Joy Orbison still slipping vol. 1 XL Recordings
The difference between an album and a mixtape is often opaque. Skepta used to insist his debut full-length Greatest Hits was, unlike the output of his grime peers, “an album, not a mixtape”. He said it so often it became a kind of marketing slogan. The MC’s implication was always clear: this isn’t just hastily tossed together freestyles over some borrowed beats, like most grime or rap mixtapes – this body of work should be taken seriously.
UK club stalwart Joy Orbison releases his long-awaited debut project – a full 12 years after the summer Hyph Mngo set dancefloors ablaze – and has gone in the opposite direction. This, apparently, is a mixtape, not an album. It’s clear Orbison finds the label freeing, informal and open. “The central theme of this record is collaboration,” he wrote in an Instagram post about still slipping vol. 1, “which is why the idea of it being a mixtape was so important to me”.
Sure enough, the record is peppered with guests: Herron, James Massiah, Bathe, Edna, Léa Sen, Goya Gumbani and Tyson all bring something new to his already versatile production. It’s not just the array of musical voices that make still slipping feel like a buzzy, convivial gathering in Orbison’s front room; there’s also the snatches of recordings of his family members, in conversation, recorded during lockdown via voice notes or video chat. These short voice clips bleed in and out of the tracks themselves, giving the record a harmonious, almost dreamlike quality. And after 18 months in which intimacy has been denied to us all – whether that’s with our nearest and dearest, or the grinning, sweaty stranger on a dancefloor – Orbison manages to conjure that warmth and familiarity we’ve all missed.
While much of the mixtape’s mood is domestic, there are tunes which are undoubtedly built for the club, too. From the first shuffle of sparko, the slinky momentum of UK garage is let loose – and it really is loose, as he deploys chopped vocal samples and insistent rollage reminiscent of pioneering legends like Groove Chronicles. Orbison made his name transporting the ghost of garage into the future, and at a point its two children seemed to have run adrift: dubstep sinking into a quagmire of macho EDM head-banging, and grime’s soul sold to chart electro-rap. Even while the south London-based producer and DJ has gone on numerous intriguing musical journeys and digressions in the intervening decade, he still can’t resist the allure of 2-step, and who can blame him? The closing track, born slipping, with its shimmering waves of synths, UKG hiccups and washed-out vocals by singer Tyson is pure 4am dancefloor fodder.
The production style is nonetheless broadly downbeat, rather than aiming for Room 1-style euphoria. Away from the garage, there are enticing variations in tempo and style: from the subtly insistent d’n’b patterns and swarming synths of layer 6, to the funk-like rhythm of froth sipping, to the ambient glitches that lay the foundation for the dreamy playground with New York rapper Goya Gumbani. But it’s the slow but powerful bass whoomph of runnersz that sets the tone for the whole mixtape; reflective and atmospheric, it’s late night in the big city, but crucially, you don’t feel like you’re alone in it.
“The second you just change the language to mixtape,” a woman’s voice deadpans at the end of sparko, “nobody cares”. It’s a droll bit of irony for a record crafted with such care. still slipping is anything but thrown together – in fact, it’s hard to imagine a more holistically conceived set of tracks. This is a body of work that definitely deserves to be taken seriously.