictate the future flows of popularity.