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Thursday 16th, October 2008
John Askew - Z List Uber Star
Updated: Saturday 18th, October 2008

John Askew returns with his second album signed on his own label Discover. Many people will know John is famed for his punchy driving trance sound and his love of acid tech. What many people will not know is that in this album ‘Z List Uber Star’, John’s painted a bigger picture, where there is a little something for everyone.

Unlike his prior album (Lower The Tone), this album is mixed and by John himself in which, he covers several elements found in electronic music of the modern day. The album also sees John collaborate with a few of the most up and coming names in the industry. John has also rather kindly agreed to an exclusive interview with Trance.nu to accompany the review, which will is available HERE.


John has opted to include an intro track onto his album and when you listen to it a few times you begin to appreciate just how beautiful the melody is. The track starts in a crowded room and then moves away from this to a quiet place with angelic pads soothing the listener into a comfort zone. These pads are soon accompanied by a plucky lead which builds up with a lazy Sunday afternoon feel to it. There is a feel of solitude to this track which is a great way to kick-start the cd.

‘Nothing Left Between Us’
The kick slowly filters up from the blissful intro of ‘Beirut’ and the vocals of Senadee chant out the words “Between us”. This is John’s first ever vocal production and he has teamed up with Senadee famed for his collaboration with Ben Gold on the track ‘Say The Words’. The track has a progressive trance vibe to it initially. The vocals are nothing short of fantastic as Senadee is one of the finest male vocalists around at the moment. He hits the notes very well and the track begins to pick up and become more melodic than progressive. The melody is enchanting and is very complimentary to the vocals. There are some very nice chord sequences in the breakdown of which build up to a point where the payoff is almost very uplifting yet remaining still down tempo.

The first thing that strikes you about Blue is the chopped vocals used as a clever effect. The energy levels drop momentarily with some interesting strings and the chopped vocal clips at interludes taking the listener back to the peaceful solitude that they were taken to during ‘Beirut’. A kick drum soon returns to the core of this tune. The kick is very prominent and punchy accompanied by a simple bassline, which sits very well with the rest of the tune. The breakdown goes back to the basic elements from the start of the track, which then builds with a stabbing type melody and the payoff is very catchy.

This is the first of 3 collaborations with Rob ‘Activa’ Stevenson. As this track blends into the end of ‘Blue’ the vocal chops from the prior track are cleverly pitched down which makes for a great transition into this breaks track. As breaks tracks go, this one is very laid back and chilled. The drum parts are almost minimal and you are soon greeted with a great breakdown of lovely chords, which sound like they are being played on a harpsichord. The breaks resume in a minimal fashion with that nice deckchair laid back feeling. This track is one of the most versatile on the album proving that John has many stings to his bow.

Misfit goes back to having a prominent kick drum and some acid techno effects laced over the top. These effects are quite subtle in a successful effort to keep this track melodic and further push the boundaries. These effects also lay the foundations for taking the album in a new direction in terms of genre. The breakdown has a male vocal sample and a sweeping effect on the pads, which feels like a dream sequence. Fans of the soundtrack of the film Bladerunner will enjoy this track a lot as is sounds quite inspired by Vangelis.

What can be said about ‘Chime’ that hasn’t been said already? One of the most beautiful breakdowns of 2007 makes an appearance on the album. Having a very punchy and addictive kick bassline combo, which will send any room into a frenzy. The contrasts between the areas of high energy of kick and bassline and the melody, which chimes out in a dreamy way play a huge part to the success of this track. The payload is just as massive now as it was last summer. The building kick drum at the end of the second breakdown leads you in anticipation towards the inevitable sudden burst of energy after being so laidback. John again uses those acid tech sounds to great use to add some variation to the track.

‘This & Then’
A deeper tune from John this time, begins with a few filtered kick drums and a sound effect that reminds you of the ocean lapping at your feet with an in and out type motion. The melody placed on the top has a summery feel to it almost as though this is the last calm before the storm on the album. The kick drum and bassline has picked up and chugs along nicely in a very danceable manner. The breakdown consists of a stabbing type melody and pads keeping with the ocean in and out type theme throughout.

‘The Advent Of Us’
This track is a very minimal effort from John as there is nothing complicated about it. There is a very pounding kick drum at a high tempo and the percussion is offbeat. With a lot of techno influences in this track, this is a very dark tune taking the listener back to the time of acid raves. There isn’t really a melody to this tune but it definitely kicks the album into a new gear away from the peaceful and melodic based theme to a techier based theme.

‘Giving You Acid’
Keeping on the acid theme the B side to the latest release on Discover Dark, ‘Giving You Acid’ has a raspy lead which on top of a punchy kick takes you back to the real old school rave era. Absolutely jam packed full of energy bursting from every orifice this track is hard to resist. The sound effects include what can be described as an ironmonger hitting some hot metals over an anvil with a hammer giving that real industrial feel to it. This is a very dark yet uplifting type tune with a filthy bassline.

‘Thumb It In’
This track is a collaboration with Gary Maguire whom you will see a lot more of in the near future on Discover Records. This track is very electro and has the biggest bounce on a bassline as I have heard in a long time. Keeping the track very simple it has maximum efficiency. Pounding kicks accompanied with the bassline add for a kind of pulsating wave effect. While being rather tough the bassline seems rather funky and upbeat compared to the acidy style of the past couple of tracks. The track has a Sander Van Doorn feel in terms of production. The energy levels of the album are really sky high now and mixed in such a way that each new incoming track hits at a point where the energy level just doesn’t lull like some mix cds do. John has been a master at over the years.

‘Z List Uber Star’
The title track of this album and the recent release on Discover Dark is ‘Z List Uber Star’ a very driving feel to it with a punchy kick and decent bass guide the listener towards a breakdown of acid sounds and this builds and builds slowly and meticulously towards a climax where everything and everyone goes nuts. A truly driving track which will pick up the energy levels of any dj set.

‘Bored Of You Bored Of Me’
This track sounds like John has drawn off the success of his remix of John O’Callaghan’s – Low Resolution Fox and applied a few of the ideas to a new and fresh production. The pad chords during the breakdown progress well and have a very full rich sound to them which rings out a pleasant experience to the listener. The track builds up on this experience in a similar way as Low Resolution Fox did but with more energy. Some clever use of sound effects make this to be one of the best tunes on the album.

‘Fade To Black’
The second of 3 collaborations with Activa is in the form of Fade To Black. Released recently also with a fantastic remix by Sly One & Jurrane, this track is very uplifting and full of poke. You can hear element’s of Robs production skills within the progression of the breakdown which you can hear building and building in a truly epic fashion. John has brought his A game to this production also and combined together the pair have come up with a peak time destroyer with a very strong lead and brilliant kick and percussion. All this leads to a huge payoff of pure hands in the air. The album has taken another direction change away from the darker sounds towards the more floaty trance sound here.

This track is my personal favourite from the album and again features Activa. A very simple bassline and a short yet effective stabbing chord sequence melody looped over and over give this track a huge boost of energy. This tune is of high bpm and it shows. Unlike ‘Fade To Black’ which was uplifting as it had a longer melody to it, this has a short chopped melody. It is these chops in the melody which make the payoff one of the best in the entire album. It is such a simple track but it works ever so well. The breakdown sequences have a short vocal choir used as an extra instrument and very nice pads to make the sound more complete.

Overall, I was very impressed with this album. John has set very high standards in the past with his productions and has gone one step further and developed his sound, pushing boundaries into directions he has never taken before with some productions. John covers lots of genres within this album and it has a little something for everybody. The mixing is very good; towards the start longer mixes are used for seamless transitions and flow. The end of the mix yielded shorter mixes in order to sustain the high energy levels. The production quality is very high with none of the tracks really sounding alike. The album also has highlighted a couple of collaborations to get excited about for forthcoming releases. The pick of tracks from the album in my opinion are: ‘Nothing Left Between Us’, ‘667’, ‘Chime’, ‘Bored Of You Bored Of Me’ and ‘Spike’. I am going to give this album a full 5 out of 5 because of the sheer replay factor. With every fresh listen I hear new things and I am really liking the variation of styles within the album.

Written by
Ant Attwood

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