Innovative, legendary, infamous are a few of the adjectives used to described John B and his musical output from the late 90’s and early 00’s. Having a slew of impressive releases to his name on Metalheadz, Prototype Recordings and his own Beta Recordings imprint; and having fearlessly brought the breakbeat hardcore genre back and experimented with hybridizing DnB with Trance, Salsa and Electro when it was all about dark, murky and robotic 2-step, his list of accomplishments is equaled by few.
However, it seems to have fallen off the radar in the last few years, as I have seldom seen any mention of him in DnB blogs or forums. Did his love affair with electro and trance turn off fans of his classic work? But all of that seems to have changed a few weeks ago with his return to the Metalheadz camp for a massive 3 song EP that will have old school heads and fans of his early material foaming at the mouth.
It begins with “Lava”, a love letter to the classic sounds of artists like Adam F, Goldie and the infamous Metalheadz sound we all lose our shit for. There is here an abundance of complex, layered breakbeats dueling with powerful, distorted techy bass stabs and eerie, lush pads. The arrangements are dense and filled to the brim with details, which will have you play it on repeat to let all the subtleties and intricate layering sink in. There is something here for every kind of DnB enthusiast and the tune really makes you feel like you’ve stepped into Deckard’s Spinner and are flying about the ever dark, yet mesmerizing skyline of the 2019 version of L.A. we all wished we could see for real.
The second tune “Lie To Me” dials back the intensity and the complexity of a smooth, jazzy arrangements, minimal yet soulful vocals and soothing Rhodes electric pianos and funky wah-wah guitars. The bass, while slightly distorted, isn’t as hard and focuses more on the subs to leave the lush instrumentation more room to breathe. While it isn’t as infectious and mind blowing as the previous track, it is nonetheless a pure bliss to listen to when you’re looking for that ideal late night / sexy summer tune to chill to. It’s also a good candidate when you want to ease up on the testosterone in a DJ set.
The EP concludes with the EPIC 7 minutes juggernaut (pun intended) that is “The Colossus”. It starts with beautiful, Vangelis inspired pads that will bring you right back into that Blade Runner vibe, even more than “Lava”. The 3-minute intro is a song in itself with those pads, the hoovers washing in and out and the complex drum work, with alternating, skittery breaks. The drop hasn’t even come yet and it’s already clear you are listening to a future classic and one of the best tunes of the year. I also really like how the song is self-referential and fourth wall breaking when we hear what appears to be a voicemail with John B mentioning “that Headz vibe ［…］that Blue Note vibe”. After the intro fades in a wash of reverb, the Reese bassline is filtered in and we enter techstep territory with a 2-step beat that switches to some cut-up break fills. At some point, the bass switches up with a distorted 808 and the lush pads are brought back in for a second drop. The song concludes with a return to the ambient pads and soft melody of the intro and we are left with some time to calm down and realize what we have just experienced.
To sum things up, this is a fantastic EP with an incredible opening and closing tune － not to dismiss the middle tune, which also quite nice － that really shows why John B is such an important artist in the history of our genre, coming back strong to the legendary label he released some of his biggest tuned on, and revisiting 2 styles that he excels at － more, in my opinion, than his electrostep and Trancestep ventures.