Alley Cat is a London-based expat of over two decades and a drum & bass veteran for at least that long, as well as co-head of ESP Agency and Kokeshi Records. She also just started her own radio show with KoolFM on RinseFM. If anyone knows how big and bad and dark London can be, it’s Alley Cat. With all her industry credits and connections, Alley Cat’s music has always been decidedly personal to her own taste and she’s known for not following trends. In a world where pop D&B and dancefloor are bringing in the crowds, Alley Cat is happy to play her own way, and she still has plenty of takers: in the past year alone she’s played Let It Roll, Locus, Outlook UK, Ministry of Sound and Boomtown, just to name the big ones, and will be playing next weekend at Sun and Bass and XOYO later in autumn. D&B veteran is a bit of an understatement.
Alley Cat’s last chronological release was the 2015 digital re-release on Offshore Recordings of a 2009 two-sided vinyl single called “Sweet Spot”/”Radiate” with her good friend, the sadly recently passed dubstep and breakbeat producer, Vaccine. 2012 was her actual most recently produced release on the Kokeshi Kompilation album with the snappy dubstep-and-hip hop-infused track, “Don’t Edit Me.” Since then, she’s been focused on all the stuff listed above, but it seems she’s also been working away at her own stuff lo these eleven years, through all the changes to the industry, the pandemic and all the other big, bad, dark stuff in recent history. To say this EP title is apt would be an understatement.
All that political author posturing aside, it’s likely Alley Cat named her EP Big Bad Dark City as more of an homage, or at least as a nod to the vibes on said EP. Big, bad, deep and dark also seems to perfectly describe the sound she’s created here, with a heavy focus on deep bass sounds and deeper sound design. This is not the deep drum & bass that is prevalent nowadays, but something more intelligent and tribal, as the opening title track makes immediately clear. With what sounds like steel drum samples and an analog tom and snare creating the main drums, the beat comes in at intervals during the intro before filling in the main track with more snappy snare ornamentations and a deep, dark, primal bass note to ground each phrase. Emotive and rolling, there’s the slightest throwback to early breakbeat but there’s so much innovation here in terms of composition audiences might miss it if they blink.
Luckily, the next track, “Construction Tune” sets the record straight on where Alley’s favors lie in terms of sound combos. A straight up and down, amen-filled breakbeat track of the highest order, here the artist merges old school sounds, samples and vibes with modern techniques and sound design (and possibly a little construction noise from her own house) to bring this oft-forgotten-nowadays style forward to 2023. Still trippy, tribal and totally her own, “Construction Tune” would be cool to hear mixed with other genres, and given that Alley self-describes her sound as “drum, bass, dubstep, whatever,” it likely will be in the future.
Our premiere for today is the last track on Big Bad Dark City, called “May Day.” The amen, Venetian Snares-style snare fun is even more front and center on this track; in fact it’s the main feature. Alley’s gone full ambient on this tune when it comes to the higher registers, with sine wave synths swelling in and out of the track as the structure is once again a backwards jungle/breakbeat combo that hearkens back to the inception of D&B. The warmth of all these sounds put together is truly like nothing else being released right now, and it’s clear that’s what this artist wants. The OG heads will recognize all the samples of D&B and electronic yore, but younger audiences will see this track for its innovation and clean production style. It’s really all in the eye – or ear, in this case – of the beholder, and “May Day” has something for every ear.
It seems an 11-year hiatus from production hasn’t dulled Alley Cat’s compositional senses, nor her sense of what she wants her sound to be. This artist knows what she’s about, both in the industry and in her artistic expression. The Big Bad Dark City tends to demand that of its artists, and in Alley Cat’s case, it’s a result that’s definitely worth the time it took to create.