VA: Back and 4th
Hotflush Recordings

Back and 4th fabulously documents the kind of forward-thinking music Paul Rose (aka Scuba) and his Hotflush label have been serving up since 2003. The set's first disc features ten exclusives from producers such as Sepalcure, dBridge, Roska, Boddika, and FaltyDL, and pairs it with a second disc of essential cuts from the Hotflush catalogue and remixes by the likes of James Blake, Untold, Pangaea, and 2562. Though the label has associations with dubstep, the compilation clearly shows that dubstep is but one constellation within the stylistically expansive Hotflush universe. Most of the contributors, among them Mount Kimbie, Joy Orbison, and Sepalcure, resist being pigeonholed by a single label, and the cuts typically blur house, techno, soul, and garage into genre-transcending set-pieces. Certainly much of the credit for the label's sound and vision rightfully goes to Rose, whose personal relocation to Berlin can be seen as a move that parallels the opening-up of the label's material.

The first disc features one arresting cut after another, with each one as fresh and unpredictable as the one before. Sepalcure (Brooklyn-based duo Travis Stewart and Praveen Sharma) opens the collection on a gloriously high note with the future-soul of “Taking You Back” where an obscured diva's flights of fancy alternate with a “Can't get you out of my system” mantra chanted by a male vocalist, with all of it underpinned by an effervescent techno-funk pulse. London-based George FitzGerald shows himself to be a kindred spirit to Sepalcure when his own equally energized “We Bilateral” appears later on the disc, especially when FitzGerald also has emotive male and female vocalists wail alongside the tune's sleek house pulse. In “Knew You Were The 1,” dBridge (Exit Records head Darren White) overlays syncopated bass-driven swing with soulful vocalizing, while Boxcutter (Northern Irelander Barry Lynn) checks in with a blistering dubstep number, “LOADtime,” that catapults ferociously when it's not radiantly shimmering. Rose appears in his Scuba guise with the relentless dancefloor banger “Feel It,” six minutes of rampaging snares and furious tech-house rhythms, and Boddika's (Al Bleek) aptly titled “Warehouse” tears up the dancefloor with a raw and hard-wired take on acid-techno. The primal future-techno of Sigha's (Londoner James Shaw) “Fold” oozes some of the punishing, clockwork relentlessness one associates with the music of Ostgut Ton, and Incyde's “Axis” twists its beats into such elastic shape one is reminded at times of the stunning beat programming that brought Photek's early work such deserved attention.

Disc two's a match for the first with one exception (Untold's overlong drum'n'bass workout “Sweat”), but that's hardly cause for serious complaint, especially when the disc includes Mount Kimbie's funky head-trip of slinky electro-fire “Sketch on Glass,” Scuba's pulsating “Tense,” and the rootsy dubstep thunder of Pangaea's “Bear Witness.” The soul-dubstep fusion rendered by Joy Orbison in “Hyph Mngo” certainly suggests the track could be seen as some kind of blueprint for disc one's Sepalcure and George FitzGerald tracks. On the remix front, Jamie Vex'd recasts Scuba's “Twitch” as a lurching, synth-swirling colossus, James Blake takes Mount Kimbie's “Maybes” for a snappy, hot-wired spin ornamented by fusillades of warped vocal treatments, and, in the dub-funk workout “Just For You,” Roska strips Untold's track to its raw, bare-bones self. All things considered, Back and 4th impresses as a great and filler-free collection that brings into sharp focus the high quality and dynamic range of the splendid music Hotflush has been issuing since its inception.

March 2011