When the dance-music site Resident Advisor named Whities one of the best labels of 2016, the London imprint was keeping a pretty low profile: It had put out a scant four records that year, adding to the five it had released since launching in 2014. Since then, the label, founded by Nic Tasker, has dialed up the pace. Its catalog is now three dozen releases deep, but it still prefers the shadows to the limelight. Most Whities artists are known primarily to fans on club music’s fringes, if they’re known at all; the biggest names on the roster (Avalon Emerson, Lanark Artefax) got a significant boost in the wake of their Whities debuts.
There are few better places to take the pulse of adventurous UK club music, and that’s especially true of the Whities Blue sublabel, which maintains a slightly more dancefloor-oriented focus than its parent label. Until now, Whities Blue had been dedicated to split singles, but the latest two in the series, from Forest Drive West and Pugilist, respectively, break that mold.
Forest Drive West, aka East London’s Joe Baker, active since 2016, is the better known of the two artists. A typical Forest Drive West production is a good reminder of why dance music tends to use the term “track” in place of “song”: His drum programming stretches out in long, steely, unswerving lines, hi-hats flashing like railroad ties. Rhythmically, his two cuts here are as linear as anything he’s done, but the atmosphere around his drums is in constant flux. “Other” is the heavier of the two tunes, built around booming toms and a beefy, syncopated groove; despite the ample force of his low end, there’s a wealth of high-end detail that lends an electrifying dynamism. (Listen closely and you might hear an echo of Plastikman in the triplet figures rippling across the surface of the mix.) “Time” takes a similar approach into vast metallic clouds of reverb, with taut plucked tones glinting dully in the fog. If the Cure’s “A Forest” were reborn as minimal techno, it might sound something like this.
Melbourne’s Pugilist, aka Alex Dickson, is a relative newcomer; his early productions, from 2017 and 2018, tended toward classic, half-speed dubstep with a decidedly mid-aughts feel. But lately he’s been quickening his tempos, bringing him more in line with his UK bass contemporaries. “Descendant,” the opening track on his EP, recalls Forest Drive West’s linear shapes while incorporating an almost Latin sense of swing; every so often, rushing breakbeats burst like geysers through the surface. For a bass musician, he knows how to make the high end sing: The treble register is a turbulent field of nonstop motion—metallic shrieks, flayed hi-hats, and alien wibbles. It’s a powerful, peak-time track that plays the long game rather than going for the easy payoff, and so is the more hypnotic “Undulate,” where 808 depth charges plunge through an aquamarine swirl of keys and drum hits. With “Encrypted,” Pugilist tries his hand at a new cadence, toying with the 160-BPM pulse of drum’n’bass while letting dub’s dragging anchor slow the tempo to a crawl. It sounds almost like a contemporary take on Seefeel’s doleful clang.
A little-known fact about Whities Blue is that the label began as a response to Brexit. When the British pound dropped precipitously in the face of uncertainty as to how, exactly, the UK was going to extricate itself from the EU, the price of manufacturing and shipping records shot up—especially for a label like Whities, with its lavishly printed full-color record covers. Sporting generic sleeves, the Whities Blue series—the name is a subtle reference to the European Union’s flag—became a means of putting out records more cheaply and quickly. There’s no solution to Brexit in sight, but on these two releases, Whities Blue maintains its resolutely international perspective, drawing together sounds from the U.S., Germany, Latin America, and the Caribbean into a cosmopolitan web of influence and exchange. Like the best dance music, it makes an airtight case that we’re stronger together than alone.