As I sit down to tune in to this herculean output from Mr. Woolford, I’m surprised to see a considerably longer than usual full length. What follows is a bluntly qualified summary of the 23 track-long semi-continuous project; his latest offering, under the Special Request moniker- and we must try to, for the moment, suspend disbelief that the work isn’t as indulging as the title suggests.
I’m well aware Woolford openly refutes the ‘some music can be self-indulgent’ criticism, and I can understand why, but not when the pedestal is set so tall as to want to inject meaning into a project by naming it Belief System... This coming from the man who openly professes to uphold the ‘take extra and calculated caution when naming your projects’ position and all the while naming one of his more successful records Untitled. Fucking breakthrough. But do what you want Woolford - it really doesn’t effect my listening experience, and shouldn’t yours either.
I was relatively slow on the uptake of Woolford’s output, my first encounter being the seminal Erotic Discourse 12'’ under Bobby Peru that, in my book, needs no introduction. Instantly an attention to sound design springs to the forefront: ‘here is something that, for the most part, doesn’t sound like other techno stuff’ I remember thinking to myself in my newly adorned raving homestay (it also had a VERY good title). Woolford’s sound design maybe isn’t as edge-pushing as it once was, but the soundstage encompasses a very versatile space. Here we find typical rave/jungle/hardcore influences - as particular as clearly marked out darkside (Curtain Twitcher) and stripped back pre-bastardized jump up (Leviathan) - as well as standard straight up junglist inspired palettes you’d expect from Special Request. I'd even go as far to say that the (first half of the) project throws back a reminiscent Boymerang sound to my mind, and the oh-so romantic hum of some early Renegade Hardware stuff. As well as these archetypal territories for Special Request to manoeuvre in, we see hints of electro (Adel Crag Microdot (Original Mix)), 2-step (Change), blatant mangled grime aesthetics (Scrambled In LS1), modular tech (Tiresias), field recordings from as far back as ’93 and completely microtonal noise tracks…now we’re talking.
I welcome these artistic explorations sitting on an LP but their sitting is rather disjoint. The LP isn’t directly a game of halves but there definitely is a mid-way breather (Cheyne Stoking), followed by a relatively much slower and noisier second half. The ‘non-dance’ tracks can, like some of their danceable cousins, be held to being a bit plain (I can feel the irony-drenched laughter of non-noise fans but trust, this is a thing - moreover, a thing non-rich). I would have championed perhaps fewer efforts in cause of more dynamically or thematically interesting sketches. A standout favourite, Qoriqzona, is a murky and furious rig-ripper and paced to perfection. My only wish is that it was longer, or at least long enough to see the theme evolve or settle into itself. This party-tip can be thrown at all the non-dancey tracks on this project; only one is above 5 minutes, and barely at that. We see the LP growing more cinematic in its slower-tempered tracks towards the back end, but I claim the way this is done is a bit unsatisfying. Match the energy and fast-paced first half with a rather slow, lulling and falsely grandiose back-end leaves me feeling this massive body of work as rendered rather incomplete.
Having had a large exposure to plenty cynical and die-hard junglists (myself often being sympathetic to this angle) the main criticism to hurl at Special Request is the boring pastiche attempt to project junglism through a very 2017 lens. Many may jump on some form of junglist revivalism (which has particularly plagued us for 10 years or so), but the truth is that the interest never died. More to the point, my claim is breakbeat culture has been burgeoning without the need for uninventive, repetitive drum-programming being brought to the table. What I sign up for when I turn my amens up to 11 is mind-bending and ground-breaking choppage and ingenious fusions spanning the breadth of the non/hardcore continuum (which credit to Woolford, has not been totally broken here). It should force me to drop my pasty and skank my little heart out. From a production point of view, Woolford has always had an ability to focus very clean almost clinical sound-design in an interesting way (we still seem to see the Woolford-esque skippy piano riff thing creeping into the mix occasionally however). Scrambled In LS1 sounds like it could be on some rough draft techno-steroid spinoff of something Logos or Mumdance might have signed off on, for example. Sadly however, my pasty is still firmly in my grasp. You should give it the old college try though- there’ll likely be something you like on it. I mean how could there not be, it's huge. You will, on occasion, say ‘these sounds are interesting’, but through repetitive execution, also be led to say ‘my mind is not broken, my life unchanged’.
Words: Rajan Sundavadra