When I was in high school, I stumbled upon a documentary about turntablism called Scratch. This was when I first experienced legends like Afrika Bambaataa, DJ Shadow, DJ Babu, Preemo, Qbert, Cut Chemist; it was my introduction into electronic music that wasn’t 1940s electroacoustic music (I was a strange adolescent). What stuck with me, though, was a suspiciously short section featuring a white female drum & bass DJ, who I misremembered for years after as Goldie; it turns out, of course, that Goldie is a black male British breakbeat musician. After having since learned this fact, left without any other inklings of what this rad woman’s tag might be except for a vague recollection of a graffiti-inspired album cover and a name ending in “ee,” I recently tracked down a rip of Scratch and rediscovered her identity: DJ Shortee.
Shinichi Atobe doesn’t make drum & bass music, and his music is nothing like Shortee’s The Dreamer, but Heat sounds like a kind of snippet that could get stuck in a 14-year-old’s head, without a name, without a hint that this is what house music sounds like. Atobe’s work sounds timeless, but unlike his magnificent From The Heart, It’s A Start, A Work Of Art from 2017, Heat’s surprise early-fall release may eventually be forgettable, save whatever sweaty remnants of its attic-bound charm end up stuck onto more high-profile 2018 releases. But that’s partly why Heat is so special.
Music that is associated with temperature often gets dubbed “evocative” or “transcendent” (I recently used these terms in my review of Body), and it is true that Atobe can make soothing deep house music seem hot. But what makes this release feel so fresh is that it doesn’t transport your body into its desert soundscape; it merges its space with your space, as if Atobe had constructed a L’Englian tesseract out of cardboard boxes and tacky glue, and then stepped across folded space into your room through your headphones.
Heat is seven tracks long, but it contains an hour of music that feels like an EP. Four tracks are called “Heat,” appended with a number (in this order: 2, 4, 1, 3); its bookends are both called “So Good, So Right” (1 and 2); and there’s a short, keyboard-heavy mid-album track called “Bonus.” It’s almost too appropriate that this release begins and ends with a title like “So Good, So Right,” but its tracklist isn’t a roadmap, it’s a travel journal, filled with familiar pictures that contain easily passable details. Heat’s movement is comparatively static, not like From Here We Go Sublime; there are no obfuscated samples here or dramatic beat-switches, just solid, vocal-less house tracks that occasionally snag and jump in strategic places.
I doubt that Heat will become a new house classic, but its materiality, its dissemination into our soundworld has already noticeably enriched and expanded contemporary electronic music, providing a momentary detour away from bubblegum bass and post-industrial, deconstructed club music. If it does recede into obscurity, I hope that it at least leaves a dorsal fin above water so that its rediscovery can make a future cratedigger happy. Genuinely, I can’t wait until I forget about it and find it again in 10 years. It will be worth it, even more so if I spend years trying to remember what it was called.