Joy O (Joy Orbison), his music, his labels and his DJ sets, is something of an enigma. There’s something indistinguishable but refined in his collective works that eludes classification, but somehow defines his work. There’s usually a moment of illumination when you realise a track is a Joy O track, like the pieces of a puzzle coming together and in recent years he’s gone deeper and his more aloof than ever in defining his work as he touches on disparate influences and connects distant dots across the musical landscape to create his EPs.
Rising through the ranks of the UK’s Dubstep scene in the last decade, Joy O challenged stale musical tropes of the era, with a sound that embraced the adventurous beat constructions of UK bass music and combined it with elements of classic House and Techno to arrive at sound that could mutate and evolve not only with the times but between genres. Tracks like hyph mngo and records like the shrew would have cushioned the blow established the artist as one of the most progressive figures in music; something that loomed ever larger as his career matured.
His approach is singular and it reflects in the music he creates. Elements of diverse musical ideologies coalesce in records that still manage to push the boundaries of known limitations in an era of musical gentrification. It might be somewhat grounded in the UK bass culture from which his music derived, but it lives on beyond any known borders in the electronic musical lexicon as something that is unique to the artist. This is what defines Joy O’s music and continues to define his music today on his latest release 81b, released via his Hinge Finger imprint.
The title track is a sluggish, brooding beat arrangement that churns at the lower frequencies with psychedelic swirls of electronic textures ebbing through the space between the beats. It’s an unusually down-tempo track for the UK artist, but continues to explore the entire sonic range of synthesisers and drum machines working in tandem. That’s where Joy O music thrives again throughout on 81b. The artist’s expert and masterful touch in the sonic realm is a marvel. From Seed’s brooding bass and the synthesisers that slash through the arrangement like laser swords to Belly’s abstract rhythms and textures like organisms crawling through the track, it bares little comparison to the standardised sonic range of electronic music today.
It might draw references from common musical dialects like the ghostly echo of horn-like synthetic stab on the opening track to the deconstructed funk breaks of Coyp, but the associations are fleeting and intangible as Joy O re-evaluates and re-purposes their function within the tracks. Joy O has a way of appropriating the familiar in an unfamiliar way. Tennov6teen makes an appropriate example of this at work. An effervescent sequenced synthesiser runs into infinity through a loop that keeps hinting at missing percussion section that never arrives, creating an air of tension that never finds it resolve.
It all comes together in a wistful mood that more than anything ties into this reverie-like atmosphere that hangs over the entire EP. Joy O’s cold, crystalline machine aesthetic differs little from recent previous releases, with big, bold kicks and bass lines excavating deep trenches in the lower regions while upper frequencies offer innovative, often impulsive sonic design elements. There’s always a sense of space in Joy O’s work and even tough some melodic or harmonic curiosity is there to ponder it never clutters or overwhelms the primal functionality of his music.
81b is immediately recognisable as a Joy O creation, but the slower tempos and the musical depths he operates on in this latest EP, mark a bold distinction from anything he’s done in recent years. Never an artist to repeat himself, Joy O’s music has never abided strict formulaic rules, but there is always a sonic identity that can be ascribed to the artist. That sonic identity is still very much present on 81b, but there are new accents and stylistic traits that sees Joy O yet again exploring new boundaries in electronic music intended for DJs.