11 Dec 2023

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Substax - Single Review: Words

07 Dec 2022 // A review by Nicholas Clark
Substax's Words starts off with a fairly typical, hypnotic 180 bpm big club beat. Some of the sounds seem a little retro here, almost straight off an 80’s synth patch for percussion. One sound specifically reminds me of my old Casio MT-520. Still, the beat is undeniable and straight into the action from the word go. A deep synth bass joins which adds some gothic drama and an emotional chord sequence. If it wasn’t for how upbeat it all sounded, I’d say Siouxsie Sioux would approve.

A breathy, melodic female voice joins with the emblematic lyrics: “Don’t tell me there’s no words to say.” Sounds weave in and out, including a subsonic, speaker rattling bass pulse that is especially groovy and will sound fantastic in a club setting on a massive sound system. This bassline really plays around the steadiness of the beat and allows the whole song to have any claim to being funky. The track pauses half way through to reassemble the instruments and a new lyric is added: “When we all grow up, that's when we have to find the words.” I like this lyric, and it works well with electronic music that relies on less words. There is something sweet and naive about the line. This part waits before bringing in a massive beat.

While the vocals sing “leave your mind” with heavy processing, a new instrument joins the rich tapestry: a quivering sine wave that runs through a wide range of frequencies like a dulcet siren. This interacts well with the throbbing, funky bass line. Then, finally, the percussion continues by itself a few measures, drawing attention again to the very retro samples used, which I still find at odds with the rest of the instruments. A deep filter control ends the number stylishly.

Electro soul is probably the best way to describe this track; it has all the elements usually found in the genre and the mix is light, poppy and listenable. I could imagine this playing at a Ponsonby cafe on a Sunday morning. Artists such as St. Germain come to mind (although Substax uses more synths and generated sounds than samples), and also the pop-iness of Calvin Harris, the smoothness of David Gray; even the great pioneer of the genre, Eddie "Flashin" Fowkles himself. In terms of New Zealand context, Timmy Schumacher and the late great, Minuit seem similar in their most pop polished moments.

Substax is Nicholas Farrands and Claudia Gunn, an Auckland electronic act that prides itself on well produced funk inspired house and stylish breakbeat. There’s a little of a funky tempo in parts on this new song (supplied by that massive bass synth), but the beat, and the track in general, is pretty innocuous and digestible. But that’s not a bad thing. Too often the difficulty of a pleasant track or a pop song is overlooked and underappreciated in comparison to an experimental production that really doesn’t succeed.

This track is just what the doctor ordered for both an early morning coffee with a hangover or a late-night energy boost. Full on dancing or sunglass-wearing head nodding acceptable in either circumstance.

Rating: ( 3 / 5 )

About Substax

New Zealand alternative electronic music act Substax are genre bending pioneers of electro soul and breakbeat. Based in Auckland/Tamaki Makaurau, they produce a unique fusion of soul, funk, breakbeat and deep house. Reviewers describe their sound as everything from "epic downbeat" to "achingly beautiful", "seductive" (Remix Magazine) and "speaker cone cracking breakbeat" (Waikato Times). They are renowned both for their downtempo epic downbeat as well as breakbeat influenced club tracks.

The act is the audio duo of producer, Nick Farrands and vocalist/producer Claudia Gunn. Farrands is the co-founder of a boutique club night in Auckland, Videotech, which features the work of VJ and co-founder Rachel Dreyer. Gunn, is an award winning children’s music producer in her own right and brings her singer-songwriter craft to Substax productions.

The act has been involved with numerous compilation releases, renowned music festival and club performances and had strong support from alternative radio and NZ dance music station, George FM, over the years.

Visit the muzic.net.nz Profile for Substax


Linear Shift
Year: 2022
Type: Album
Electro Soul Plane
Year: 2005
Type: Album

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