Joker is speaking to CMJ down a grainy line from his hometown of Bristol, U.K., and may or may not be messing with us. It’s 8 p.m. there, the 22-year-old just woke up, and through a mouthful of Doritos and one-word answers, he crunches that he is thinking about ordering some Chinese takeaway for breakfast.
From this interview, it can be deduced that the producer is a young soul who prefers not to analyze what he’s making, at his best when communicating through his so-called “purple” melodic bass music. Conversation? Not so much. What is the vision that you see for yourself? Joker: “I can kind of see it in my head, but I can’t explain it.”
Well, that’s fair enough, since the producer otherwise known as Liam McLean has been thinking over this question for the past few years while working on a debut LP as his sweeping artist statement. Since 2007 there have been ripsnorter EPs, mixtapes and singles out on illustrious labels like Hyperdub, all of which shook dubstep out of its grey gloom with a thick slab of melody, but no extended body of work. This year, however, Joker’s triumphantly wrestled to the crux of his existential existence and exhaled The Vision (Kapsize/4aD), his full-length debut, out into the bassosphere.
When XLR8R checked in with Joker two years ago, he had 119 files swimming around on his computer in a folder named “album.” He’s since managed to whittle this down to a more sizable number, and the final version of The Vision weighs in at 12 cuts. Whether it was intended or otherwise, Joker’s choice of tracks pulls him away from the wompy bedroom-variety dubstep artist. “It’s a newer me than everyone knows,” he offers. “People who were into my stuff two years ago might take a second to catch onto it because they’re [the songs] really quite different.”
Joker has diversified his initial inclination toward richly melodic instrumental cuts like “Gully Brook Lane” (that first led to international kudos-slinging spearheaded by dubstep overlord Plastician) and littered half of The Vision with vocalists. “I listen to a lot of R&B stuff, so getting singers on my tracks was just going to happen,” he says. Bass pin-up girl Jessie Ware attacks with an agony-and-ecstasy feel to the chart-friendly title track, a souped-up clubby pop hit; Silas from Danish synth-rock outfit Turboweekend adds theatrical light (and great ABBA-style English pronunciation) to Joker’s wallowing dark. Joker goes for big sounds—epileptic, mutant bass and glimmering arpeggios—giving his guests an inviting place to start.
The Vision reaches for listeners beyond Joker’s core, but it also grounds itself with the producer’s darker roots. Bristol grime MCs like Buggsy, Shadz and Scarz, who hark back to Joker’s days as an adolescent DJ for his old crew, add rapid-fire grit to the fittingly titled “Back In The Days.” Instrumentals like “Tron,” which Joker released on his own Kapsize label as a single last year, also give his enduring fans something to bite into. some things just don’t change. “You can’t really make a good track or a bad track innit, and what’s good is good,” he riddles, seemingly deadpan. “I purposely try to put music in tracks.”