Reiss Hanson, who works as Champion, is a veteran of the dance-music style known as UK funky—a boisterous, syncopation-heavy variant of house music that flourished in the UK in the latter half of the 2000s. Funky didn’t last long. “By 2011 it was done,” Roska, a fellow pioneer of the scene, told The Guardian in 2014. That hasn’t stopped Hanson, though. His first white label came out in 2009, but his recording career took off in earnest around 2011, when he began releasing a string of singles and EPs that married funky’s swinging congas with grime’s chilly sonics and, increasingly, the live-wire low end of the northern UK style called bassline house.
Like many of his peers, he’s prone to tagging his own name across his tunes (“Champion sound!”), like a kind of sonic logo that leaves no doubt as to who’s responsible. That might not even be necessary; his work tends to stand out on its own, thanks to the controlled fury of his drums and the shadowy depth of his bass. Diamond-tipped hi-hats and snares sparkle against a matte-black background, lending a darkly lustrous, almost minimalist tinge to his palette. The same qualities define Snapshot, his debut album—a 12-track set of stonkingly high-energy bass music.
The album’s opening “Intro” leaves no doubt that this is club music first and foremost, as crowd noise gives way to an MC barking, “When I say ‘Champion,’ you say ‘sound!’”; a call-and-response with the audience leads to bright, flickering soca chords that alternate with one of his characteristically bruising basslines. The glimmer of major-key uplift is a fake-out. “One Time,” which follows, is a better indicator of the album’s energy level, peppering a writhing bass riff with Caribbean-inspired MC chat. Most of his vocal features are gruff and glowering, and his rhythms are punctuated with the chorused shouts of trap music and the dub-siren eruptions of reggae and drum ‘n’ bass, both of which lend to the slightly manic, menacing air.
It all amounts to a kind of bare-knuckled pointillism: The grime-tinged “Duppy Show” is riddled with gunshot samples; shrieking string vamps top its lurching drum groove like streaks of Windex over cracked glass. Fortunately, there are lighter elements at work, too: Miss Fire turns “Taste” into a sweet, slinky R&B-funky fusion, and BKAT brings a similarly dulcet energy to “Galaxy.” (Likewise, all those macho “Hey!” shouts are balanced by a more lighthearted interjection, seemingly—and rather incongruously—sampled from Art of Noise’s “Close (To the Edit).”)
Even on the heaviest cuts, Champion’s music has rarely sounded more dynamic or more colorful. Thick with harmonics, his synthesizers are practically iridescent, and he harnesses all of bass music’s technical tricks to yield riffs as mutable as drops of quicksilver. A listener interested in understanding Champion’s virtuosity might begin with the bassline of “Kill Alla Dem.” If you were really serious, you could transcribe it in the way that jazz disciples used to notate exemplary horn solos. Start with the almost inaudible rumble of its opening salvo, and then, step by step, trace its sanded-down attack, its legato slide. A fleeting explosion of overtones is followed by a momentary fibrillation, and later, it will go from the consistency of tree sap to obsidian-sharp in the course of a heartbeat.
It’s often exhilarating stuff, although how well it holds up across the length of an album will depend largely upon your predilection for sternum-thumping, gut-rearranging basslines. Fortunately, one song points to areas for potential exploration off the dancefloor. On “World,” Champion teams up with Four Tet, revisiting a partnership that has yielded several tracks over the past few years, including a Champion remix of Four Tet’s “Kool FM” and the collaborative tracks “Flip Side” and “Disparate” in 2016. (In fact, says Champion, it was Four Tet who encouraged him to undertake the album in the first place.) Though their roles blurred on last year’s 12”, there’s not much doubt about the division of labor in this one: The cycling marimba and wordless vocal sample are straight out of Four Tet’s woozy wheelhouse, while the shouts and bassline are pretty clearly Champion’s handiwork. That lumbering low end makes it as rugged as any of Champion’s productions, but the more ambient touches have the welcome effect of leavening the atmosphere. Instead of barreling its way across the dancefloor, the tune seems to float on air. It’s a smart move—and a neat way of transcending bass music’s genre divisions.