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The Month In Dubstep & Bass: March 2010

By ; March 22, 2010 at 12:01 AM 

The Month in Dubstep & Bass - March 2010
Photo: Egyptrixx’s “The Only Way Up,” NS002 out on Night Slugs

Second page of reviews of our favourites from this month. Third page of reviews will be up friday, and keep your eyes peeled for our exclusive Hackman mix!

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



The Only Way Up EP

(Night Slugs | NS002)
Styles: House (with massive bassweight)
Purchase on Boomkat

Night Slugs’ first release was absolute madness, some of the finest house music our collective ears have heard in a minute; indeed, the full digital package complete with the ten-minute “Nike” and a slew of remixes is a hard thing to follow up. But Bok Bok and co. have done the impossible with their second release, this time from Toronto’s Egyptrixx, fresh off of his huge Battle For North America EP on RAMP about a month ago. This, however, is is something else entirely. “The Only Way Up” is a chilled monster of a track, smooth sailing with lush, barely-there pads and cushioned wooden percussion. The track gets larger and larger like a rapidly-inflating balloon, until a bent, ascending riff begins its eternal climb and the track starts to roll along gently: house music rarely sounds this graceful. But just when you’re about to get comfortable, there’s a slight tremor followed by an avalanche as Egyptrixx unleashes the bass. It’s some of the deepest, most satisfying bass in recent memory, subtly jiggling and trembling. Instead of succumbing to an obvious move, it’s almost disconnected from the rest of it as the drums and the synths float ever so slightly above the vast pillows of bass below. It’s one of the most immediately engaging tracks I’ve heard this year and even better, some of the most impressive mastering, with everything sounding gorgeous, bewitching clarity and stunning separation. All that may sound like a daunting standard, and it is, but Ikonika and Cubic Zirconia each do respectable jobs on the remix front. Ikonika’s remix ups the lush-o-meter on the track to 11, fanning the flames on the hot air balloon and sending it straight into the stratosphere, propelled by a raucous funky beat replacing the track’s original soft wooden hits and a Detroit-esque whine that sounds all sorts of aerial. Cubic Zirconia keep the track’s ethereal intro intact until they double-up the percussion and add their own idiosyncratic vocals, completely exploding the track from the centre for an insane final minute — and there’s an instrumental thrown in for those more averse to vocals, allowing the luscious percussion to shine through.

If “The Only Way Up” is the (relatively) meditative, reflective number, then b-side “Everybody Bleeding” is the (again, relatively) fuck-everything get-down number. Beginning with harsh, unfriendly scrapes, more typical pads come in, building up tense anticipation for a drop that feels like it takes hours to reach and never really happens. Meanwhile Egyptrixx peppers the track with more scrapes, screeches, and distantly manipulated vocals, building a chaotic mess while you’re waiting for the actual mess to happen. Things go deceptively quiet and bounce back with a coughwonkycough bass riff that flies maniacally up and down the pitch spectrum, buoyed between the dense kicks back-and-forth like a pinball. The track builds organically for its five minutes, grooving consistently rather than wasting its energy on one impulsive drop. Kingdom returns Night Slugs the remix favour with his aquatic garage take on the track, turning it inward and adding some Shyvonne vocals for good measure. The track sounds like the weirded-out followup to his fantastic “Mind Reader” release and slots in nicely alongside the Ikonika and Cubic Zirconia remixes. It’s true that these two Egyptrixx tracks aren’t really traditional bangers, and viewed at surface-level both are quite reserved; but the impact is in the sounds themselves, immaculately conceived and painstakingly pored-over. Who needs bare speed when you’ve got this kind of inhuman refinement? Instinct tells me to write something about how Night Slugs are not going to be able to follow this one up, but who are we kidding — for now though, we’ll just have to deal with mere perfection. [AR]


James Blake

The Bells Sketch

(Hessle Audio | HES011)
Styles: damned if I know
Purchase on Boomkat

If James Blake’s music is anything, it’s airy. His latest release, a three-tracker on the techno-dubstep haven Hessle Audio is no different, a continuation of the sound he established on his debut single and an exciting development on top of that. Opener “The Bells Sketch” sounds like the archetypal James Blake track, anxious synths that flit left and right, refusing to stay in earshot, ominous bass rumbles that saunter in and an out, and a beat that seems to float in zero gravity, occasionally making a forced landing before springing right back up again. There’s of course the snatches of twisted vocals — Blake plays with vocals like taffy, stretching them, chewing on them, twisting them with his tongue, spitting them out, digesting them, you name it, to the point where the distinction between sampled vocals and plain old synths is remarkably difficult to discern. “Buzzard and Kestrel” is sort of like his attempt at morphine-addled UK funky, those distinctive snares played at a snails pace while a waterfall of voices rushes past, audible only split seconds at a time, until the insistent kicks are replaced by barely-there wooden clicks, bolstered by a creeping, halting synth riff that drops in and out just like everything else in Blake’s tracks. He saves the best for last though, with the straight-up astounding “Give A Man A Rod,” a track that sounds so utterly weightless it’s a miracle that it doesn’t just up and float away while it plays. Synths that feel like insects flying recklessly past your ear, getting infuriatingly loud as they get as close as possible before zooming away just as quickly, dusty organ, sputtering drums, and of course, distorted vocals. The track piles on layers of sound as it develops, but it plays a nasty prank: aside from a jazzy little progression that shows up during the breakdown and again emerges near the end of the track, there’s no conventional bassline to the song. The only bass in the first half of the track comes from the drums themselves and the occasional synth, a genius aural illusion that makes the track feel utterly formless but still somehow lurching forward, keeping its momentum without a shape, as if the very magnetic force of its being was somehow the only thing holding it together, pulling stray objects into its orbit momentarily just like the synths that race in an out of earshot. James Blake’s music would be unapproachable if it weren’t so damn pretty, and its so easy to get lost in its wide, open spaces that its 12 minutes feel more like 40 (and yeah, that’s a good thing). [AR]


Airhead & James Blake

“Pembroke” / “Lock In The Lion”

(Brainmath | MATH06)
Styles: see above
Purchase on Boomkat

There’s a scant six minutes of music on this collaborative 12″ on Brainmath, brought to you by Airhead and the increasingly amazing James Blake, but they do a hell of a lot with it. “Pembroke” opens with a vocal sample slowed down to a ghastly groan, synths splayed grotesquely beneath it. When the beats come in, they’re staggering knock-kneed through the mangled melodies like they’re slogging through quicksand. It resolves into brief moments of clarity, vocal gasps breaking through the fug, before they’re swept away into the chill of the night. As the track winds to a close, it breaks free of the shackles, gaining a sense of airy grandeur with these lovely, floating chords. “Lock in the Lion” sounds like it’s going to be the cleaner, brighter cousin, opening with these rambling pianos but all of a sudden the chords are mashed into soup and the drums are fumbling for footholds, the track veering off the beaten path and back into those murky swamps. Along with “The Bells Sketch” on Hessle, this marks an absolutely fantastic month for James Blake, and more material from him can’t come soon enough. Airhead is new to me, but by association alone, I’ll be looking forward to hearing what he does next. [SO]



“Naked Mariokart”

(Black Box | BLACKBOX002)
Styles: Dubstep, Bristol
Purchase on Boomkat

Bristol dub maven Rob Smith aka RSD has been kicking around since 1987 as part of Smith & Mighty who were doing their thing back even before Massive Attack. Of recent times, he’s found himself affiliated with Peverelist’s mighty Punch Drunk crew (who’ve recently full circled it by releasing classic Smith & Mighty tracks) and released a pretty damn wonderful singles collection last year. This track has allegedly doing the business around the clubs for a while and it finally sees the light of day on Black Box. From the opening moments, it’s easy to see why this has become a favourite: the sampled ba-ba-bas practically shout anthem from the rooftops and then the bass comes swaggering in and busts the door down and even on headphones in the living room, this thing goes off. It’s got one of those irresistible grooves backed up with that earworm melody and by the time it gets to the synth solo in the middle of the song, it’s impossible to wipe the grin off your face. Not quite sure what it has to do with playing Mario Kart naked, but this is the kind of song you’d be happy to soundtrack any activity. It’s backed on the 12″ by a “Part 2,” which starts off by marooning the ba-ba-bas in space for a full minute before the beat comes back and that delirious swirl of synths uncurls from its slumber. The only real quibble is that there’s not much different going on in this second, aside from a few tweaks in a dubwise direction (although I do love the vocal sample that he sneaks in at the very end) and the original track is so damn good you’ll probably spend most of your time stuck on that. Of course, it cuts both ways – a track this good can run for ten minutes easy. [SO]


Von D & DJ Madd

“U” / “It’s Over”

(Boka Records | BOKA026)
Styles: Dubstep
Purchase link forthcoming

BOKA brings a double-dose of European goodness with this collaboration by Hungary’s fantastic DJ Madd and France’s Von D. The two tracks here sound like a real, fully-realized synthesis of the two producers’ styles; we get equal parts of Von D’s honeyed saffron tones as DJ Madd’s penetrating bass tendrils. A-side takes a drum-n-piano shuffle (coasting on thick slabs of sub-bass of course), stretching a warmed-over sample around and around the beat like taffy, all “It’s Over” features muted, reserved bass wobbles coming up between big, crashing halfstep percussion. A carefully sampled vocal peppers the track with breathless exclamations and provides an infuriatingly catchy hook tempered by glassy chimes that sound as resigned, fatigued, and lukewarm as the synths on the a-side — it’s like a dance track encased in amber. In fact, almost all of the sounds on here sound like they’ve been sitting in an attic for a while, collecting a dust and warping just a little bit, just enough to give them some character. It’s a curious effect that makes the tracks sound somewhat retro and tinged with regret, and little details like the lone plinking piano notes in “U” certainly don’t detract from the melancholia. It’s not all rainy days and fogged glass though — after the second time the chimes drop, the track’s massive drums begin to chip away at the hardened amber, finally freeing themselves for a blissful final minute in which everything sounds crisp, clear, and powerful. If you prefer your tunes with a hint of austerity mixed in with all the brutality, try this release on for size. [AR]



“Pumpin Like Reeboks” / “Vomit Riddim”

(Special Branch (Black Acre) ACRESB002| )
Styles: Roller Coaster Rave, Dubstep, WTF, Raffertie
Purchase on Boomkat

Raffertie is the class clown of this whole bass music thing, lobbing synthesized spitballs at the teacher’s back and doing ludicrous gabba rave impressions with all the knobs turned up way past eleven. “Pumpin’ Like Reeboks” is business as usual for him, which means you should go in expecting lurid gibberish, broadcast on all frequencies in screaming, leering hypercolour. It’s a demented footwear commercial with product placement provided by cackling munchkins with giant sales quotas, all set to a soundtrack of synths so pitchbent they’ll make you nauseous. And speaking of nauseous, “Vomit Riddim” pulls out all the stops. It opens with seasick melodies, lurching downwards and taking your stomach with them. By the time the beat comes in, you have no idea which way is up and then he drops the vomiting samples followed by these bass hits so deep they’ll pummel right through you. It’s pretty fucked up but you can’t help being impressed by what this guy can do with technology (or, probably more accurately, to technology). Just to fuck with us, and just because he can, he drops a lovely twinkling melody into the middle, only to layer vomiting sounds right over the top. God knows what could happen if he decided to try and steal our hearts. [SO]


Shortstuff & Mickey Pearce

“Tripped Up” / “Coconuts”

(RAMP | RAMP031)
Styles: Funky, Garage, Grime
Purchase on Boomkat

Shortstuff is everywhere, running his own label Blunted Robots, releasing singles all over the place, and doing a few mighty fine remixes too (notably Geiom’s “Sugar-Coated-Lover” which you already know we love). He brings his utterly distinctive, colourful sound back to RAMP on a collaboration with Martin Kemp for a twelve that sounds more like future grime than ‘future garage.’ It sounds like they’ve been listening to a lot of Terror Danjah lately, or maybe it’s just because I have, but these tracks with that producer’s fluorescent neon sense of drama and horror. “Tripped Up” constructs a gaudy banger out of orchestra hits, attacked by huge garage percussion until it switches up halfway through to something less dramatic, quivering vocals and house pianos. The hits come back in for a frantic full-blast outro, with the percussion hitting hard and vocals yelping spastically. Now, when I said grime, I was specifically talking about “Coconuts,” which sounds so grimy it’s hard to believe they didn’t put the wrong track in the press bundle. It cuts deep with harshly plucked and bowed strings, shards of skronk bass and a nails-on-a-chalkboard melody. It all comes together to make something that sounds like a tribute to classic grime done in a distinctively 2010 hypercolour style, morphing to the present day with a pseudo-8-bit section, eschewing the strings in favour of the glassy synths. On the digital exclusive, Ramadanman brings an unexpected refix of “Tripped Up,” going in a raved-out techno-dubstep direction and sounding almost nothing like the original outside the vocals. As is to be expected with Mr. Kennedy, he puts all the attention on the rolling percussion, turning the domineering orchestral hits into mere decoration, his take the more cerebral cousin to Shortstuff & Kemp’s bustling nighttime Tokyo metropolis. All in all it’s a wonderful unexpected turn from these guys, but it sounds as good a fit as any. [AR]

Monkey Steak

“Hyped Up”

(Steakhouse | STEAK002)
Styles: Funky, Tropical
Purchase on Boomkat

The duo of Atki2 and Hanuman got me all hot under the collar back at the start of the year with their fantastic 12″ on Idle Hands and now they’re back together as Monkey Steak (the name under which they unleashed the very first Punch Drunk 12″). There’s no hesitancy at all in their follow-up: it comes barnstorming out of the gate at a furious, frenetic pace with MC Zulu caught in the slipstream. I’m not always a fan of vocal versions and while there’s nothing wrong with this one at all, I’m still happy to be provided with a handy instrumental that I’ve been caning non-stop since I first heard this. It’s that whirling dervish percussion that does it to me, the siren going off like a rave whistle and the horn stabs blasting through the chaos. It’s so utterly goddamn infectious, some arcane magic hotwiring the groove directly into your body and making you move. In fact, I’m pretty sure I could let this unroll past me in the hot, dusty air for forty minutes instead of four and I’d carry on dancing in its wake. “Tigris Riddim” slows things down a little to indulge in some tasty bhangra-styled funk that winds its sinuous way through the dancing throng. “Haarlem Drift” has had enough of this leisurely pace and kicks up its heels with a tropical evening drive through sunset-streaked streets, the heat of the bass cooled down by bluesy chords. Like all the tracks here, it seems built to dance to, to move to, and it makes for one hell of a hot streak at the start of 2010. If you want to party, these are your guys. [SO]


Untold & LV

“Beacon” / “Beacon (Mount Kimbie Remix)”

(Hemlock | HEK007)
Styles: Dubstep, Mount Kimbie
Purchase on Boomkat

The latest release on Untold’s already-towering Hemlock imprint is a collaboration between the man himself and L.V., backed with a Mount Kimbie remix on the flip. Going by sheer name power alone, it doesn’t really get much better than that. The tracks live up to their makers’ reputations, with the original sounding quite like what you’d expect out of this sort of collaboration: Untold’s razor thin, tumbling percussion with his usual stonewalling technoid bass turned into malleable, liquid tremors by way of LV’s more humane reggae influences. It’s a track that sounds like being stuck inside a cavern during an earthquake, the earth distantly thundering, water falling from the stalactites, mysterious objects snapping under your feet. Everything pulls out for an incredibly tense breakdown that goes right back into the track’s heady momentum, sounds going off on all sides, clicking, bouncing, thudding, everything you could think of; the percussion in this track sounds alive. The Mount Kimbie remix actually sounds bigger and fuller, taking the almost free-form percussion of the original and fashioning a crude melody out of it, harmonies and all, turning its metallic veneer into something wooden and earthly. They give the song a distinct structure and give it all the Mount Kimbieisms, the tiny, miniscule drum sounds, chopped up vocals (is it just me or do they sound exactly like Lloyd?), and mournful keyboards, though the track gets a bit heavier about halfway through with relentless pounding chords that eventually recede for a chilled-out outro that feels a bit like a cross between something on Maybes and Joy Orbison’s “So Derobe” — in other words, it’s heavenly. Hemlock goes seven for seven with one of its most understated, quietly beautiful records yet. [AR]



Triangulation LP

(Hotflush Recordings | HFCD003)
Styles: Dubstep, Techno, Garage, Funky
Purchase on Boomkat

Triangulation is one of those albums where we want to wax rhapsodic about every track, to convince you that this grey, labyrinthine record is a masterpiece, one of those albums you’ll play over and over… Scuba’s second is a truly remarkable album, and the last time a nominally ‘dubstep’ artist made a leap like this, it was called Untrue.” [FULL REVIEW]

Cloud Seed


Cloud Seed LP

(Planet Mu | ZIQ260)
Styles: Dubstep, Ambient
Purchase on Boomkat

Vex’d finally release their second album, following-up their masterpiece Degenerate with… another masterpiece. INTERVIEW + FULL REVIEW COMING SOON

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

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