« All Features

The Month In Dubstep & Bass: April 2010

By ; April 26, 2010 at 12:01 AM 

The Month in Dubstep & Bass - April 2010
Ramadanman EP on Hessle Audio

Second page of reviews of our favourites from this month.

April’s edition of The Month In Dubstep & Bass was written by Andrew Ryce [AR] and Sam Olson [SO].


Mount Kimbie

Remixes Vol. 1

(Hotflush | HFRMX006)
Styles: Dubstep, Techno, House, Ambient
Purchase on Boomkat

Hotflush gets ready for Mount Kimbie’s forthcoming debut LP with two long-overdue remix packages, the first a three-track smattering of bass-leaning remixes and the second two straight-up techno reconfigurations. The first EP features James Blake, FaltyDL, and Instra:mental on the remix front, and it’s immediately obvious that these unconventional producers got equally unconventional remixers. All of these names currently exist somewhere in the barely-there lines between genres, the manmade valley overlooked by the mighty Mt. Kimbie. Planet Mu’s FaltyDL gets “Serged” from Sketch On Glass, and delivers a dependable remix, speeding the track up slightly and beefing up the low end for good measure. He adds extra little vocal snippets that float by quickly, the track stumbling into the wrong rooms in its drunken stupor. It’s loaded with his distinctive percussion, twitching and dropping out without notice, changing the rhythm up for only a few bars before returning to normal, an effect most devastating as the track approaches its final seconds and simply dissipates into a cloud of depression. On the other hand, Instra:mental takes that same EP’s “At Least” and glides with it on a hypnotic, smooth groove for six minutes, trading in the original’s lurch for the reassuring stability of 4/4. The track’s main riff resurfaces as an array of synthetic icicles, shifting and re-arranging in tandem with the beat for a gorgeous synaesthetic light show, a rave where everyone stands still.

Those two have the unfortunate fate of sharing wax with James Blake, who hits it completely out of the park with his awe-inspiring refix of “Maybes.” Considering the fact that Blake is a sort of honorary third member of Mount Kimbie, participating in their live performances, perhaps its unfair to lavish so much praise on his remix over the others, but it demonstrates a formidable understanding of musicality in minimalism, of tunefulness in dubstep. As presented in January 2009, “Maybes” was a glacial pilgrmage from the bottom of the sea to the surface, with one lucid moment of sunlight before diving back into the depths; as presented in April 2010, it’s a staggering stroll through a landscape so vivid your eyes instinctively shut before you can fully take in the beauty of the surroundings. The track’s stoic ascending riff is done away with, instead replaced with (Kimbiesque, who knew!) sparse percussion that restlessly crackles in inertia rather than Mount Kimbie’s typical wrenching motion. Any traces of melody are exposed only by the vocals, carrying with them a brief snippet of some undefinable melody, an incomplete progression mocked by ghoulish howls as the drums s get ferocious in the background. The first time the bass drops, it feels huge but recedes back into the ether before it can really do anything; but on the second drop it completely knocks you over, wheezing obnoxiously as the vivid colours combine into one beam of almost painfully overwhelming concentrated colour. Blake finally lets the vocals free and (as usual) fashions his own homemade melody out of bits and pieces, creating a haunting chorus even more memorable than the original; the effect is almost indescribable, the sound of pure music distilled into a minute or so of perfection. It’s barely even noticeable when the behemoth whine of the synth finally relents because you’re too busy reveling in the warm glow of it all, as James Blake holds that melody over your head like a shameless showoff. But if you could do this, you’d show it off too. [AR] 


Ramadanman EP

(Hessle Audio | HES012)
Styles: Dubstep, Garage, Techno, Drum & Bass/Jungle
Purchase on Boomkat

To say that Hessle Audio are having a great year seems like an understatement, even at this early stage. First there was Pangaea’s EP of rhythmic voodoo back in January (our first Record of the Month!), followed up by James Blake’s wonderful The Bells Sketch. Now it’s Hessle co-runner Ramadanman’s turn in the spotlight. The six track EP is proving to be a really great format for this type of music – it gives enough scope to stretch out and tamper with the format with less risk of running things into the ground like album-length releases sometimes do. And Ramadanman has taken full advantage of the six tracks, which find him at his most tense and tracky, the deviant swing of those Hessle drums in full effect. The stretch of tracks from “No Swing” (that title is not true at all!) to “Bleeper” find him burrowing deeper into his own little crudely-fashioned world, where his experiments with percussion end up as anything but what could be described as ‘percussive.’ They’re staggering patterns programmed with some space-age supercomputer, melodic accents coloured sparely by blue-light chords and the occasional bleep. The soft keyboard tones that frequently reappear render it as queasy mood music, to be heard in some hellish alternate universe elevator. “Tumble” particularly is austere, feeling more like the long-ago ruins of a track, splinters of beat jutting through melodic fragments. The tracks are inaccessible and even a bit forbidding at first, mocking with their ridiculous bastardizations of ‘rhythm’ but there’s a certain evocative creepiness, like the synthline in “A Couple More Years” that seems to stick even harder due to its arid surroundings. It’s an uncompromising set of tracks that steer the outer reaches of bass music into weirder, almost formless realms, and it makes us wonder how long it’s going to be before it causes some unfortunate person to utter the words ‘intelligent bass music.’

As good as these rhythmic jams are, they’re bookended by two tracks that are simply staggering. The EP opens with “I Beg You,” the circling beat finally finding traction in time to play scaffold to the vocal sample, pitched-down and turning the suffering into alienating unfamiliarity. The voices fade and the song kicks into higher gear, the rhythm intensifying as bass prods buckle the foundations. When the vocal samples return, they’re stretched and mangled, floating among the ravenous maw of the beat before they’re sucked down into oblivion. At the other end of the EP, “Don’t Change For Me” pushes that same sound to even more fascinating extremes, taking an endless stream of breaks in both hands and wrenching them so far off its axis that listening to it makes you feel like you’re standing on a tilting floor, like he’s using the black secret technology to shake the entire planet. Organ chords come floating in and momentarily level the bent earth, as Kennedy twists a vocal sample to the breaking point before letting it go and shoot off into the sky, spinning wildly. It’s buckled, warped, junglist R&B, choosing stumbling staccato percussion over hip-hop lilt and smooth synthesizers. It’s fearless, fantastic music and one of the best Hessle tracks we’ve ever heard. [AR/SO]


“If U Want Me”

(Numbers | NMBRS0D)
Styles: House, Funky
Purchase on Boomkat

Single sided releases are a strange thing, but sometimes it’s all for the best. If you have a truly killer track, why clutter it up with a B-side when you could put a laser etching on there instead. The one-sided twelve tells you straight up that this right here is the one you need. Think Rustie’s “Zig Zag” or Martin Kemp’s “No Charisma” and you know what kind of territory we’re in here. Because this track right here is fucking essential. Deadboy’s interest in American R&B was made fairly clear on his debut “U Cheated” single, which made the submerged nods on albums like Burial’s Untrue more explicit, to stellar effect. His awesome mix as alter-ego DJ Tearjerker pushed it even harder, mashing up Ciara, Omarion and Beyonce and his amazing refixes of Cassie and Ashanti have been popping up in various places as well. So the more blatant R&B feel in single-sided 12 “If U Want Me” is no surprise; what may be a surprise if you haven’t heard it before is just how great this track really is. It’s driven by these elongated synth lines that feel like rays of sunlight poking through clouds. The beat rolls underneath in an unstoppable funky glide and there’s this lovely little frothing synth melody that plays through the middle of it. About four minutes in, he tinkers with the synth lines, slurring them and twisting them but they still can’t sound anything but lovely. The most killer bit of the song, however, is the vocal sample. It’s all chorus and hook, this breathless repetition in your ear that plays out as an endless tease, something to keep you dancing. You could get all excited about the fusion of rave and house and Todd Edwards and R&B and whatever else is in the mix here, but you could skip all that and just sit back and feel how great this track is. One of the most promising new producers out there just got even better. [SO]



Dirty EP

(Night Audio | NA003)
Styles: Garage, Dubstep, Funky
Purchase on Boomkat

2010 is the year El-B comes back. Truth be told he never really went anywhere, but this year is it; after rejuvenated interest from Burial-worship and the excellent Blackdown-curated Roots of El-B compilation on Tempa, El-B already has a busy 2010 with a single and LP with J Da Flex on Ghost, and this tasty four-tracker on Night Audio. The Dirty EP sees the garage overlord trying different styles for size, much in the same way that MJ Cole has been experimenting. Don’t let the “featuring” credits on all four tracks fool you, these aren’t full vocals — El-B simply grabs one phrase he likes and abuses it how he sees fit. Things kick off in full-gear with the scuzzy “How U Like Dat,” prime dubstep in a classic Vex’d style, all electric buzzes and thick, distorted bass. The tempo drops slightly for the fractured garage of “Dirty Dirty,” where the real ‘beat’ plinks away quietly while a broken, incomplete pattern bangs on the sides of your head, giving the illusion of an unresolved beat: it’s a disorienting effect that never really gets old. Things get a little techy and sterile with “This Thrill,” a more traditional garage track that does away with any warmth in return for antiseptic coolness, before breaking off into straight-up dubstep bass wobbles, while “Dirty Flow” buries its aggressive bass underneath a silky synth riff that reminds me more than a little bit of Von D and DJ Madd’s “U” on Boka from last month (a coincidence I’m almost completely sure). The Dirty EP is a confident return for an artist whose previous post-retirement releases sometimes felt more like hedging than anything else, and it feels like a signal for a career about to re-bloom entirely. Either that or he’ll keep getting lost in his cumbia records, but regardless, he’s still the master, absorbing all the genres he’s helped create and spitting them back out better than ever. [AR]

Roof Light

“Street Level”

(L2S Recordings | L2S022)
Styles: Dubstep, Garage
Purchase on Boomkat

Hotly-tipped new producer Roof Light debuted last year with the fantastic In Your Hands EP on Styrax, a gorgeous blend of crackling dub-soul that followed in the footsteps of a certain once-anonymous auteur without coming across as totally derivative. He could’ve quite comfortably nestled in that style forever, but his new 12″ on Street Level sees him tooling up and focusing his gaze on the dancefloor. The garage renaissance seems to be gaining more and more traction lately with recent stellar singles from Sully and VVV, along with a resurgent MJ Cole and El-B, and now it’s Roof Light’s turn to serve up some of those impeccable syncopations. The beats of “Street Level” slice through a litter of samples, flutes and guitar hits and vocals skipping like someone’s flicking between radio stations. It never settles, the beats all merciless slice until their work is done. On the B-side, he tones down a little, letting jazzy samples float to the surface while the beats scissor busily underneath. It’s the late-night flip to the club-ready A-side and as you drift into the night, the track’s title seems particularlyapt. I t’s a perfectly constructed pair of tracks, and if they don’t feel quite as stellar as his first release, it’s possibly just my affinity for that more blurred and beautiful style that’s doing it. In the next few months, this guy has a flood of new releases scheduled that promise to encompass a wide range of styles, including an LP on Highpoint Lowlife. On the evidence we’ve seen so far, he’s not going to put a foot wrong in any of them. [SO]

Koan Sound

“Jumpsuit Adventures” / “Blueberry Pie”

(Screw Loose | SCREW003)
Styles: Dubstep, DnB/Jungle
Purchase on Juno

Bristol’s rudest label goes hard with their third release, following up Statix’s anthemic “Mind Over Matter,” indisputably one of the tracks of the year so far. Koan Sound handles this one, much jerkier and less linear than the carefully deliberate torture sessions of Statix. Koan’s sound is more informed by drum & bass, packing a swift percussive wallop and the kind of freneticism so fetishized by the current ‘dubstep’ scene at large. “Jumpsuit Adventures” starts with a fakeout that makes their junglist tendencies clear: a skittering breakbeat solidifies into huge chunks of rock slamming against the wall. It mirrors the midrange wobble obsession of artists like Excision, Caspa, Rusko, any number of generic producers, but Koan’s is emboldened by a low-end swagger and penetrating bursts of static and white noise. “Blueberry Pie” is a bit friendlier, tidying up the blood (being thrown against the walls is a good way to lose some teeth and break some noses), moulding the abrasion to a more funky template, restless drums breaking out of their set patterns, and tempering it with brooding breakdowns laid gently with calming strings and harps. Screw Loose proves again that they’re worth getting excited about, rising above all the generic trash by doing it so, so much better. [AR] 


“Paint, Straw & Bubbles” & “Machine And Voice”

(Honest Jon’s | HJP48) / (NonPlus+ | NONPLUS005
Styles: Techno, Bass
Purchase NONPLUS005on Boomkat

Nobody’s quite sure where to put Actress. If you browse his catalogue on Boomkat, they have him sitting in almost every genre there is. His Werk Discs label has released albums by other artists that play on the fringes, like Zomby, Lukid and Monkey Steak, but it’s not really ‘dubstep.’ If I stretch ‘bass music’ far enough, I can sneak him in at one of the corners, and it’s definitely worth doing so, as his two recent release prove. “Paint, Straw and Bubbles” finds him at his haziest, lost in an oscillating dream that crackles and blisters. Listening to it is like drowning; there’s no bottom to it, just this abstract, enfolding sense of disorientation. The beat feels like echolocation, the samples slurring in and out of consciousness. There’s beauty down there somewhere, way in the depths; you can hear faint rumours of it rising. In contrast, “Maze” finds him at his most direct, driven by an icy synth pulse that could’ve come from a cold wave compilation and beats that dig back into Detroit electro. It’s six minutes and it’s the so-called “long version” but it’s one of those tracks that feels like it’s been hewed from an “infinite version,” that’s been playing since the dawn of time and will be playing long after we’re gone (which probably explains why I can’t stop listening to it). It’s expansive and moody and one of the best things he’s done — considering this is the guy that made the brilliant Hazyville, this is no small compliment.

While “Paint, Straw and Bubbles” is the first single from his upcoming Splazsh album on Honest Jon’s, he’s also found time to release a three-tracker on Instra:mental’s NonPlus label. This sees him heading off in a more ‘bass music’ tangent (which allows the genre police to stamp his hand and let him into the column this time around), but it’s still a distinctly Actress take on the form. “Machine and Voice” errs on the machine side, giving the robots the advantage with impossibly stiff-legged minimalist funk beats that only loosen up when whirring mechanical synths try their best to obliterate everything. The voices are submerged somewhere in there, but I shudder to think what’s happened to them. On the B-side, “Loomin” is two and a half minutes of subterreanean thump, cushioned bass hits disappearing into a haze of disintegrating tapes. It may be short, but you’ll still get lost in the fog of it. “Und U Boat” closes things out with a more classically Actress number, old Detroit house tracks turned into a creaking dream, like the Caretaker if he was hung up on ghostly dancefloors rather than haunted ballrooms. Two releases in one month from Actress is a massive treat and when they’re of this high quality, it’s time to feel spoiled. This guy is a huge talent, and the most important label that applies to both of these is ‘essential listening.’ [SO] 

Free The Robots

Ctrl Alt Delete LP

(Alpha Pup | )
Styles: Sci-Fi Dubstep
Purchase on Boomkat

The California collective completely smash things open with their debut release, coming a bit out of nowhere with a confident blend of typical West Coast bohemia with a surprisingly reverent dubstep bent. The West Coast sound often flirts with dubstep and bass music without ever firmly committing to any one genre aside from some all-encompassing skewed conception of hip-hop, but Free The Robots music is decidedly dubstep-ish, infused with a certain free-spirited looseness and a whole lot of psychedelic science-fiction influences and sounds. Think early Pink Floyd mixed with classic LDN dubstep (time-shifted considerably — the BPMs are all over the place) and you’ve kind of got the right idea, as chiptune melodies entwine with organs and other warm, natural sounds: if anything, these robots have beating human hearts deep within their metallic chambers, a heart that beats at unpredictable tempos with the fickle indecisiveness of excitable humans, without ever feeling lost or confused or meandering. These guys know what they’re doing, and they do it well. Try this out, you’ll be pleasantly surprised — I was. [AR]

V/A (Deep Medi)

Deep Medi Releases Vol. 2

(Deep Medi | MEDICD003)
Styles: Dubstep
Purchase on Boomkat

You don’t even need to read this paragraph to know that you need this compilation. Do you like Dubstep? I assume so; in which case, you probably like Deep Medi, and for good reason. This is the second in Mala’s label’s ongoing CD series of compilations of their vinyl-only singles, and it’s every bit as solid as the first. Covering both sides of releases 06 to 10, it’s mostly a showcase of younger (at the time, anyway) talents, along with Mala himself. It’s true that there’s a classicist thread to Deep Medi that becomes even more apparent when you line all their releases up in a row, but instead of conservatism it’s a deeply sown dedication to a particular aesthetic. There’s lots of breathing room in here, and the experimentalism is concentrated in nuances rather than transparent overtures: Japanese producer Goth-Trad dangerously balances wobble with deeper, dubbier sounds, Kromestar meticulously trims his music down to an anorexic pallor with the almost-techy “Marz Attak” and dresses low-end dread up with pretty synths on “Rainy Dayz,” and Anti-Social Entertainment boys Quest and Silkie make the most exciting stretch of the compilation with their contributions. Both of Silkie’s tracks are alight with his signature crashing percussion, and Quest’s are deeply blunted, “Sea Front” a Drexcyian exploration of dub and the jazzy “Deep Inside” taking a tip from Mala’s softer tracks while maintaining his own idiosyncratic largesse. But it’s Mala that really shines (what else did you expect?), closing out the compilation with the already-classic “Miracles” twelve, a track so spare the drum hits reverberate eternally off of the bare warehouse walls. If you weren’t convinced by the fact that this was Deep Medi in the first place, you should be convinced now; this is essential listening for anyone remotely interested in dubstep. Bring on Volume 3. [AR]


If you’re a producer or label and have tracks you would like to submit for consideration for the column, e-mail Andrew Ryce.

blog comments powered by Disqus
Latest News and Media
Features More
Twitter icon_twitter Follow

Banquet Media