The past couple decades have certainly given electronic fans plenty to celebrate, watching the genre expand from its humble beginnings into an all-encompassing spectrum of musical tastes. Some artists represent the softer, more melodic end of the spectrum, displaying the eclectic and graceful face of the genre. Other artists head for the opposite end, showing just how heavy and bewitchingly abject electronic music can be. Fortunately for all of us, a perfect median exists in the form of Bristol’s dynamic duo, KOAN Sound.
The United Kingdom’s own Will Weeks and Jim Bastow are the masterminds behind KOAN Sound. The two began to experiment with music at the age of 13 when they formed their first band. Since then, the two friends have dipped their feet into several different forms of music before finally discovering their signature style.
Even under the KOAN Sound moniker, it wasn’t until 2011 — three years into the project — that Weeks and Bastow began to diverge from their dubstep mold to become a pioneering force behind subgenres like glitch hop and neurofunk.
Perhaps nothing captures the mysterious nature of KOAN Sound’s music better than their name; “koan” is a paradoxical riddle that Zen Buddhists use to spread enlightenment. Considering the apparent ease with which KOAN Sound mixes heavy and delicate soundscapes, “paradox” seems like the perfect descriptor for the duo. The origin of the phrase also alludes to KOAN Sound’s fascination with Eastern culture, a theme that is often the centerpiece of their music.
The duo emphasizes quality over everything else. They fulfill this promise with every track they release, and, though some of their albums have taken years to produce in full, KOAN Sound’s consistently crisp basslines are the best possible reward for their patient fans.
The duo’s newest project, an EP entitled “Intervals Above,” has just been released. Fans everywhere are delighted to see that the group is still pushing the limits of their style while remaining true to their roots. Any time KOAN Sound adds a new piece to their discography, fans will find any reason to talk about their masterful collection of music. And what better way to celebrate their newest chapter than to discuss some of the songs that led us here?
1. “Trouble in the West”
In 2011, KOAN Sound released their “Max Out” EP, which featured four songs unlike any they’d ever released before. “Max Out” was the true solidification of their style, and the very first song on the EP proves it best. “Trouble in the West” takes everything you love about epic Wild West music and injects it with a combination of speaker-shattering bass and wobbling synths.
Like many of KOAN Sound’s tracks, the song’s greatest trait is its crisp sound design. Whether you’re listening to “Trouble in the West” on a large sound system or just a lowly iPhone speaker, the song’s meticulous composition can be detected by any ear.
Nobody has mastered up-tempo music quite like KOAN Sound. And yet, the duo’s real claim to fame might be their unparalleled ability to form an eclectic downtempo track. After all, any artist whose style is described as “paradoxical” ought to have a push as strong as their pull. A yin to their yang, if you will.
In 2013, KOAN Sound discovered their yin in the form of a new five-track EP, “Sanctuary.” The entire EP is actually a collaborative project with fellow artist Asa, who seems to mesh flawlessly with our two favorite artists. While each track on the project exemplifies the duo’s melodic side, it’s the title track that steals the show.
The soft violin accompaniment carries the listener through six minutes of pure bliss. It’s easy to forget that you’re listening to electronic music and not a full-fledged orchestra until the beat kicks in and reminds you just how vast the genre can be.
3. “Sly Fox“
Time and time again, KOAN Sound has proven their ability to heat up a dance floor, and no project is more supportive of this fact than their first album, “The Adventures of Mr. Fox.” It’s a relatively short album, with only seven total songs, and most of them are remixes by fellow electronic artists.
Nonetheless, the album brings plenty of firepower to the club scene, and “Sly Fox” is the perfect example. It opens with a fun and upbeat bass line, layered with a melody that is almost impossible not to whistle along to. The song really kicks in with the very first drop, in which the light melody is imbued with vicious, room-shaking bass tones.
The melody is as catchy as ever, except now it has the power behind it to get a whole room moving. While “Sly Fox” seems to cater to large crowds of people eager to dance, the song’s iconic sample, a female voice asking, “Shall we dance,” will transform any living room into a personal dance floor.
“Dynasty” is arguably the most impressive piece from KOAN Sound’s discography, representing the purest blend of beauty and filth. The duo loves to incorporate sounds from Eastern culture into their music, and the song’s melodic violin intro pays incredible homage to Chinese culture.
This layer is soon overtaken by grimy synths that show the true enchantment behind KOAN Sound’s more abject sound design. The rinsed out, sloshy sound of the bass is not only impressive from a sound design standpoint, but it also combines flawlessly with the background violin to create a listening experience unlike anything else.
“Drift” is one small piece of KOAN Sound’s most incredible project yet: an 11-track album called “Polychrome.” It took the duo three years to complete the project, and it shows; every track is completely unique from those that precede it.
It’s difficult to choose the album’s best song, but “Drift” does everything it can to stand out. KOAN Sound is no stranger to drum and bass, and “Drift’s” masterful combination of fast-paced rhythms and orchestral samples make that exceedingly clear. From beginning to end, the song is experimentally bizarre and downright eloquent, and is likely to make anyone fall in love with the duo’s music.