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Tom "Squarepusher" Jenkinson makes complex, experimental drum'n'bass with a heavy progressive jazz influence and a bent for pushing the clichés of the genre out the proverbial window. A skilled bassist and multi-instrumentalist, Jenkinson's fretless accompaniment is a staple of his music and one of the more obvious affiliations with jazz (although his formal arrangements are often as jazz-derived as his playing). His first full-length work, 1996's Feed Me Weird Things (on Richard "Aphex Twin" James' Rephlex label), was a dizzying, quixotic blend of super-fast jungle breaks with Aphex-style synth textures, goofy, offbeat melodies, and instrumental arrangements that recall jazz fusion pioneers such as Mahavishnu Orchestra and Weather Report. After perfecting his marriage of drum'n'bass and fusion with 1997's Hard Normal Daddy, he focused on several different styles with his subsequent albums. 1998's Music Is Rotted One Note was a surprising but successful venture into jazz, sans electronic programming, and 2001's Go Plastic merged U.K. garage with glitchy, manic jungle. 2003's ambitious Ultravisitor was a vast, all-encompassing epic spanning jazz, IDM, and musique concrète. He ventured into prog rock with 2008's Just a Souvenir, then formed the futuristic funk band Shobaleader One. Returning to a purely electronic sound with his solo releases, 2020's Be Up a Hello revisited the high BPMs and analog equipment of his early work. 2024's Dostrotime was a similarly ecstatic work spurred by the downtime of the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown. Jenkinson grew up listening to jazz greats like Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, and Art Blakey, as well as dub pioneers such as Augustus Pablo and King Tubby. The son of a jazz drummer, Jenkinson followed in his father's footsteps, playing bass and drums in high school. Introduced to electronic music through experimental electro-techno artists such as LFO and Carl Craig, Jenkinson soon began assembling his disparate influences into amalgams of breakbeat techno and post-bop avant-garde and progressive jazz. Claiming a closer affinity with jazz than jungle (although he draws from both equally in his music), Jenkinson's EPs as Squarepusher and the Duke of Harringay (Jenkinson moved to Harringay from his Chelmsford birthplace) were initially disregarded as misplaced perversions of jungle's more obvious compositional principles, but found ready audiences in fans of post-acid house experimental listening music. The eclectic full-length Feed Me Weird Things appeared on Rephlex (the label co-owned by Aphex Twin) in 1996, followed shortly by the Port Rhombus EP, beginning his lengthy tenure with Warp. The label issued the jazz-informed album Hard Normal Daddy and Burningn'n Tree, a collection of tracks from Jenkinson's early EPs on the Spymania label, in 1997. Squarepusher's American fan base expanded when Trent Reznor's Nothing label released the Big Loada CD, which contained the EP of the same name as well as tracks from his other Warp EPs from that era, as well as Chris Cunningham's groundbreaking video for the track "Come on My Selector." Critical acclaim for Jenkinson's work peaked with 1998's Music Is Rotted One Note, for which he became a one-man fusion group -- multi-tracking himself playing drums, bass, and keyboards. The following year, he released two EPs (Budakhan Mindphone, Maximum Priest) and another full LP, Selection Sixteen. Go Plastic appeared in summer 2001, featuring the closest thing to a hit Squarepusher had ever seen with the single "My Red Hot Car." Subsequent releases such as 2003's Do You Know Squarepusher and 2004's Ultravisitor found him refining his fusion of composition, programming, and musicianship, characteristics that were also heard on 2006's Hello Everything and 2008's proggy Just a Souvenir. After a record of solo bass (titled Solo Electric Bass, Vol. 1), he unveiled his next project, a masked foursome named Shobaleader One that released a 2010 collaboration album (Shobaleader One: D'demonstrator) consisting of throwback electronic pop with an R&B edge and synthesized vocals, not unlike Daft Punk. In 2012, Jenkinson returned with the coldly symphonic Ufabulum, adding an apocalyptic soundtrack feel to his already dense programming. In 2013, he worked with a team of Japanese roboticists on an ambitious project called Z-Machines, the creation of robots that could play music far beyond the capabilities of even the most skilled human instrumentalists. Jenkinson aided the robotics team in the composition of music for these robots to play, set to life by a 22-armed drumming robot and a guitar-playing robot with the equivalent of 78 fingers. The next year, Warp Records released the Music for Robots EP, a five-song recording of the results of the experiment. 2015 saw the release of Damogen Furies, a full-length that found Jenkinson pushing the limits of even his own unbridled hysteria, employing punishing overdriven tones on almost every beat, synth, and bassline on the album. Shobaleader One began touring in 2016, and Elektrac, an album of full-band live renditions of earlier Squarepusher compositions, was released in 2017. In 2020, after several years of heady conceptual music, Jenkinson returned to his drill-n-bass roots with 15th studio album Be Up a Hello. It utilized some of the hardware synths and rudimentary electronics used on the first Squarepusher recordings and leaned into the reckless spirit and breakneck tempos of those early, experimental days. A more subdued companion EP, Lamental, appeared a few months later. The long out-of-print Feed Me Weird Things was reissued by Warp 25 years after its original release date, and included the B-sides from the Squarepusher Plays... 12" as bonus tracks. 2021 also saw a collaboration with Attacca Quartet and remixes for Danny Elfman and GoGo Penguin. As Squarepusher resumed live performances following the COVID-19 lockdown, he began playing some of his hardest, most rave-influenced material. Dostrotime, inspired by the peacefulness of having no live commitments for a year, was released in 2024.
© Sean Cooper & John Bush /TiVo


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