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Album review: Friction - Connections

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Pumping with energy, super slick drums and laser-sharp production, Connections bridges the gap between the accessible and the authentic.

You’d imagine after 15 years in the business, you’d have totted up quite a few album releases. But not Friction. Instead, he’s a multi-award winner, former host of his own drum & bass show on BBC Radio 1 and 1xtra, co-head of globally renowned labels Shogun Audio, Elevate Records and Maraki Records and a critically acclaimed artist with tens of tracks, remixes and mixes under his belt.

From a DJ and producer already so well established, we can’t really look at this as a debut… despite it absolutely being his debut. More than that, we have to look at this piece of work as a collective of Friction’s experiences over his 15-year career so far, in the guise of his single and remix releases to date.

Title track ‘Connections’ opens the door to a sparse landscape of medium-tempo liquid. Slick drums and a slow-burning tempo culminate in resonant female vocals which appear to echo through the vast underground bunker where the track is set. It feels very much engineered for the club night; an enticing, sultry start to a night destined to end in ravenous debauchery. To contrast, ‘Ultrafunk’ is ultra fast. This is jump up on speed - blazing syncopated horns cut through long-time-friend-turned-collaborator Metrik’s ferocious vocals and add for a stimulating second drop 2 and a half minutes in. What’s joyous about this track is it feels so much more a collaboration than a Friction track “oh and by the way, Metrik is in it too”, in that its opening makes use of the dark and sinister with splices of scuzzy lasers - a technique akin to Metrik’s own production style.

And the collaborations just keep coming. Teaming up with vocalist JP Cooper, we’re handed ‘Dancing’ - a high-tempo rumbler laced with Cooper’s silky tones, and one of the few tracks to have already been released as a standalone single. It’s canonical drum & bass in its steady but predictable drops and shimmering breaks, and fit for the masses thanks to Cooper’s catchy lyrical hook. The other early release single comes in the form of a damningly dangerous cut from Friction and Doktor. Tumbling, ragga-esque kick drums and Doktor’s afro-inspired lyricism send us straight back to the glory days of jungle and ragga drum & bass, while Friction’s modern bassline helps to acclimatise the track to the 2018 dance scene.

The exploration of drum & bass and its plethora of sub-genres continues in Friction’s solo effort ‘Blue’. Dipping back in the cool, labyrinthine liquid pool, repeated, layered vocals complement a slow in tempo. Followed by a glossy break in ‘Fall Away’, this is a mid-section in the album that opens ample room for losing all inhibitions.

The real vamp up begins with ‘Running’ - Friction is quite literally running, sprinting even, towards the finish line of Connections. Raphaella’s woozy tone is intelligently crafted into the body of the rick-rolling bassline and sits afloat less-than-frantic hi-hats. ‘Running’ is a smashing, crashing juggernaut of a track that embodies the innovative nature of the drum & bass genre. Much in the same ilk, ‘Forever Dub’ pushes a new (but not entirely new) sound for Friction. After dabbling with reggae fusion artist Stylo G and mixmasters Tantrum Desire, it seems Friction has a taste for the mix. ‘Forever Dub’ welcomes the lush vocal talents of dub’s very own Kiko Bun - a voice I certainly haven’t heard in such a high-tempo capacity. The combination of sprawling, reverb-heavy bass and those brass horns so synonymous with the reggae genre, is absolutely infectious.

In a final frenzy, ‘Killing Me’ featuring Rothwell is loud and proud in its production - with a masterful blend of kick-drums, tinkling keyboards and zippy, zorbing synths. Falling headfirst into ‘Stinker’ with Riko Dan & Tantrum Desire, Friction gives us a friendly dose of those moments, in amongst wild and sweaty skanking when we turn to our friends and scream (what we at the time think are lyrics) “wob-wob-wob!”

As debut’s go, Connections is the product of endless refinement, experience and proficiency of a very niche genre. While exploratory in its twists and turns through the sub-genres, it feels wholeheartedly accessible to even those most anti-drum and bass. Friction's decade (plus) in the industry and arm-length resume have enabled him to bridge the divide between mass appeal and the gritty, authenticity of the genre, and lay out his debut in such a way that it feels expertly executed for the dancefloor; it tiptoes tenderly to start, quickly ramping up the ante with precise production and raw, dirty beats.

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