DJ Haus' output has always had a refreshing, scattershot weirdness. Under a variety of aliases (DJ Haus being his most prominent), as one third of the unapologetic UK garage throwback trio Hot City, and as head of YouTube channel-cum-record label Unknown to the Unknown, the London-based producer has been instrumental in re-injecting some of the energy of the rave era back into UK bass music. His solo full-length debut arrives in the form of a mixtape—a format that seems appropriate enough given the quasi-official status of many of his online-only releases—and is a selection of mostly new tunes recorded over the last 12 months. The release therefore seems to be caught between fulfilling two roles—as a full-length debut and statement of intent it has a slightly haphazard feel, but its tossed-off nature is very much in keeping with the messiness of the producer's modus operandi.
Unknown to the Unknown's genre-busting aesthetic certainly carries over to Thug Houz Anthems Vol. 1, which finds DJ Haus mining the history of UK dance music for inspiration. Opening track "Trumpet & Badman" channels a skipping, bass-loaded UKG beat before introducing a swinging trumpet line that sounds like it could have come straight out of a Mood II Swing record from 1994. However, the vibe shifts immediately with "Cold As Ice," a track that either samples or takes a significant amount of inspiration from the rolling breakbeats and chilly atmospherics of Future Sound of London's "Papua New Guinea." The following track, "Wipe Out," is similarly different, opting for an icy cool, arpeggiated Detroit electro sound.
While the record is rarely short of compelling, some of its more successful moments prove to be the collaborations. In particular, the tracks with "longtime Tumblr buddies" Matrixxman and Detboi hew closer to the endorphin-loaded, slick-as-anything UK garage that Haus and Unknown to the Unknown have both made their names on. Matrixxman collaboration "Feel It" is a slinky serotonin-release rush, while the Detboi track—the aptly named "Slip N Slide"—is a masterful exercise in the build-and-release potential of heavy sub-bass. The only thing detracting from an otherwise highly inventive debut is that a couple of tracks lean a little bit close to garage-by-numbers. The suitably named "Game of Thrones," while a fun premise, doesn't really overcome its fantasy-geek cheese factor, and "Monster Graveyard" has plenty of rolling bass and garbled vocals, but nonetheless lacks the infectiousness of Haus' better tunes.
Thug Houz Anthems Vol. 1 occupies an interesting position on the so-called hardcore continuum, as the record has a properly hybridized quality that is thoroughly of the present but ultimately in keeping with the restless experimentalism that has historically defined UK dance music. With many claiming that UK bass is stagnating into boring revivalism, DJ Haus offers an odd juxtaposition with tracks that certainly look backwards but never seem retro. And while there's no denying that this is a compelling and listenable debut, sometimes Haus' outlier approach means that his inconsistencies get the better of him.