Proc Fiskal’s debut LP is a refreshing collection of unhurried grime-flavoured tracks with just enough levity and optimism throughout to make Insula one of the year’s surprises in the beat science scene. Proc Fiskal is 21-year-old producer Joe Power from Edinburgh, who has grown up with a steady dose of UK dance music and knows the history and chops of the genre. After a pair of slightly heavier EPs, Insula delivers something more upbeat and new, establishing him as a producer capable of meticulous beat constructions and an ear for a quixotic turn of melody.
Unlike other interpretations of grime, hardcore or drum and bass such as Zomby’s Where Were You In ’92? or some of Lee Gamble’s forays into the more abstract realms, Insula has a kinder take on 90s and 00s dance music. Here the beats are slow and sloppy, akin to what jungle sounded like back in the 120–140 bpm days, rather than the current 180 bpm and upwards for footwork or contemporary DnB. The slower tempo affords the tracks enough space so that the beats, delicate melodies and intricate samples and sounds are allowed to interact organically. This is the opposite of the maximalist approach of many other electronic dance music producers, and is a nice change up.
After the short opener Restart sets the scene with snippets of police radio and field recordings, Apple Juice is a slow-to-warm up number that features a steady groove with some ambient wafts of synths over the top. This lattice of beats overlain with chirpy skeletal melodies is the basic template of the tracks on offer here. However, the individual tracks have their own personalities, their own story to tell, like many of the voices Powers has caught on his phone that surface regularly across the tracks.
Kontinuance is one of the more raucous numbers; heck, you could nearly dance to it with its tight mix of the upfront melody, bouncy bass line, bright samples and ear-pricking glitches. Yet, the tempo is stately and steady, and actually there are really barely any drums at all – an example of Power’s conjuring tricks to create emotionally engaging tracks almost out of the ether.
Another standout track is Dopamine, with a snappy drum beat, sinewy bassline and melodies and detours galore. Dish Washing slows the tempo even more, and seems to wander off in concentration, absent-mindedly getting the job done, while forgetting the rinse altogether. Many tracks channel pastoral ambient sounds reminiscent of early Aphex Twin, such as 2L and Vaudeville, and combined with the pace suits the music nicely rather than detracts.
Insula is a subtle, intricate album that invites repeated listens. Especially notable is the attention to detail of the higher end sounds, including vocal samples and fast-appearing computer pops, squelches and glitches that generate a heightened interest in a “you’ve got mail”-style means of grabbing your attention. The vocal samples include snippets of pirate radio, street chatter on Achiltibuie, television on Future Headache, an old blues song on Hoax Nos Trinit and a variety of sharp inhalations, “ahh”s and sighs. These serve to give the tracks a real human, down-to-earth feel in counterpoint to the tinnier video game sounds, but all such sounds co-mingle pleasingly throughout the album.
Insula is not really a beats album to get the party started, rather more like a “back to mine” session starter or just something less obtrusive to put on the stereo. And although there are few conspicuous ‘hits’ on Insula, it’s a most enjoyable hour to spend if you’re fine with a bit of lazy, sludgy beats with enough quirkiness and curiosity about them to keep things fresh. Moreover, with its novel approaches to tempo and samples, Proc Fiskal’s impressive debut points to a gentler, even contemplative, style of beat-making that can delight the senses and get heads nodding.