To be honest, I'd been hoping that some enterprising MP3 blogger might have started cornering the market for dubstep downloads, but it hasn't happened. Sure, there's plenty of links to DJ mixes, but I want the full versions too! So I've taken it upon myself to start buying the music from the source, making my own amateur digital copies and spreading them around the 'Net. I feel good about this because (a) I'm now giving some much-needed financial support to the artists and labels involved and (b) I'm spreading the message to anyone who'll listen in the hope that more people will switch-on to the Fwd/Croydon/Dubstep sound (or whatever else they decide to call it) and enable it to continue to develop and flourish. There's plenty of other bloggers bringing you news and opinions on the East London 'proper' Grime scene (and hopefully Silverdollarcircle will make good on his promise to transform into an MP3 blog soon) so I've decided to concentrate on the Dubstep side of things from now on, and specifically the tracks and the people producing them rather than the events/gossip, which I feel is more in keeping with the pro-IDM/electronica slant that this blog takes. Speaking of which....
Interesting to note that Blissblogger, despite having become a full-time 'rap-fan' and his feeling that "IDM is so washed up and beyond-marginal at this point it hardly seems worth giving a kicking!", is actually still keen on the old 'intelligent' vanguard:
"personally i'm actually kind of longing for a revival of first-wave IDM-izm before it was even called "IDM", ie the early Aphex and Global Communication etc stuff. When in fact it was at its most bleached, in terms of sonic negritude. The big shift there, back in 92/93, was away from rhythm/texture/noise to melody/texture/harmony...."
Well, I'll certainly second that longing. My recent B12/FUSE post was just the beginning of what will hopefully be an ongoing series looking at some of the most interesting relics of that era.
In a separate e-mail to me, (which I hope he won't mind me partially reproducing) Simon expands further:"the general sense i've gotten (about IDM) is of a running out of ideas, the turning of the ideas they do have into a fairly conservative post-autechre/drill'n'bass/boards of canada tradition, and where it's not based in that, then it's leeching off more vibrant and often 'street' scenes (as with the Shockout/Shitmat type thing, which is great fun but as i say not exactly breaking new ground). i wonder how long before there's an IDM twist on grime, it's already so avant and fucked up sounding i'm not sure what they could add."
Personally, I think that some of the stuff coming out under the dubstep/fwd banner is doing that already. Listen to an act like Vex'd and you can tell there's an added depth of sophistication in the production - sure, tracks like "Lion" or "Pop Pop" feature tuff streetwise beats, but it's the added textural dimension that really sets them apart and makes me think that this is an early sign of IDM reinventing/revitalizing itself by absorbing some of Grime's more urgent energy. I could be completely wrong on this, as I have no idea what influences drive Vex'd or what their background is, it's just my own personal feeling.
This is the flip of their first release and it's fantastic. That hard, accurate rhythm reminds me of nothing less than the early Aphex Twin EPs/remixes - note the almost total lack of tricky fills/glitches; this is a return to hypnotic/repetitive beats without falling back on any of the cliches of techno/electro/house. Then there's that powerful lo-end pressure that recalls the fetishistic sub-sonics of Bleep'n'Bass. With just a little more added melodic/harmonic interest this could easily win-over those yearning for a return to electronica that bypasses the pulverised post-drill'n'bass rhythmic abstraction that has dominated for maybe a little too long. Listen to clips of all four tracks released so far at the Subtext site. Buy the "Canyon/Pop Pop" EP from Blackmarket here, whilst the scarcer "Lion/Ghost" EP is back in stock at Dubplate. It looks like "Lion" will be included on the forthcoming album on Planet Mu, the artistic success of which will be crucial to how things develop. If they can come up with a satisfying long-player that appeals to both the underground and the 'intelligent/home listening' market then it could set-off a chain-reaction that'll spread like wildfire through the IDM scene. If you think of 2004 as being the equivalent of 1991, then this year will be a transitional period before we move towards the more album-orientated era that commenced in 1993. One problem though: back in '91, LFO's first single went Top 20. There's nobody in the dubstep scene who's even close to that level of success yet. Without a sizable audience to give it momentum, dubstep's future is still uncertain. It may never break-out of the underground nor have the financial support to expand into the album market, which would be a real shame when there's artists out there who I'm sure could make great albums if given the opportunity.
Take Plasticman, for instance. Some of my recent thoughts, and a few MP3s, can be found here at The Idiot's Guide. He's produced some the hardest tunes so far, though the "Value Beats EP" is a bit less intense than some of the others like "Cha" or "Venom". 'A' side "Be There Or Be Square" is a typically minimal, functional workout which, as I said previously, seems to be more like an 'Eskibeat' track with the distinctive percussion sounds, and of course those irresistible squarewave riffs. However, flipside "Aqua Riddim" is as close to actual dubstep as Plasticman gets. A haunted, downtempo groove with occasional spurts of echo - then notice that simple yet effective two-note melody that comes in at 2m10s, adding an additional element of interest that, if developed further, could easily fit into my future IDM fantasy. In both mood and title, this track could almost be Drexciya, if they'd come out of the UKG scene rather than Detroit Techno.
On a purely cosmetic level, I like the cheeky appropriation of Tesco's 'Value Range' into the record label design. For the benifit of overseas readers, Tesco is a supermarket chain here in the UK, who's own-brand budget range uses this particular blue and white stripe design. I wonder if Terrorhythm asked for permission?! Shame they didn't extend the 'value' concept to the actual price of the 12 inch - £1.49 would've been nice! Buy the EP here.
The one artist to emerge who has actually had the luxury of releasing his own album is Mark One. "One Way" was one of the biggest long-player thrills for me last year, and although it was Rephlex which was the first of the big electronic labels to release Dubstep artists (with the "Grime" compilations), credit must go to Planet Mu for having the vision and courage to sign-up Mark and now Vex'd. Returning to the point I made in the Plasticman post concerning my feeling that the music coming from the South of England was currently more interesting than that from the North, it should be noted that Mark One is actually from Sheffield, a fact that I find particularly satisfying, as this confirms my belief that the Steel City is still a potential hotbed of talent. Although originally a drum and bass producer, I recognise a much more extended lineage in his work - the cold, unforgiving aura that "One Way" emanates like radioactive asphalt is nothing less than the true heir to the original raw eruption of sound that first spewed from Sheffield's industrial wastelands thirty-odd years ago. With the added verbal menace of 'Gunchester' MC crew Virus Syndicate, this is the real voice of Northern electronica today. If you don't believe me, check K-Punk's reaction to the album in his end of year round-up (it actually took a gentle nudge from me to get Mark K-P to listen to the album, but he reacted to it in just the way I thought he would) :
"It needed someone outside the capital to synthesize the East and South London Grime sounds. The Billingsgate verbal frenzy of the East and the depopulated post-nuclear Croydon ring road of the South have been met in Manchester, on a Dance music LP that, gratifyingly, is compulsive over its full length, The album actually outstrips the potential displayed on the MarkOne tracks from Rephlexs brilliant Grime comp. It leers and lurches with a controlled synthetic menace, as much a continuation of the curtailed anti-tradition of North English electronica as it is a phase in the devolution of Garage."
This view is also held and expanded on by Kek-W in this excellent post that puts into words all the vague notions about Grime's relationship to the original Sheffield pioneers and urban paranoia that had been fermenting in my own mind. Interestingly, this appears to have captured Blissblogger's imagination!
If that wasn't enough, Mark One has produced a new full-vocal album with Virus Syndicate, which will be released on Planet Mu by the summer. I'm extremely priveliged to have been sent an advance cd-r of the album (well, most of it anyway - there's still a couple more tracks to add) and it's fucking amazing. Obviously, it's nothing to do with IDM - this is a dark, twisted, possibly a little bit evil Northern twist on the 'Bashment' Grime sound. It's gonna freak people out! Mike Paradinas has understandably asked me not to share any of this material yet and, as the release date is still some months away, I'm gonna wait for a while before I say any more about it. It's quite an odd position for me to be in though...having access to something that'll be sending shockwaves through the scene some time ahead is almost like being able to see into the future. For now, let's look at one of Mark's instrumental releases, the excellent "Get Busy" EP.
The title track is obviously the crowd-puller, betraying Mark's d'n'b roots with a strong 'breaks' vibe in the riddim, but it's the b-side tunes that once again have the strongest appeal for me. "Space Hopper" features a merciless 808-handclap/cowbell onslaught and full-bodied resonant ravey riffs that proves to be a "Forward Riddim" for electronica headz. Compared to the "One Way" material, this sounds like Mark letting his hair down and having some fun which, when the results are as intoxicating as this, is just fine with me.
The other b-side tune, "Can't Touch Dis", opens with the sort of intro you used to get on old Sweet Exorcist 'clonk' tracks, before bounding into a straight techno four-four beat with bulbous bass warbles and bleepy noises (is this what they mean by a 'straight-snare' track?). Again, this feels like a 1991 tune and I reckon there's a lot of potential for Mark to develop a purely instrumental project that could work as IDM, or 'spirit of '93' intelligent, if you prefer. Buy this EP here.
Of course, all this talk of Dubstep transforming the face of IDM could all be nonsense, but as Blissblogger wrote recently:"IDM doesn't describe a genre, it describes a type of person, partially determined by class, really.... someone who prizes individuality rather than the crowd". I am, ultimately, exactly the type of person that Simon describes...so if I like Dubstep there's no reason why all the other IDM nerds out there won't get into it too! And if IDM isn't actually a specific type of sound, more a way of looking at things, then it can sound like anything it wants to.