Sam Shackleton spearheaded the Skull Disco label, an outpost of maverick dubstep output that blazed brilliantly for a few years and then flickered out in 2008. For such a short-lived endeavor, the London-based label left a profound legacy: Check out the double-disc compilations Soundboy Punishments and Soundboy's Gravestone Gets Desecrated by Vandals, and come to grips with this gripping, stealthy, and oft-unsettling music. Abetted by Shackleton's business partner/fellow producer Laurie "Appleblim" Osborne, Skull Disco staked out unique territory in the dubstep diaspora, slithering and clattering in the fecund zone between late ethno-beat scientist Muslimgauze and catalytic dubstep OGs Digital Mystikz.

Sponsored
King County Council is seeking to hire one or more Senior Legislative Analysts.
To apply & view a complete job announcement go to www.kingcounty.gov/jobs. Closes 4/26/21 at 11:59pm

As forbidding and thorny as it can be, Shackleton's music has rattlesnaked its way into mixes overseen by renowned DJs like /rupture and Matt Shadetek, Scuba, and Mary Anne Hobbs. Further, the hauntological misfits who run England's Mordant Music label so fancied Shackleton's off-kilter, scattershot beats, sternum-­compressing bass frequencies, and malevolent atmospheres that they chose four of his tracks for their Picking O'er the Bones compilation. And experimental-techno don Ricardo Villalobos provided an epic treatment of Shackleton's grim, WTC-­memorializing classic "Blood on My Hands," with Shackleton returning the favor by remixing "Minimoonstar" for Villalobos's Vasco EP on Perlon. This connection led to Shackleton releasing his 2009 full-length, Three EPs, for that esteemed Berlin record company.

Initially, this seems like an unlikely match—Shackleton's stalking, mutational dubstep shares little in common with Perlon's often-madcap, club-techno subversions, save for a similarly minimalist approach. But considering that Perlon issued Villalobos's introspective brain-twister Thé Au Harem D'Archimède, perhaps we shouldn't be too surprised.

Three EPs starts with "(No More) Negative Thoughts," a cerebral, tribal thumper laced with motivational-speech jargon and insistent, warped keyboard tones that induce uneasiness. Shackleton's trademark intensity and intricately rolling hand drums send you into a state between hypnosis and apprehension. "Asha in the Tabernacle" uses pop-gospel chestnut "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands" as a chilling refrain amid suspenseful, sonorous organ drones, zonked spaceship emissions, and hectic beats. Disc highlight "Mountain of Ashes" overcomes its downer title with a gorgeous, ascending angel-sigh vocal sample and bubbling percussion pattern.

Shackleton's use of voices in his tracks differs from most producers' in that he's not trying to hype a crowd or fill people full of typical uplift, but rather to get listeners to focus on an often-grim message—although Shackleton strenuously disagrees with this observation.

"You make it sound as though there's nothing but misery and bafflement in my music," he says. "I use vocal snippets that are appropriate for the track and that I feel make sense within the context. I mean, some vocal snippets are really positive. Take, for example, 'He's got the whole world in his hands' or the whole of the samples from '(No More) Negative Thoughts.' I hope to give a comforting message with these samples.

"I think that good art needs to have many dimensions and contrasts," he continues. "As humans, we have a multitude of emotions and experience infinite situations, etc. Sometimes we can feel a mixture of emotions or hold a number of seemingly contradictory positions at the same time. Music's the same. Often the elements can suggest very different things at the same time, and it's this opposition that makes the piece."

Given its burrowing, frequently disorienting nature, it seems pertinent to ask if people dance to Shackleton's music. The beats move in fairly unpredictable patterns, though one can imagine punters making sinuous movements with their arms and stealthy dips with their hips.

Support The Stranger

"It depends on the crowd," Shackleton says. "Sometimes people really dance, sometimes they just stand there, and sometimes they take the opportunity to go for a smoke or go to the bar. That said, I don't think that the beats are at all baffling. It's generally pretty simple to count it out. You are probably right, though, about how people dance to it. Without wishing to sound corny, I hope that I make my beats loose enough for people to find their own groove. I make the music that I would like to dance to. I think that some people will feel the same way, some people won't."

Over its nine tracks, Three EPs immerses you in majestic, mournful aural vortices in which vibrant hand percussion strives to energize you even as ocean-floor bass tones and lugubrious wisps of melody conspire to enshroud you in gloom. Such paradoxes result in ever-intriguing tracks that are built to last. Are you superhuman enough to take it? recommended