“Fifty bucks? Are you crazy?” Walt Jr. incredulously asks his father after they sell their Pontiac Aztek to an auto body shop. Walt Jr.’s father winks in response, proud of his recent sale. Cut to the next scene, in which father and son pull into their driveway in the newly purchased Chrysler 300 and Dodge Challenger. Viewers can hear audio from a decadently audacious track, aptly fitting for Walter White’s newly found intrepid wealth. For those unfamiliar, this scene is from Breaking Bad, perhaps the greatest television show of the recent era. Fans will immediately recall the soundtrack to the end of this particular episode features “Bonfire” by Knife Party. One might go as far as claiming the cult-like idolatry surrounding Walter White is comparable Rob Swire and Gareth McGrillen‘s veneration within the dance music industry.
“Bonfire” appears on Knife Party’s sophomore EP, Rage Valley, which was released half a decade ago. To celebrate this trend-setting, genre-defining work is not to simply listen to the record again, but rather to bask in the heinous sounds that amplified the then-growing dubstep and complextro house movements. To celebrate this EP is to lovingly embrace the absurd noises that terrify the Baby Boomers and shake their dwindling hopes in the artistic tastes of younger generations. To celebrate this EP is to understand where it comes from and who made it. Swire and McGrillen did not begin with Knife Party, and likely won’t end with Knife Party. Ultimately, this opportunity to celebrate Rage Valley is also an opportunity to celebrate these two creative talents producing at the top of their respective games.
Swire and McGrillen met at Scotch College, later forming heavy metal band Xygen – their first project together. The parallels between Knife Party’s tenacious output and lots of classic heavy metal, with distorted guitar riffs and belching bass lines, shine distinctly in revisits to their old material. After Xygen split, they formed Pendulum in 2002 with Paul “El Hornet” Harding. Pendulum’s creative contribution to drum & bass, live electronic music performance, and the electronic music industry as a whole cannot be understated. Elaboration here should be reserved for a post of it’s own.
Eventually the two split off from the iconic drum & bass trio to form their own offshoot, Knife Party. Their first EP 100% No Modern Talking leapt bounds with the uniquely terrifying, now-canonized “Internet Friends” as their breakout track. “Modern Talking” refers to a hackneyed preset in the Massive synthesizer used by many dubstep producers. The outspoken opinions of the artists behind the Knife Party project bleeds into their music. Their first EP was one of many jabs at their contemporaries inability to innovate beyond what’s already being produced.
Modern Talking is the Comic Sans of dubstep sounds.
— Rob Swire (@rob_swire) July 13, 2011
A year after their first EP, Rage Valley was delivered. The opening track, the album’s title offering, “Rage Valley” is a teeth-grinding, anxiety-inducing electro house fire starter. The track is a searing, truculent whirlwind of artificial sonic screams, wails, and distorted bass riffs. “Centipede” comes second. After the unnerving vocal sample provided in “Internet Friends,” “Centipede” follows in its wake with an equally disturbing vocal sample seemingly repurposed from a dusty old documentary. Rather than four to the floor house, like “Rage Valley,” Centipede drops into a two-step kick snare familiar to the rising dubstep sound of its time, with melody and sound engineering that matches every bit of the haunting tone of the sampled centerpiece.
Next comes “Bonfire,” arguably the collection’s most popular offering, and perhaps Knife Party’s most successful product to date. The track unabashedly nurtures the nascent brostep sound brought on by the likes of early Datsik and Skrillex. As a poignant exclamation mark and the end of a caustic clause, “Sleeze” with vocals by Mistajam concludes the EP. A refreshing change of pace, “Sleeze” drops the tempo down below 110 drawing on the rising moobahton wave of 2012.
The Rage Valley EP set the bar for bass music in a number of different ways. “Bonfire” and “Centipede” fed into the dubstep canon, while “Sleeze” and “Rage Valley” into fed moombahton and electro house, respectively. The irony here is, while Swire and McGrillen do what they can to avoid sounding derivative and often go as far as satirizing music producers that cannot innovate, they themselves are often icons for imitation and derivation, and perhaps Rage Valley is the best example of this. The much-maligned “brostep” term sparked around this release surely inspired many a young producer to imitate such an iconic sound, though half a decade later, each track of Rage Valley has gracefully stood the test of time.