“Submotion Orchestra have rapidly built up a reputation as one of the most interesting and original projects emerging from the UK today. Drawing upon dubstep, soul, ambient electronica, jazz and dub, their unique music is at once delicate and heavy, spacious and dense, highly atmospheric but firmly rooted. Earth-shaking bass and drums combine with lush keyboard and trumpet textures to create the perfect bed for the fragile beauty of Ruby Wood’s vocals, and the celestial effects of sound designer Ruckspin.”
The paragraph above is an excerpt pulled from the bio posted on the group’s website. Let’s take a minute to reflect on those words. Dubstep, soul, ambient electronica, jazz and dub. Those of you that keep up with my posts on this site will know by now that I’m always a big fan of cross-genre mixtures. In that regard, Submotion Orchestra have certainly gone above and beyond with their newest album, entitled Fragments. It’s actually the ideal combination of styles – many opponents of the advent of popular electronic music will use the argument that it such genres sound too “robotic” or “repetitive.” If we posit for a moment that such a claim is true, then surely we could turn to jazz as a musical style on the complete opposite side of the spectrum. Just about everything about jazz is based around live improvisation and the interaction between players.
So what might happen, then, if we combine such a celebrated musical tradition as jazz with the swift and strong arrival of electronic music? In the case of Submotion Orchestra, the result turns out to be even greater than the sum of its parts. The group is made up of seven incredibly talented individuals that all bring their own unique musical influences to the table. Tommy Evans, who serves as the principal drummer for the group, brings with him a strong jazz background, courtesy of Leeds College of Music, as well as the experience of playing with reggae ensemble. He is backed up by percussionist Danny Templeman, who adds an extra layer of sound with his specialty in Cuban and Brazilian rhythms. Chris Hargreaves supports the group on bass, and brings with him the diverse languages of soul, hip-hop, reggae, and dance music.
On keyboards is Taz Modi, who takes the band’s music to a whole new level with his soft-spoken yet richly sentimental manipulation of the Fender Rhodes. Next up is Simon Beddoe, who augments the intimacy with his soulful melodies on the trumpet and flugelhorn. The soft and delicate, innocent yet sultry vocals can be attributed to Ruby Wood, who also attended the Leeds College of Music for jazz. And last but certainly not least is Dom Howard, in charge of electronics and sound design. Perhaps more popularly known by his stage name Ruckspin, Howard is a classically-trained violist with a mature ear for production. He’s the one responsible for gluing everybody else together in the mix.
If the last few paragraphs seemed somewhat encyclopedic to you, then I apologize, but I think it’s important to understand how such an incredible group came to be formed. Many electronic producers today have succeeded in making a name for themselves with punchy dance tracks, but it becomes clear after listening to Submotion Orchestra how much is truly added when reverting back to the age-old traditions of live performance and interaction. Seven human beings come together to create music together and share in the same vision is a beautiful, beautiful thing.
If I had to describe their particular blend of music concisely, I would paint it as predominantly chill electronica grooves with the warmth of an intimate jazz setting. Music to calm the mind and relax the soul, to be sure. They share many similarities with someone like Blackmill, a major proponent of the chill dubstep style, but they could also be easily compared to the likes of Nekta, based on their heavy jazz influence. Within the twelve tracks of Fragments, we are exposed to the full gamut of the group’s many musical influences. Tracks like “Blind Spot” and “Eyeline” expose the more delicate nature of their music, while “Thousand Yard Stare” brings heavier dubstep wobbles out to play. “Times Strange” is a particularly psychedelic groove laid underneath the trippy rap verses of Rider Shafique, and “It’s Not Me It’s You” introduces the perfect uptempo vibes that give the trumpet, vocals, and sound design all equal time in the spotlight.
Submotion Orchestra is one of those acts that makes me extremely optimistic for the future of music. They have the creative potential to produce innovative new tracks that remain current with modern trends while simultaneously paying homage to the many greats that have come before them. Let it never be said that there is nothing new under the sun, even in today’s extremely saturated market. The future is unquestionably bright for this group of young talent.