In late 2009, Martin Kemp was truly the toast of the XLR8R office. The London producer was tabbed as an Artist to Watch, his XLR8R podcast showcased some serious DJ chops, and his first two singles on Blunted Robots prompted whispers that he might even be better than his big brother Brackles. Unfortunately though, no amount of enthusiasm could make Kemp continue to release tunes, and his output slowed to a trickle in 2010 before unexpectedly ceasing altogether. Now, nearly three years after he impressively burst onto the UK scene with "No Charisma," Kemp has returned with the German Salad EP, an effort which finds him still dabbling in slightly off-kilter, percussion-heavy waters.
In truth, although German Salad is a new release, these Martin Kemp tunes have been floating around DJ circles for some time, which is perhaps why they don't sound drastically different from his previous output. For the most part, the music comes across as a skewed take on UK funky, one that's definitely influenced by '90s NY garage while also incorporating some out-of-the-ordinary rhythmic sensibilities. Yes, DJs are undoubtedly going to complain that Martin Kemp has cooked up another batch of hard-to-mix tunes, but the unusual drum patterns are a big part of the charm here. The rhythms may be odd, but they've also been placed front and center, as Kemp's penchant for layering snares, snaps, claps, and other organic-sounding percussive bits hasn't waned.
There are melodies to be found on German Salad, but their purpose is largely atmospheric. The title track features some playfully wonky synth bursts, most of which of have been smothered with reverb and hung in the background to unassumingly coast along while the drums do the heavy lifting. Things gets slightly more ominous on "Closer," as lilting synth notes color the snapping percussion with a sort of science-fiction flair. The EP's final cut, "Cracks," is also its best, as Kemp gets especially tribal with his selection of drum sounds and fattens up the low end with a stellar walking bassline. It's one of the EP's few moments where Kemp involves another sonic element that's just as compelling as his trademark drums, a formula he should be advised to apply more often.
Ultimately, German Salad is a satisfactory effort, and although it's unlikely to propel Kemp back into the top tier of UK producers, his return is certainly welcome. Even during his extended absence, Kemp's sound has remained distinctly his own; as such, it's likely that his small corner of the electronic-music sphere still contains some very valuable ore that has yet to be unearthed. It's up to Kemp to do the digging and find it.