If anyone in underground music can be considered a household name, it would probably be Justin Broadrick. Best known as one-half of the groundbreaking industrial metal behemoth Godflesh and for his post-metal band Jesu, he has also masterminded countless other works. Much of his music, especially the lesser-known side projects, displays the influence not only of power electronics and hip hop, but more directly electronica and dub. JK Flesh has become an alter ego of sorts, first as a pseudonym in his work with Kevin Martin (of The Bug, God, King Midas Sound, Razor X Productions, etc.) as Techno Animal, and later for his solo electronic work.
His latest release under this moniker is a digital-only release available free (though a donation is requested) on Bandcamp. The description classifies it as a collection of tracks rather than as a coherent album, but it still contains nearly an hour’s worth of music.
Broadrick displays a keen awareness of beat culture on all these tracks, cycling from one drum pattern to the next with equal competence. Songs such as title track/album opener “Nothing is Free” and “Hide and Seek” are nods to dubstep, although not in its more commercial forms. Broadrick strips the genre of vocals and any lightheartedness, and shows no concern for the dancefloor. He uses bass and noise the way metal bands use guitars, strictly to hammer away at the listener.
“Boundless Submission” and “They Own You” take their cues from techno, the beats cycling in on themselves, while “Peace in Pieces” gives the drum ‘n’ bass template a working over. The common thread here is Broadrick’s utilization of dub methodology. Each track is constructed around a skeletal framework, the BPMs rarely varying. Layers are added and subtracted to give each piece a sense of momentum. What sets JK Flesh apart from others is his sonic palette. Sounds are always dark and fearsome, with textures taken more from industrial music and power electronics than more standard electronica fare.
Broadrick is far from alone in this niche, of course. His frequent collaborator Kevin Martin has been operating in similar territory for years as The Bug. Other tracks on Nothing is Free, such as “Offering,” “Nails” and the ten-minute “Pleasurer” seem particularly indebted to Mick Harris‘s Scorn. These artists share history and common ground (Broadrick and Harris played together on half of Napalm Death‘s debut album Scum, and on Scorn‘s Vae Solis), and there’s a sonic gravity, immense and bleak, that ties them together. In some ways, they are to electronica what heavy metal is to rock music.
This release comes across as a bit of ephemera Broadrick released in order to raise money for his Avalanche Records label. Based on its being a “collection of 2 years of material” rather than a proper album, and the fact that it is available for free with only a request for a donation, one gets the impression that Broadrick doesn’t put much weight behind this release. But between the amount of material here and the quality contained within, it would be a shame if it was overlooked by curious listeners and fans alike.
Stream Nothing is Free: