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On their first mixtape, Emergency Room, they took on dubstep. The duo revived the dying genre with Etta's alarmingly blunt songwriting and Raf's brutal yet melodic mix of dubstep with trip-hop and hip hop. Tracks like "Boring Bitches" and "Ask Me To Stay" were instantly timeless, and have outlived the dubstep craze. On follow up mixtape Meds, the two have set their sights on several current crazes, including Deep House, Modern R&B and Trap.
If Emergency Room felt more like Etta's mixtape, Raf makes his presence a lot more known on Meds. Whilst on Emergency Room he largely stuck with a (nevertheless effective) formula of chainsaw synths, colossal kicks and even bigger snares, on Meds he throws caution and commerciality to the wind. With the rise of "weird" producers such as Diplo and Hudson Mohawke, it's a delight that this gives wind for ultra-creative producers such as Raf Riley to let loose with ideas they perhaps couldn't have got away with before.
And let loose he does - Etta even tones down the big hooks in favour of more ponderous melodies to make room for Raf's crazy productions. The result is chicago house pianos over Trap beats and warm pads on the woozy "Fanbabe", a mesh of funky, electro and deep house on the addictive "1 More Time" (surely an underground hit waiting to happen), and schizophrenic 80s synths over a beat straight from Janet Jackson's Rhythm Nation on "Big Girl's Vogue".
Not to discredit Etta's contribution to Meds at all. Etta may let Raf show off more this time round, but she's subtely matched his progressive production with a shift in lyrical concept. Whilst Etta's lyrics on Emergency Room were based in gritty reality - relationships falling apart ("Ask Me To Stay"), making out on the tube ("One Way On A Train") and, notoriously, beastly hangovers ("Resolve") - on Meds she delves head first into fantasy. Etta's previously cynical and angry characters are now blinded by their fantasies - the lovesick obsessive uber-fan on "Fanbabe", a girl sharing her wild sexual dreams on "Me First" or the girl in love who thinks she can separate love and sex in "1 More Time".
Another reason Etta and Raf are a genius double act is the way they bounce off each other. Both their presences are always felt equally - Etta never seems like a mere feature singer, and Raf never feels like an anonymous producer. There's a reason the duo haven't thought of a separate name for their collaboration - they want to support each other as solo artists as well. And it's clear they never need to compromise either's vision. This means if Etta wants to conversationally talk-rap loudly one of Raf's sickest basslines, he'll let her. If Raf wants to loop Etta saying "wobbles" whilst throwing a rock'n'roll piano solo over the top, she'll let him (That's from "Big Girl's Vogue" by the way, I'm not making it up.)
Their anything goes approach to making music is what makes them one of the most interesting underground acts in the UK today. Check out their live performance for LiteSwitch TV below to witness the duo's chemistry.
FOR FANS OF: Diplo, Elli Ingram, Katy B
- Joe Copplestone