Latest column features interviews with ASC and Peverelist and reviews of Digital Mystikz (Mala), FaltyDL, Peverelist, Quest, and Terror Danjah.

The Month In Dubstep & Bass: July 2010

Photo: Digital Mystikz Return II Space artwork

Summertime is usually a quiet time for releases, as reflected by the relative dearth of them covered here. That’s not to say there isn’t as much amazing music being made as there was three months ago, but as release schedules temporarily trickle down to a near-drought, so the column shrinks as well. Sadly, it is also the last column for the foreseeable future, as your guides to the bass music world are forced to move on to other things. Needless to say it’s been a great run, spreading the best music and being absolutely honoured to talk with some amazing people, and who knows, maybe one day it will be able to continue anew. Features-wise this month is spoiled even by our standards, with a fascinating and in-depth interview with drum-n-bass and Autonomic producer ASC and a wonderful look inside Bristol’s best two labels, Punch Drunk and Idle Hands.

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




Digital Mystikz

Return II Space

(DMZ | DMZLP001)
Styles: Dubstep
Purchase the LP

How could this not be Record of the Month? It’s the first album to come out of Digital Mystikz, and one helmed completely by Mala. That in itself is worthy of a proper event.

In a year with a surprising number of fantastic dubstep albums, it only makes sense that the master would come back with his own take on things. Of course, album is a relative term; it’s a triple-LP with only six tracks (one on each side), but considering Mala’s infrequent and uncommon releasing habits, it might as well be his debut LP. Much like Peverelist’s recent work, it seems to recall the heady days of classic dubstep, when the scene was still centered in London around nights like DMZ. This is partly due to good timing (nostalgia) and to the age of the tracks themselves, most of them being dubplates that have been floating around since at least 2008.

“Unexpected” is a reflective opener, revolving around mournful whistles and cool, jazzy percussion. Taking things into darker territory is “Pop Pop Epic”, its ominous synths heralding the dread sirens that suffocate and shrink its atmosphere. The pounding, powdery drums and distorted vocal samples make for the most beautifully aggressive track Mala has made yet, growling with sensuality and wonder. When howling guitar riffs start to make their way in and the sirens morph into horror strings, the drum beat picks up the pace and the suffocation turns into straight-up asphyxiation; only Mala can find this much violence in nearly stationary meditation.

“Eyez” is the most traditional-sounding track here, with percussion that dips into the low end like it’s floating on water, bouncing back up with the same cushioned force that submerges it; but the real focus is on the bass wobbles, which don’t so much writhe on the floor as fall from the sky, drilling into the surface with surprising grace. Testing the patience of ravers, “Livin Different” grooves on melted rhodes organ that eventually smoothes into one sustained tone, the stark track coloured only by the spare percussion. Closing things is “Return II Space,” suitably out-there with something like a quivering digeridoo leading the quasi-industrial track through its wilderness of bone-rattling percussion; there’s not so much a bassline to this one as repeated stabs of low-end pressure.

Top honours have to go to the stunning “Mountain Dread March,” a track so far ahead of everything else it’s practically from another universe; note that the two-year-old track was used to great effect in Kode9’s recent DJ-KiCKS, a DJ who is known for being at the cutting edge. It still sounds unfamiliar and alien, made up of impossible sounds; drums echo in weird ways, shatter, and flange into rays of energy almost at random. Swampy synths gurgle on the sidelines until they evaporate, and the percussion morphs so fluidly and so quickly it’s impossible to tell that it’s even changing, until everything else disappears and the percussion is rolling forward in a way that it wasn’t even close to before. It’s a death march drummed by invisible warriors, and when the beat finally drops back it’s earth-shaking, the thrum of Mala’s vinyl grooves swelling to something much bigger than a turntable, much bigger than a soundsystem. That’s really what makes this album so special; for thirty minutes it takes you out of your comfort zone, finding new energy from unknown sources and injecting it into existing templates; sometimes it creates newfound appreciation of things that you might think have lost their lustre. [AR]


Nothing Is Certain LP

(NonPlus+ | NONPLUSLP001)
Styles: Drum & Bass, Autonomic.
Purchase at Boomkat

However insular it might appear, Nothing Is Certain isn’t afraid to break boundaries, as over its duration the ASC sound is deconstructed to the point where at times it barely sounds like drum-n-bass anymore; the ultra-detailed “Ubiquity Incident” especially sounds like true ‘future music,’ separated far from the self-aware futurism of so many of his contemporaries. Perhaps the best way I can describe his music is that it’s sufficiently detailed, emotive and ambient (I cringe to think about how many layers of sound there truly are in these tunes) in order to function as proper film music, but that would be a waste of its intrinsic beauty and its sheer potential to move you. The sound is complex and so self-contained that even the two collaborations (with Vaccine and Consequence) barely allow any of their co-producer’s qualities to shine through the opaque textures of his beats. Really, it just boils down to patience and vulnerability: if the slow, decaying breakdown in “Yatta” doesn’t get to you with its multifaceted string and synth motifs, well… The rest of us can revel in some of the most beautiful and experimental music of the year. ASC doesn’t push the envelope, he burns it — you can hear the flames burning steadily in these beats. [AR] Full review here


“Better Ways Of Living” / “Fighting Without Fighting”

(Punch Drunk | DRUNK017)
Styles: Dubstep
Purchase on Boomkat

Over these last few months, I’ve felt like I’m drowning in bass music, to the point where it all starts to feel like one endless track remixing itself. Or like counting how many angels can dance on a broken beat, standing wingtip to sweaty wingtip in a dark and thumping club. So thank whatever ruptured mechanical deity is responsible for Tom “Peverelist” Ford. His “Clunk Click Every Trip / Infinity Is Now” 12″ is one of my favourite things to come out of that septic, sceptred isle and his Punch Drunk label is as close to a seal of quality as its possible to get in these uncertain times. And here to save the day is “Better Ways of Living,” with its fists of knotty, clotted percussion punching through the hollowed-out instrumentation. It’s one of those introverted, head-down tracks that feels labyrithine and engulfing, but it’s B-side “Fighting Without Fighting” that really plays those clunk-click tricks, unspooling its nauseous rhythms and refusing to settle on a groove. When those sustained synth notes come through, all pale and ghostly, it’s almost too much to take, the fevered pads and rattling drums making for the best kind of uneasy listening. It’s a trip, and I wish there was more like it. [SO]

Al Tourettes

“When I Rest I Rust” / “The Next Meal”

(If Symptoms Persist | ISP004)
Styles: Dubstep, Techno, House, Horror
Purchase on Boomkat

If Symptoms Persist is yet another pristine label emerging from Bristol, and it seems like it’s finally about to awake from its unpredictable slumber with a steadier release schedule. Its fourth release is unquestionably its best, and it’s a brave step forward for a label that’s had a struggle establishing its identity amidst a million other labels in its home city. Appropriately it’s also the finest release to date from the city’s mysterious Al Tourettes. These tracks are long, dark, even sinister. “When I Rest I Rust” is immediately captivating, throbbing and swelling unpredictably like a walk through a darkened rainforest. Sounds erupt from all corners as the percussion beats on, a computer voice croaking ominously amongst the chaos — it shouldn’t work but it does, almost like Radiohead’s “Fitter Happier” left in a jungle, decaying and covered in moss. The unpredictable and slithery movements of the synths that dart in and out provides an unsettling contrast to the robotic stringency of the vocal samples. “The Next Meal” is slightly more traditional while even more menacing, forgoing the creepy vocals and uncertain atmosphere for pure dread, whining alarm synths, prickly bass riffs and pounding drums. The two tracks here are quite unique in how they present themselves, unfolding in a busy bustle of percussion, rumbles and far-off noises, but even better is how ably they incorporate themes of horror, fear, dread, and so forth without ever sounding cheesy or overcooked. The kind of horror-obsessed strains of dubstep that are growing ever more popular this year could learn a lot from a twelve like this. [AR]


Phreqaflex EP

(Planet Mu| ZIQ277)
Styles: Dubstep, 2step, Garage
Purchase on Boomkat

As time passes, Brooklyn’s FaltyDL seems to be moving away from his original IDM-informed sound into something more linear. Phreqaflex is a refined, almost professional take on early-millennium 2-step that sounds more El-B than it does Burial. Almost to the point of excising his previous IDM influences, the aggression and mournfulness is mostly replaced by a straight-faced groove, now focused on details and slight progressions rather than the stylistic tangents that coloured his early work for Mu. Phreqaflex is the first of two EPs that showcase this new sharper focus, revolving around UK Garage whereas the other displays his equally classy take on house. To best get an idea of what this sounds like, FaltyDL’s XLR8R mix was an excellent summary of his new sound, with two of these tracks featuring prominently. It speaks to his consistency that the three songs here melt into each other, grinding and grooving in place and melting between cracks rather than the hyperactive motion of his earlier work. Most stunning of all is the sprawling closer “My Friends Will Always Say,” which recalls Burial with its vocal manipulation, all the more affecting due to the way entire lines are subtly twisted rather than the helium acrobatics of Burialesque producers. FaltyDL hasn’t exactly gone and reinvented the wheel, but his take on smartly-dressed UK garage is about as refreshing as anything else touted as ‘groundbreaking’ right now. [AR]

Terror Danjah

“Bruzin VIP” / “Hysteria”

(Hyperdub | HDB037)
Styles: Grime, Garage, Trance?
Purchase on Boomkat

Terror Danjah is making waves both in grime in his own self-contained world with the amazing Power Grid EP out now on Mu, but the release is quickly followed up by his second twelve for Hyperdub. These two tracks feel much older in style, though more sharply-hewn and rougher than most of his work. “Bruzin VIP” is an update on a years-old track and it almost completely excises the playful cartoonishness of so much of his work, recalling the frantic cut-up stop-start of “Acid” and “Pro Plus” earlier this year. A typically neon synth riff is refracted through all sorts of prisms until it bursts forward into streams of blinding light, combining with flying hunks of sampled strings, fierce horns and jackhammer drums. The track is forced through a narrow vertical maze, turning gaseous when it needs to and sublimating back into its original meaty existence in a split second. On the other hand, “Hysteria” (attributed to D.O.K. featuring Terror Danjah) is downright hilarious, breaking out into streaks of euphoric trance pads before pulling them back in and dicing them up in good-old Terror style. It’s a shocking move, tasteless even, but just try to stop from grinning when the track launches back full-bore into trance mode. Hyperdub releases usually don’t make you want to smile and laugh, but it proves a good look for the legendary label. [AR]


Bare Blips

(Numbers | NMBRS2)
Styles: Everything
Purchase on Boomkat

The newest in Numbers’ long lone of instant classics is something more akin to a beat-tape than a proper twelve of EP, eight short tracks that cycle through various pure, raw moods rather than staking out a groove or developing at all beyond their immediate purpose. Stuck somewhere between formless art pieces and tiny tools, the songs on Bare Blips have a fidgety hip-hop sensibility that lends them a feeling of carelessness and fun usually so absent from heavily-structured bass music. Bare Blips hops from dubstep (the Eastern twinges of “Bare Blips” and the 8-bit shuffle of “Lightning Strikes”) to weirdo house (“Mo Brap”) to gutter grime (the pitch-black rumble of “Boy Racer” or “Banger” which would fit right in on No Hats No hoods) to cinematic chiptune (“Nuff Prang”). There’s even a gorgeous little ambient interlude in the middle, more affective and effective than it has any right to be. Redinho is a relative newcomer and clearly has a bit of trouble settling down into any one mood for long, but why focus on one thing when you can do everything this well? [AR]


“Smooth Skin” / “Wind Tunnel”

(Deep Medi | MEDI028)
Styles: Dubstep
Purchase on Boomkat

Deep Medi seems to be all about the low-key releases lately, tracks that are quietly devastating and subtly huge, but their newest release from Antisocial associate Quest dives straight into sexy territory. These are lengthy tracks that lazily splay themselves out on some twilight beach; “Smooth Skin” stretches delirious sun-soaked organ across seven minutes, anchoring it with deliberate, slowed-down percussion and blissful 808 hits that bob up and down as if they’re floating on the imaginary waves coming in. Quest builds the song excruciatingly slowly, introducing the rare concept of patience to dubstep; there’s no big ‘drop’ in this song, as when the bassline finally comes in you’ve already given up on it and it’s just another element that he casually drops into the mix. Even the track’s fadeout is gorgeous, as each sound slowly falls away and the song recedes back out into the tide, reflecting the newly-apparent moonlight. On the flip, “Wind Tunnel” brings the pounding stuff, but even here there’s a feeling of restraint, as the (again) deliberate percussion tries its best to contain the grinding pool of industrial dread below, until it begins to bubble and rise and infect the percussion itself, turning ugly and sopping with toxic waste. Quest again takes his time building things up; by the time the 8-bit winds float in, it feels like the track has been grooving for an eternity, but it’s a blissful sort of purgatory; not many people can construct such luxurious epics like Quest’s. [AR]


“ILove04” / “Lilt”

(Applepips | PIPS013)
Styles: Dubstep, Garage
Purchase on Boomkat

The latest release from Applepips is yet another airtight fusion of genres, this time taking the percussive swing of garage and welding it to the sewer sonics of gutter dubstep. “ILove04” starts off as a euphoric garage banger, bustling drums skittering across the track. But it takes an unexpected turn when deep bass wobbles gurgle in the track’s unseen depths, bubbling up when the percussion briefly lets up and leaves space for it, and when it doesn’t, the acidic slick burns through the foundations and turns it into a flowing rapid of corrosive, industrial waste. On the other hand, “Lilt” finds its baser elements in the pure energy of the percussion and the monotonous thumping of the UK-funky-esque bass. Its main motif is surprisingly summery and bright, though it’s an artificial way: canned summer, a tropical paradise as viewed from behind glass. There’s the tropical-sounding mallets, perfectly placed 808s, and of course, sampled whistles. It’s all a little predictable but impossible not to give into; and when it melts away into its mellifluous breakdown only to reintroduce its vibrant chorus once again, it all sounds too right for artificiality to matter. [AR]

Various (Multiverse)

Dark Matter Compilation 2xCD

(Multiverse/Tectonic | PIPS013)
Styles: Dubstep, House, Techno
Purchase on Boomkat

It’s no secret that Bristol is a bit of a hotbed for musical innovation, especially in the realm of bass music. Basically London-not-London, the most exciting of the genre-breakers in recent times come from Bristol, not to mention institutions like Tectonic, Earwax, and Punch Drunk. Bristol multimedia conglomerate Multiverse is the organization revolving around those labels (sans Punch Drunk) and producers, and Dark Matter is their first pan-label, Bristol-encompassing compilation. And it’s a real doozy. It spans the Bristol empire from hometown dubstep heroes like Joker, Ginz, Pinch, and Vex’d, as well as neighbours and outsiders who have released on Bristol labels like Skream, Loefah, Cyrus, and even Dutchman 2562. You can kind of get an idea of the variety on display here, but the sequencing is careful and methodical; each disc is presented in vaguely chronological order (though certainly not exact), presenting a vague idea of how bass music and dubstep has mutated in Bristol from its dark and dubby roots into the thriving multicoloured monster it is now.

The compilation makes for a good alternate ‘history of dubstep’ — where most similar compilations would obviously focus on London and early producers like Horsepower Productions, Dark Matter makes a case for the parallel importance of Bristol with important tracks like “Lion,” Pinch’s “War Dub,” Joker’s “Psychedelic Runway,” and Pinch’s “Get Up,” presented in RSD’s jungle-dubstep-fusion remix form. The classic London set is represented beautifully by Loefah and Skream, including their still-quaking collaboration “28 Grams,” one of the first releases on Pinch’s Tectonic label. But for a city with such a diverse and vibrant sound, to classify it all as dubstep would be limiting and unfair, and Dark Matter sets out to make that point — tracks from October, Emptyset (aka Ginz), and Baobinga reflect the techno, funky, hip-hop and, er, ‘experimental’ sides of Bristol as well. [AR]