Batu – Opal
Over the past decade, Bristol’s Batu has been making a name for himself as one of the most forward thinking club music producers in the UK. His sound, an amalgamation of influences from techno, to grime, to UKG, is entirely future focussed. With the nebulous techno of releases like 2021’s I Own Your Energy, Batu singled himself out as a distinct new voice, blending the spheres of rave and sound design like no other. His debut album, Opal, is a project that reveals just how multifaceted the Batu prism is. On Opal, Batu indulges his experimental side to play with form and structure, producing nuanced and amorphous soundscapes that expand his scope beyond the dancefloor.
Taking inspiration from the preternatural quality of minerals, Batu’s sonic world for Opal is one of serpentine, mercurial textures and unpredictable structures and spheres that sit between ambience and the nightclub. That’s not to say that there aren’t any instantly club-ready stompers on here. Spectral Hearts is signature Batu techno, sparse yet maximal at the same time, opening with ambience and revealing its layers slowly. An acid synth riff, a half-time kick, abysmal bass. When these parts become singular for a few, fleeting moments, they’re mesmerising. Previously released single Atavism’s passage of breakneck half-time races forward with a menacing sci-fi urgency, while the erratic and syncopated Squall is Batu’s answer to drum’n’bass. But where Opal really shines is in its less identifiable moments, when Batu gives in to the instinct to explore the unclassifiable. These tracks, which oscillate between dance and design, are most telling of Batu’s remarkable potential as a pioneer in his field.
The gorgeous Solace builds itself around a looped vocal mutation, with the voice of serpentwithfeet echoing in Batu’s void. But it’s pressurised, and before long the ether around serpentwithfeet’s refrain begins to fragment, growing jagged and with bursts of industrial noise. Convergence pulls a similar trick to Spectral Hearts, opening with metallic, shimmering drones, and then… silence. Suddenly, it comes to life with phrases of bubbles and pops, shuddering bass and a symphony of industrial percussion sounds, rattling your bones as much as it would a dancefloor. Part of Batu’s skill is the way he balances his elements. Minimalism with maximalism, pointillism with broad strokes of sound. He sequences his ideas toward the unpredictable, with often exhilarating results. Even Here is a syncopated frankenstein of experimental phrases sequenced together by way of Batu’s logic; it hobbles about, misshapen and grotesque, like some sort of alien life form throbbing as it expands in size.
Between the experiments and syncopations, Opal also presents some of Batu’s most cinematic sound design to date. On the late album standout Eolith, we are transported to a futuristic labyrinth at the core of the Earth, where bioluminescent life forms explode from the mantle. On Mineral Veins and Emulsion Of Light, we are confronted by metallic monoliths that vibrate in tune with the frequencies of the Earth. It’s visceral, imaginative music that conjures vivid ideations and experiences for the listener, the only shortfall of these pieces being their quick runtimes which subject them to feeling like interludes rather than tracks. Nonetheless, Opal is an accomplished debut that begins to show these sides to Batu, otherwise never before explored to this extent. Opal makes a good case for Batu as the future of UK dance music, a visionary modernist who both reveres the past and challenges it.
Watch the music video for Solace from Opal below.