Milanese: Birmingham Bass
Birmingham, UK's reputation as a bombed-out, concrete wasteland is slowly changing, but you'd never know that listening to the music of Steve Milanese. After leaving London in favor of the birthplace of Judas Priest, Godflesh, and Duran Duran over three years ago, Milanese and his friends found themselves desperate and miserable. "I wrote a lot of angry music here 'cos I was broke," he says. "And when I had to finally get a job it really sucked. But I think I had to go through all that to write Extend."
No one knew quite what to think of Extend, released on Planet Mu in 2006. Sitting on the fringes of countless post 'ardcore spin-off genres, the tracks were both physical and mental assaults–dead pressure bass slammed through multiple layers of fractured breaks and grit. Milanese calls the template "digital grimecore." Pretty fucking Nathan Barley, but the title is apt–the music recalls both grime and dubstep in tempo and structure, but the end result is far too militant to fit into the square pegs of either scene's rank and file.
Luckily, tastemakers like BBC DJ Mary Anne Hobbs and Miss Kittin began championing Milanese tracks while everyone else was scratching their heads. Hobbs went so far as to match Milanese (who also records as Mr. Ion and Billy Hologram) up with grime crew Virus Syndicate for the collaboration "Dead Man Walking," a track later featured on Hobbs' Warrior Dubz compilation. All this new exposure made earlier Milanese output (like 2004's brilliant 1-Up EP) a hot commodity, and Birmingham legend Justin Broadrick (Godflesh, Techno Animal, Jesu) even began referencing the man as spiritual heir to the Techno Animal aesthetic.
As with the music of Techno Animal, layering is a huge part of the Milanese sound. "All the drums are compressed together with the rest of the track [so] everything reacts to everything else; drums forcing down other sounds... all fighting to get out," Milanese explains of his technique. "[It's] lots of plug-ins, lots of layers of sound. Each snare or bass drum is built up from several samples. A bass drum might have one kick for the sub, another for the pop, and one for grit.
Milanese's attention to detail might sound like some heavy-metal-transposed-to-dance-music-virtuoso shit, but the man insists otherwise. "I got to this point from a different path: the jungle/techno pirates in London when I was a teenager, and studying sonic arts in school. [But] I was into a lot of grunge and guitar stuff, [and I] still am–like The Faith Healers and Daisy Chainsaw. Not Sabbath-type stuff so much."
Milanese may not be a metal dude in grime's clothing, but not everyone can make beats this gigantic. "I just did a show in Belgium with Vex'd and Mary Anne Hobbs [and] the gig was mad" says Milanese. "The bass on the stage was making my vision shakey. I couldn't even see what I was playing!"