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Au5’s ‘Alchemy’ LP marks the debut release from Liquid Stranger’s SSKWAN imprint [ALBUM REVIEW]

Au5 proves the “soft and soothing sounds of SSKWAN” bring the perfect balance to the “weird and wonderful world of WAKAAN.”

Since WAKAAN‘s humble beginnings in 2015, Martin Stääf’s vision for the imprint was strong from infancy. When Stääf booked the label’s first North American tour under his Liquid Stranger moniker, WAKAAN’s message was simple: to spread the left-field bass movement across the world. Little did Stääf know at the time, but Wakaan’s mission would spread rampantly across an electronic community that was thirsty for wonky bass sonics.

A mere four years later, Stääf’s vision finally culminated with 2019’s sold-out WAKAAN Music Festival, which was considered a huge success on all counts. CE even named it our Top Breakout Festival of 2019. But rather than basque in his accomplishments at the festival, Liquid Stranger announced mid-performance the birth of a new sub-label, SSKWAN.

Liquid Stranger said the following of the two label’s yin-and-yang relationship:

WAKAAN is Native American for ‘Grandmother Earth,’ for the female essence of God. SSKWAN is similar, for ‘Heavenly Father,’ the male essence of God.”


Photo credit: DIVISUALS.

The idea was to house more downtempo, chill bass releases on the new label, while keeping WAKAAN up as the home for all things weird, wonderful, and wonky. The feminine precedes the masculine, in other words, which certainly holds true to real life.  After all, no man can exist without his mother’s gift of birth. “So together when we have these two components, I feel we have something pretty unified,” Stääf elaborated during that very same headlining set.

The radical thing about this dichotomy, however, is how it flips the male and the female upside down by way of the label’s distinctive sonic stamps. Grandmother WAKAAN was always hard and heavy from the beginning, for instance, with its weird wubs and beats that always hits you out of left-field. By equating the softer side of bass with SSKWAN—the male essence of God—it seems Stääf and his new roster of artists have set out on a mission to change the way we think not only about music but how we may subconsciously assign gender roles to sounds.

How fitting, then, that the name WAKAAN itself translates to “Great Mystery.”

au5Fast forward through 2020 and Stääf’s SSKWAN vision has materialized in the form of a soft, serene LP from Austin Collins, the New Jersey-producer who runs around as Au5. What better person to kick off the newly-established imprint’s debut work, especially seeing as how Au5 provided direct support on that first WAKAAN tour some five years ago. Equipped with his polymorphous production catalog, which fuses dubstep, house, trance, drum and bass, drumstep, and ambient, Au5 was a polished choice to debut the eclectic sounds of SSKWAN. The album is titled Alchemy and it lands today, August 27, 2020, as Au5’s first downtempo-focused project since 2010.

[The] LP is a healing journey through different environments, reflective of the combinations and alchemy of the natural elements. A meditative interplay of melancholy and delight, with the intention to stimulate, relax, introspect, and lastly inspire the mind and soul. It is a reset button for a chaotic world.” – Au5

Alchemy opens with a journey-filled title track, clocking in at nearly eight minutes. “Alchemy” plays out more like an astral collage of house, ambient, and downtempo, wherein style dictates the evolving narrative. Au5 invites listeners to become lost in the voyage as he oscillates between two divergent sonic spaces: meditative tones, blissful ambiance, and ethereal atmospheres at one minute; and colorful plucks, spaced-out glitches, drippy synths at another. It’s almost as if Dave Tipper and Four Tet had a baby. In any case, the track is itself a perfectly crafted storyline that makes for an immersive, improvised, freestyle sort of experience.

Au5 – Alchemy

The LP’s second track, “Vapour,” is a kaleidoscope of sound and mood. The title begins with ringing bells and twinkling chimes, which suggests to listeners, “time to wake up!” The sounds are soon overtaken by an indigenous chorus, and a beat that hypnotizes the body like a baby being rocked to sleep. All of this is undergirded by a distinctly subtle bass line that grasps tightly until the song’s prolonged outtro. Au5 does well to slowly ease listeners out, winding them down from their deeply narcotic state before heading into “Myst.”

Au5 – Vapour

As the third track, the four-and-a-half-minute cut continues with the chiming synth-scapes and tribal flutes. At this precise point is where the SSKWAN begins showing his face to you. Only, instead of a burning sun, one is filled the solace of a moon-lit night. “Myst” distributes more tangible dub and basslines, a downtempo adventure that continues into the more fluid “Neptuna.”

Au5 – Myst

“Etheros” takes listeners through a cloud of ambiance that props up atmospheres over beat production. The song provides the perfect backdrop to meditating on a hill or beneath a tree. Tinges of Porter Robinson’s toybox tones glisten subtely through the track’s uplifting chords and majestic ambience, and calming melodies. All one can think to do is breath, clear the mind, and slowly sink into the body. This is conscious music, through and through.

Au5 – Etheros

The album wraps up with the fully-serene “The Cliff” and a wondrous, sublime approach on “Return to Moonland,” which caps the abundantly genre-fluid style of this new label. Classical strings, soft xylophone plucks, and piano chords combine together to create a beautiful orchestra of cinematic bliss that stops you right in your tracks. It provides the most consummate ending that anyone could ever dream up. One minute, it’s raising the stakes and building tensions, then the next it’s bringing the listener to resolution and peace…and then back around again to tension and release… and then round and around again.

Au5 – Return To Moonland

Early WAKAAN fans may remember the time when the imprint was exciting, unpredictable, and on the cutting-edge underground bass releases. That is not to say the imprint has lost its footing by any stretch. Indeed, as arguably one of today’s most respected and celebrated bass music imprints, they are in the midst of inducting a whole new round of promising rising artists from the underground. Yet with so much success in just a few years, WAKAAN’s esteem has brought them much status; and with high esteem comes high expectations among the drones of alt-bass fanatics all demanding consistent, familiar, heavy output.

Enter: SSKWAN, the off-shoot undertaking that will surely return the magic and mystery that WAKAAN’s left-field movement initially captured all those years ago. So it would seem the “weird and wonderful world of WAKAAN,” as Liquid Stranger always liked to refer to his sound movement, is being thrown back into balance by the “soft and soothing sounds of SSKWAN.”

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Photo courtesy of Liquid Stranger/Instagram.

SSKWAN allows WAKAAN fans to experience the awe and wonder all over again. SSKWAN keeps WAKAAN fresh. Most of all, SSKWAN broadens the WAKAAN reach and offers an outlet for bass music artists to not be pigeonholed into one particular sound.

Au5’s Alchemy does just that—in its powerful musical arrangement that ventures through glitch hop, left-field, downtempo, ambient, tribal, and more. In its meditative melodies and expansive atmospheres that makes you feel like you’re charging your batteries. And in its sheer resilience, playful experimentation, and meticulous sound design that turns in on itself and folds back out again. In short, Alchemy is only the beginning.

Au5 – Alchemy LP

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