Album Of The Week: Section – The Fourth Hour (Counterpoint Recordings)

A truly personal debut LP from the Locked Up Music bossman

“Out of something really bad you can achieve the greatest thing you ever achieve, if you surround yourself with good people and spend enough time on it… That’s the message I want The Fourth Hour to have. It’s the legacy I want this to leave; that through some of the most challenging times in my life, and all of our lives, something beautiful can happen.

I work in the NHS as a physiotherapist and in the start of 2021, the area where I live was hit hard by the delta variant of covid-19. It meant I was redeployed to work with covid patients on the covid ICU and red wards. It was so unsettling, I saw people I know die, it was deeply painful at times but behind that, there was a feeling of togetherness and strength. Teamwork is a huge part of the NHS and while the whole situation was awful, hope had become such a strong word in my life and began to inspire me to write this album.

When I got home from work, I wanted something that I could channel this hope. Something that I could lose myself in and would take me away from the brutal reality of my day. When I was writing this album I was really strict with myself: if I wasn’t getting goosebumps within four hours, I’d delete the project. That was that. No turning back. That was the fourth hour for me. There’s also another meaning that relates to my role as an educator at work and at University. The fourth hour in education terms is the hour after the lecture where you digest, reflect and think about ideas from what you’ve been given. This album was definitely that. Not just reflecting on life but also my relationship with drum & bass.

I love drum & bass. I’m not really into the sub-genre thing because I love the whole culture, the people, everything about it. I wanted to frame that and put it into something that’s tangible; there’s some amens, some vocal things, some darker things, some liquid things. I’ve tried to represent myself and my history with this music because it’s been such an important part of my life for so long.

“Around the time I’d been redeployed and found myself in such challenging circumstances, Martim from Counterpoint got in touch and asked me for an album. I went in with total intention and wanted to create the best album I possibly could in every possible way. I drew on the experience I had but also from those around me. Dapz from Compound Audio was crucial in the final mixdowns and Beau from teneightseven, who mastered the album, helped me understand balance. Special thanks goes to Nathan Solley for teaching me everything I needed to know to move forward and for always providing constructive, pragmatic feedback.

I spent time with some great friends and collaborators who pushed and inspired me – my Dark Ops partner Ross Flashback, good friends Ben OB1 and Jem-One, and really talented vocalists who helped me create music at a level I don’t think I’ve achieved before. I want to thank Rachel K, Sofi Mari, Inner Terrain, Shyrren5 and Peas for helping me create some of the songs I’m most proud of.

I really pushed myself out of my comfort zone to do something very special and without their creative input that wouldn’t have been possible. Above all I want to thank my family, friends and colleagues for everything during this time. We all went through some of the most challenging circumstances and I’m proud of how we got through it. This album is a testament to that.”

The lockdowns had a major influence on creative output between 2020-22, there is no doubt about that. Some artists suffered a major writer’s block without shows to test their creations, others enjoyed a new experimental spree for the very same reason. Many experienced more time in the studio than they’d ever dreamt of. But others – notably those who had day time jobs as key workers – had to plough on through some of the weirdest, darkest and most challenging times our generation has ever faced. Artists like Section.

Using his studio time in the evening as a means to escape, make sense, and express his feelings amid the intensity and horrors of what he was seeing in the hospital wards, James Section Barclay dived as deep as he possibly could. Giving himself a four hour goosebump window, you could feel the energy, intensity and pure passion for the craft from the moment you press play.

This isn’t just a collection of a tracks. This is a deeply personal project that spells out James’s love for drum & bass in all possible ways. Each track exploring a different side, style and shade of the culture that’s characterised a great deal of his life for years, he takes things right back to the beginning with a sample from a documentary about the Amen break on the opening track Amenucation before hurling us into one of his most impressive tracks to date: Awake, a dramatic composition with spoken word from Inner Terrain that doesn’t even touch a cymbal splash or snare hit until three minutes in.

This is the level of dynamic and intensity at play as The Fourth Hour rolls out. Deeper and deeper again we’re given reminders of where Section is coming from and what he wants to achieve… Sofi Mari spells out the importance of clarity on Daydream while Fly To Me (with OB1) captures the pure emotional escapism with its soaring pads and lamenting strings. Elsewhere cuts like Switch Up (with Jem One) are straight out of the Metalheadz playbook – brutalist sonic structures that rocket you off to far-away planets away from the turgid realities of a world we’ve rinsed and damaged so badly that pandemics like the one we’ve experienced in the last two years could potentially become a regular reality.

But this isn’t set out to be a bleak document. As James reveals himself above, this is about the triumph of humanity and the role creativity can play in recovery, self care and connectivity with friends. As such as this is a body of work that both captures a unique period in time and revels in the last 30 years of drum & bass culture. By doing this, it’s instantly timeless and the emotion poured into it will forever be felt. From dark times comes the brightest light. The Fourth Hour is proof.

Section – The Fourth Hour is out now on Counterpoint Recordings

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