The cocktail party effect is the mind’s ability to focus one’s auditory attention on a particular source, filtering and ‘muting’ all the others inputs that would interfere with the chosen one(s). This phenomenon takes its name from the typical situation we’ve all gone through at parties, when you tune out the messy chatter around you to focus on the conversation you’re having, be it flirting with someone or discussing Kanye and Mr. Trump‘s latest tweets (or flirting by doing that, who knows).
This – silencing other sources, not talking about tweets – is exactly what Eric Baldwin has chosen as modus operandi for his musical project that goes by the name of Cocktail Party Effect. In a musical landscape saturated with constant stimuli and new sub-sub-genres born everyday, the London-born, Berlin-based artist focuses his attention on a restricted, yet internally rich, spectrum: that of bass music. For this self-titled album, his second, he once again joins the court of a mainstay of the last 15 years of bass music, Rob Ellis aka Pinch, landing on Tectonic after an EP on the same label and previous releases on Pinch’s other label, Cold Recordings.
The album opener features a Japanese voice reciting cocktail recipes, which is a fitting metaphor for what’s to come throughout the following 11 tracks. Indeed, just like a bartender mixes core elements from a restricted array to create cocktails, Baldwin rides the self-imposed restrictions to venture into no-nonsense bass-heavy journeys. Cocktail Party Effects is at the same time a tribute to the last two decades of bass music, and a bold statement that takes the multifaceted genre into territories if not radically new, at least exciting and fresh.
The press release mentions his “appetite for powerful rhythmical forms”, and that’s exactly what we are faced with on this release. Deep and heavy drums, a constant interplay between void spaces and claustrophobic beats, a thorough sense of crushing sonic oppression indebted with the DMZ-esque meditations on bass weight.
Apart from “Talking to bricks”, an industrial and Jamaican-tinged grime track featuring MC Redders, the rest of the album is instrumental. It has some in-your-face episodes such as “For the memory exchange” and its bass + jungle breaks + laser sword bleeps recipe which updates the ominous vibe of early dubstep, or the minimalistic and industrial-leaning “War on codex” where you can find the same austere yet captivating intransigence typical of fellow Londoner Anthoney J Hart aka Basic Rhythm/East Man. “Deerhorn” is all about the contrast between restless bleepy bass and brighter sounds making their way halfway in, not to mention “Low Rise” that starts somewhere close to ‘regular’ techno, but just when you reassure yourself that it can be somehow predictable, it twists and turns into another bass monster, furnished with industrial clangs and stuttered sampled vocals.
Baldwin likes to experiment and allows himself to be more nuanced as well, as he flings himself into IDM/breakcore territories on “Cause for bad shelving” – a successful track in the art of sounding dystopian and dreamy at the same time. It manages to shift from glitchy soundscapes to claustrophobic beats, recurring to the same pads that in almost any electro or Detroit techno track would mean “uplifting space escapism” and deploying them to convey the sense of “running from a collapsing civilization not knowing where to go”.
The producer’s background in “sound design, knowledge of hacking VST software and adapted spring reverbs and other hardware” underlies each track – all bristle with immaculate sonic details and nerdy tweaking – but clearly steals the show on “Brutalism” and “I get it (lost banknote)”, two intensive masterclasses in sound design applied to electronic music in which he takes sonic signifiers, lets them wander in (echo)space and occasionally interact with each other, only to shatter and turn them inside-out in an abstract yet physically stifling way. Not coincidentally, the name “Brutalism” is a nod to the architectural style based on the display of raw concrete; Baldwin does something similar in the track (and more or less everywhere on this album), slapping us with the bare, raw, building blocks of much of bass music.
Two ambient tracks (“Lack of wrong format” and the closer “Loner”) give a much needed rest from the crushing heaviness of such sonic bombardments, although even the supposedly soothing moments reveal a more-than-frightful note.
Cocktail Party Effect shows us the maximum potential one can get from a reduced sonic palette. While the players in the field may be few, what shines bright is the brilliant and skillful way which Cocktail Party Effect makes the best out of his starting elements, showing his mastery in sound design and audio manipulation, but most of all teaching a lesson in how to compose deadly tracks to make any basshead lose their sh*t.