Damon Baxter, aka Deadly Avenger is a talented man. Correction, make that a very talented man. For the Illicit Records’ boss and in demand DJ has just created an album of sublime beauty and depth. What’s even more impressive is that the movie soundtrack stylings of Baxter’s debut are the total opposite of the kind of block rockin’, genre bustin’ beats that he has become known for. Rare indeed is the producer who matches versatility with ambition and quality.
Born in Scotland but raised in the East Midlands, Baxter’s achievement of both critical and popular acclaim seems almost effortless. His early musical diet of hip-hop was ingrained in a string of brilliant EPs released in the late ’90s. The likes of King Tito’s Gloves, the Battlecreek series and Charlie Don’t Surf were inspired slices of hip house breakbeat mayhem that were wild on the party spirit. This success led to his Illicit label hosting the likes of Jadell, Richard Sen and Pepe Deluxe. Major label recognition in the form of remixes for the Manics, Travis and Stereophonics soon followed. And so we arrive in 2002 with Baxter’s musical stock rising, and about to go even higher with the intriguing Deep Red hitting the shelves.
To say Baxter has an ear for a tune would be an understatement. A childhood accident left him without a sense of taste or smell, but you almost feel this has enhanced his other senses, as Deep Red is packed with startlingly clear, absorbing sounds. This is not to say that his earlier releases lacked this quality, as there was always an extra depth to his records that that made them stand out from the crowd. Deep Red however, takes things onto a whole new sonic level.
As befits a collection that sounds gloriously expansive, no corners were cut. We Took Pelham, with its regal trumpet fanfare, was created using a full orchestra in Budapest and most of the string parts on Deep Red were written, scored and performed rather than sampled. Consistently good, the standard is so high throughout that no tracks really stand out.Instead, they all evoke varying moods and images, each taking you somewhere else. Punisher is grimily funky, the soundtrack to mean streets and vicious bar room brawls. The Quest Part 1, on the other hand, is an exciting journey into a mystical and exotic far off land. Day One, with its infectious guitar licks, phat bassline and laid back house dynamic stakes you to a cool, glamorous party. Lopez breeds a sense of foreboding and a smell of fear with its’ taut strings and unsettling chords.
A wide variety of movie settings can be imagined, from tender love scenes and dark confrontations through to the most thrilling of car chases.You can tell Baxter is at home in this environment, as he handles the arrangements confidently and with an impressive lightness of touch. This however, should come as no surprise given his past work and his love of great soundtrack composers like John Carpenter and CurtisMayfield.
Baxter’s own opinion of his debut is tellingly accurate. “If I had to pin it down I’d say you’re going to see a film like Seven – dark, grainy, enjoyable but not exactly happy. Music should take you somewhere else.” Indeed it should, and without a doubt, Deep Red does.