The Month in Dubstep & Bass - March 2010
Photo: Scuba’s Triangulation LP on Hotflush Recordings

Another month, even more genre bleedthrough, general confusion, relentless expansion, and a release schedule so packed we couldn’t even cover everything that we liked with the thirty reviews we’ve got here already. March proves our biggest month yet, and we’re spreading the reviews out over this week (Monday, Wednesday, and Friday), as well as a few more features after that, so keep your eyes peeled and check back regularly for updates. This time we’ve got reviews of much-anticipated releases by Kyle Hall, James Blake, Hackman, SBTRKT and FaltyDL as well as newcomer Rudi Zygadlo on Planet Mu, and about twenty-five more from where those came from. To cap things off, we’ve got a wonderful interview with Detroit superstar Kyle Hall, an upcoming interview with legendary disbanded duo Vex’d, and an exclusive mix from Hackman that, believe me, you want to hear. Keep checking back, and don’t forget there’s more beyond this page!

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


Kyle Hall

“Kaychunk” / “You Know What I Feel”

(Hyperdub | HDB032)
Styles: Detroit House, hints of dubstep
Purchase on Boomkat

“It’s that same beautiful throb, that same effortless night-time glide that guys like Carl Craig and Juan Atkins know how to tap into, and it’s one of Hall’s most luscious tracks to date – sterile but moving, clinical but overwhelmingly emotional, as he takes the typical Detroit sound palette (using his own distinct dirty house aesthetics) and bends and reforms it to fit a faster, more dubstep structure.” FULL REVIEW HERE. [AR/SO]

Read our interview with Kyle Hall.


Bodies EP

(Well Rounded | WRND003)
Styles: UK Funky, House
Purchase on Boomkat

“Bodies” opens with nimble chimes and a punchy beat, gasping vocal samples leading up into what’s close to be an actual chorus. You could almost call it a house anthem, especially when that splashy piano line comes in, with gospel hands in the air. Then he pulls the rug out from under, slippery bass tugging at the foundations, the beat all heady and intoxicating and spiralling out of control. When the burbling keyboard melody comes back in with the vocals trailing behind, it’s close to being blessed with the power of levitation. It’s a phenomenal, uplifting track that’s both funky as hell and insanely catchy. He follows it up with “Surround,” which takes a more introspective turn, forsaking the brighter melodies of “Bodies” for a tougher, steppier sound. He blows dub techno chords through it in staticky bursts before tweaking it up a notch with floating synth that has echoes of Augustus Pablo. About halfway through it suddenly opens out, the percussion breaking down into fidgety fragments and another one of those sinuous keyboard melodies winding out of the wreckage. Then all of a sudden, he drops a vocal sample from nowhere and the effect is really quite astounding. Then he fades back into the dubbed-out mists he appeared from, leaving your jaw languishing on the floor. He finishes up with “Blacksnake” which resides on a more jazzy house tip, all blue note keys and serpentine bass with a Full Metal Jacket dialogue sample thrown in for good measure. All told, this is an amazing set of three tracks, another coup for Well Rounded and it puts Hackman firmly in the one to watch category. [SO]

Listen to an exclusive mix by Hackman!

“Mind Over Matter” / “Cataracts”

(Screw Loose | SCREW002)
Styles: Dubstep, Death & Destruction
Purchase on Boomkat

The first time I heard “Mind Over Matter” I wasn’t sure exactly what the hell I was supposed to think. The track — part of the first release from Bristol’s Statix, on newish label Screw Loose — sounds like pitched-down dentist drills being dragged up and down your face, sadistically accelerating and decelerating as if in some sort of cruel game. “Right now you’re feeling helpless” indeed; it’s relentlessly brutal. Before you sigh, don’t get me wrong: this is sheer horror of the highest order, sounding meaner than anything in recent memory without stooping to camp or self-parody. There are points when the bass becomes so loud it’s almost unbearable, and after a while the initially monotonous synth starts to form a melody, something curiously catchy even as it’s being slowly carved into your skin, its jagged and fraught edges eventually forming some crudely-drawn pentagram. As the track nears its end the sounds become increasingly desperate, sounding like demonic flames voraciously devouring the knobby ends of some water-damaged log, crackling and snapping as if struggling to stay aflame. It ends with a simple dubby drum hit, cheekily acknowledging dubstep’s roots while everyone in the room fumbles around on the floor trying to get up. “Cataract” on the flip is much more beat-oriented, repurposing the drilling synths in between varied percussion that pops up like those plastic creatures in whack-a-mole games, always there to send the track wildly careening in another direction in search of something which it will never actually reach. It’s a frankly amazing first release, and certainly-attention grabbing. I was hooked from the first minute on, and I haven’t looked back since. Sure, it might leave a few scars, but at least it’s something lasting.   [AR]



All In The Place EP

(Rush Hour | RHDC1)
Styles: Detroit, FaltyDL
Purchase on Juno

FaltyDL has been busy in the last year or so, with a near-constant stream of releases. This is his new EP on Rush Hour, and it’s quite possibly the best thing he’s put his name to. It opens in fine style with the title track, gorgeous synth grooves with more than a touch of early Detroit splendour, riding sleek bassweight and electroid synths down the interstellar freeways. It’s simultaneously one of the heaviest and most beautiful things he’s done, and it’s worth picking up this EP for this single track alone. “St Marks” cradles a vocal sample in hissing stasis, prodding at it with glitch and static as the beat swells gradually underneath it, rising tides of synth attempting to drown it out before receding. It runs on a permanent sense of tension that never quite resolves; I keep waiting for it to break free, but instead it fizzles out in sputtering layers. “Discoko” provides the release instead, with that melody line soaring over boom-bap drums and wobbling funk bass, sleepy-eyed bedroom groove that’s built from these layers of rough, rudimentary sound but is impossible not to get carried away by, especially when those huge sweeps of synth come billowing through around the two and a half minute mark. The vocal samples that are making dancefloor love at the track’s climax are the final, perfect touch. He follows it up with “Groove” which is one of those “does what it says on the tin” moments, the bassline rushing forward so fast that the clouds of melody can barely keep up with it. Every so often it breaks down to give the synths time to catch up but then that Bootsy-bred bassline comes back in and it’s off again. A fantastic EP from a guy who just keeps getting better. [SO]



“Sugar Coated Lover”

(Berkane Sol | BRK014)
Styles: UK Funky, House, Pop, “Future Garage”
Purchase on Boomkat

Geiom releases this sugary-sweet (if you couldn’t tell) slice of garage-pop on his own, already-venerable Berkane Sol label backed with a trippy refix by Brackles & Shortstuff. The original mix is a banger dressed up as R&B; it’s a pop song at its heart but Merita Metelia’s quietly soulful vocals are buoyed by a heaving, massive bassline so intense it threatens to drown them out, and chased anxiously by stuttery shuffling beats, like a conga-line at a pitch-black dance. It retains the tropical feel of much of Geiom’s work but immerses it in deep low frequencies, kind of like reading a travel brochure for some island resort while sitting in a grimy subway. Brackles & Shortstuff’s version is predictably bonkers, completely hyperactive and all over the place with no discernible focus — and it comes mightily close to overshadowing the original. Beginning with a fairly straightforward intro, turning the shuffle of the original into a more trad beat, it launches off into space with raved-out bass riffs until everything pulls out and Merita’s vocals float over the softly rumbling ether, like a quiet moment of solitude floating aimlessly in space. Then Earth re-asserts its gravitational pull, drums start piling up, and the thing somehow turns into restless psychedelic streetbass, like Starkey on meth. The sheer amount of percussion is impressive, and the song travels through so many moods and styles it feels like an EP unto itself. You’ve got a rock-solid banger on the A and a mindfuck journey on the B; it’s only got two songs and it’s already more versatile than many albums! [AR]



“Picture” / “Spectrums”

(OPIT | OPT001)
Styles: ‘Cosmic Dubstep’
Purchase on Boomkat

On the heels of her rather lovely electro-soul “Solidify” EP on Planet Mu last year, Subeena returns with a fantastic 12″ on her own new Opit label. This one finds her ramping up the tempos more, with A-side “Picture” rocketing off into the depths of space to join Floating Points’ spectacular Vacuum Boogie EP from last year in some cosmic dubstep house party, all ecstatic chordage and beat-driven propulsion. As it picks up speed, these lovely, elongated chords fly out behind it and it’s utterly intoxicating. She pulls back a little to let in the light of a few cosmic rays and then that melody soars free again before she slows it all down in an elegant, shimmering finish. It’s backed up with “Spectrums,” which travels in similar orbits, this breathless rush delivered on the back of organ-tinged chords before it all dissolves into a euphoric wash at the apogee, only to be pulled back together in time for a glorious re-entry. We talk a lot round here about next-level techno mutations and how great this evolution of the polyglot bass styles is, but something like this puts a grin on the face of even a jaded old hack like me. This has that glorious Detroit feel tricked out with the latest in go-faster bass music stripes, and it’s absolutely essential stuff. It proves that Subeena has a whole world of tricks up her sleeve and I can’t wait to hear what she pulls out next. [SO]


Computer Jay

Maintain EP

(RAMP Recordings | RAMP028)
Styles: Hip-Hop, Dubstep, Wonky, Computergrime
Purchase on Boomkat

The ever-dependable RAMP brings the confounding weirdness with Computer Jay’s “Maintain,” backed by three incredible and diverse remixes. The original track has Computer Jay’s Mac computer vocal showing an impressive amount of emotions that range from neurotic to erotic, from head-over-heels and pleading to forceful and even angry. The voice intones “Maintain” faster and faster until it sounds like its robotic head is about to explode, just like in old cartoons, and there’s a wonderful novelty of hearing the voice say things like “fucking with this other dude.” The track itself is like a subdued, stoned version of Starkey’s “OK Luv,” the ascending, blunted chords walking a wonky path that only gets fuzzier as time passes. The remixes are the kind that manage to not make you feel like you’re listening to the same track four times in a row, and all things considered, it’s a strong front-to-back listen. FaltyDL feeds the robot a little amphetamine, speeding up the track ever so slightly for what is essentially a dub mix, adding shuffling percussion and snaky sub-bass, playing around with the wordless vocals while forgoing the main verses — it manages to turn the awkwardly hilarious A-side into a veritable dancefloor track. Mike Slott contributes a quirky sub-three-minute mix, throwing away most of the structure of the original and constructing something completely different, a spinning, restless thing with all sorts of bells and whistles that manages to make quite a racket before it simply falls apart about 2 minutes in, leaving a smoky wreck of twitching, writhing components where it once stood. RAMP saves the best for last with Ikonika’s wonderful remix, a sort of wonky house job with her trademark detuned synth lines and turning the original’s stoner vibes into something approaching anthemic, fattening the pads and reinforcing the drums. It’s a delirious re-imagining that for the most part manages to out-weird the original, feeling much more alien and inhuman even with less of the computerized vocals. [AR]



“Soundboy Shift” / “Rundown”

(Young Turks | YT036)
Styles: Dubstep, Funky
Purchase link forthcoming

Mysterious masked man Sbtrkt doesn’t have a lot of material to his name (a single-sided 12″ on Brainmath, a couple of white label remixes of Goldie and Radiohead, plus a handful of other remixes for artists from These New Puritans to Fantastic Mr Fox) but in everything he’s done, I’ve always impressed me with his deftness of touch in synthesizing myriad influences. Now the floodgates are finally opening: in the next month or so we have this 12″ for Young Turks(!), an EP on Brainmath and a 12″ with Sinden. “Soundboy Shift” opens with a single guitar chord echoing amongst distant bass throb and digital detritus. The beat drops, swinging tough, letting you ride the groove for a moment before he pulls it apart in a dubbed-out echo chamber, dissolving it into a swarm of particles before it snaps back together, that groove sliding into perfect sync. He then bombards it with digital glitch, slicing it into stutter and hiccup, but the beat rolls free again, inexorable, like one of those inflatable clowns that you can’t knock down. Over on “Rundown,” things get dirtier, with this stabbing voodoo groove rolling under a boiling sea of synthesizer. A snippet of dancehall toasting comes slurring through just when it looks like things might get pretty and the beat drops harder and darker and deeper. There’s this fantastic attention to detail in all Sbtrkt’s trks, from the intricacies of the percussion to the way the instrumental elements are constantly morphing, losing you in the colour and pattern of the dance. It’s going to be a great month hearing what else this guy has to offer. [SO]



Energy Distortion LP

(7even | 7EVENCD01)
Styles: Dubstep, Techno
Purchase on Boomkat

“Taken as a whole, it feels like a perfect soundtrack for walking through the industrial district in the dead of night, where the factories clank and clatter in their mechanical slumbers, breathing out plumes of smoke into the cold air. The subterranean rumble of automatons makes the streets shake beneath your feet, the city and the world beyond it grinding and ticking in its endless cycles, the hum of an enormous machine. F has released an immaculately constructed electronic record for lovers of the form, for those who get lost in the spaces in between the beats, and it’s a wonderful album to fade into the night with.” FULL REVIEW HERE [SO]



Foundation LP

(Digital Soundboy | SBOYCD002)
Styles: Drum & Bass, Dubstep, Grime, UK Garage
Purchase on Boomkat

Breakage releases his second LP and it’s a complete stunner, finding time to explore pretty much every current genre in the UK club scene as well as some ones in between. Featuring some incredible instrumentals such as the gorgeous austere d’n’b workout of the title track or the pent-up intensity of the rave-destroying “Higher,” the vocal tracks arguably fare even better. The guest vocalists are expertly chosen and never feel out of place or tacky; Roots Manuva, David Rodigan and the Newham Generals all bring their grime sound quite convincingly, Erin sasses all over a surprisingly funky Breakage beat, and Donaeo emotes over a dramatic rock epic complete with guitar solo. There’s a collaboration with a little known South London producer called Burial, who helps Breakage with the mellowest track on the album, a hazy, tentative track with heartbreaking, far-away vocals and a distinctive garage beat that sounds like it’s been buried underground for years. You can add Foundation to the list of essential LPs this year, and its brash eagerness in terms of genre crossover means you won’t get sick of it either. [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.

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