Well it had to happen eventually. I managed to drag myself away from the laptop for the evening and head down to the Croft, where DJ Pinch's latest Context evening was playing host to two heavyweights of the Dubstep scene. For one night only, a little bit of Bristol was to be touched by the DMZ magic and I was determined to be there to experience the sound in it's natural state. But first up let's meet the stars...
Loefah has already built up a strong profile, being a part of the DMZ collective as well as releasing tracks on Tempa, Big Apple and of course Rephlex. This is the man responsible for such crucial joints as "Twis Up" and "Horror Show" although perhaps the best introduction to Loefah's world is his solo four-track EP on Big Apple (see left) which illustrates his style perfectly - a tense, brooding collection of blurry atmospherics and lithe, skunked-out riddims. "Jazz Lick" is the big tune, although it's "Jungle Infiltrator" that really does it for me, beginning with an with eerie, cloying melody and gradually coalescing into a slow-burning dubscape with some tasty 'bleep' notes near the end that transport me back to the glory days of Unique Three's "The Theme".
In person Loefah cuts an imposing figure and looks like a bit of a thug, but when Pinch introduced me to him, I was impressed by his thoughtful demeanor and quiet confidence. Somewhat to my amazement, he seemed to know who I was! I wasn't sure if he was gonna give me a tongue-lashing for sharing some of his tunes here, but actually he seemed to think that what I was doing was perfectly okay. I asked him if DMZ had any plans to sell their music as downloads for the overseas market, but he stated quite categorically that there were no plans in that area. He seemed completely uninterested in the potential for global sales. London, Bristol and Manchester were the limits of his aspirations. The fact that "Grime 2" was available worldwide was enough for him, and why not? - he's got time on his side and can afford to take his time building a solid reputation. After chatting for several minutes, I was suddenly struck by the reality of the situation: "Fuck! I'm talking to the guy who made "Horror Show"!" Feeling slightly giddy and starstruck, I mumbled some excuses and wandered off, but not before he insisted I e-mail him so he could keep me posted on future developments.
Skream is a name I haven't mentioned here before, but to those who know the score he's been a pivotal figure in the development of this sound. In that respect he must be one of the most under-released artists out there. To my knowledge the only tracks that have been available to the public have been a couple of split releases with Benga for Big Apple Records, although he has an EP coming out about now on new imprint Ital, which is getting some people very excited. I haven't heard that one yet, but tracks like "Electro" and "The Bug" reveal a distinctive, clean, synthetic sound that certainly appeals to these ears. I think this is the kid that Martin (Blackdown blog and compiler of "Run The Road") was asking me for some advice on recently. He was looking for suggestions for electronica labels who he could approach to get Skream signed. I hope they have some luck with that, because with the right people behind him I can see Skream becoming the Jimmy Edgar of dubstep! I can sense a similar precocious talent at work here and although Skream is soundtracking his environment in Croydon rather than Detroit, there's definitely parallels with Edgar's burnished, almost Kraftwerkian sound.
Watching the two on stage I was struck by their very different personalities, which reflected in their respective 'playing styles'. Loefah stood almost inanimate, presiding over the decks like an impassive statue, taking back great lungfuls of skunk whilst producing a seemingly endless supply of acetates from his crate (Pinch tells me he only ever plays off vinyl), mixing them seamlessly in a rocksteady flow. By contrast Skream was all nervous energy, doing mad rewinds at every opportunity, bouncing around and occasionally knocking the needle off the record by accident. He made more mistakes, but then suddenly he'd get focused and start doing some superb fast, choppy cuts between beats. Erratic, undisciplined with occasional flashes of brilliance. Apparently he isn't particularly known for DJing, being more renowned as a producer, so was probably just up for enjoying himself and experimenting with the medium, which was a lot of fun to watch. Compared to Loefah's stocky, shaven-headed image, Skream has a slim, boyish physique, softened by a tidy mop of dark hair. He reminds me of what I used to look like at that age! But they played well against each other, obviously enjoying each other's company.
Skream kicked things off with an 'old skool' set (so I'm told), although I didn't really recognise much of what he played, but it was more upbeat breaky stuff. But then Loefah took over and dropped the first anthem of the night, Digital Mystiks' "Lost City", and it was like entering another world completely. We were then treated to most of the DMZ 'standards', which was amazing for me, as I was able to hear the full frequency range for the first time. I deliberately placed myself near the righthand speaker stack for maximum exposure. Even on the Croft's relatively small rig I was astonished by the level of sub-bass pressure, which vibrated through the floor, up my legs and spinal column, into my throat and rattled my teeth - an incredibly powerful, physical experience. God knows how heavy it must've been at the big DMZ night in Brixton last weekend...probably more than an old git like me could've handled!
Having played-out the hits, our heroes then embarked on a dubplate odyssey into the unknown which got progressively more minimal and austere until, for what must've been at least half an hour, it reached a zen-like plain of pure subsonic meditation, accompanied only by sparse, metallic beats and brief, fluttering wisps of abstract texture, at which point I may have started levitating for a few seconds, but I can't be sure. Occasionally Skream would play a few things from cd-r; intriguing hints of what lies ahead from him, with sharp arpeggiated synth clusters revealing his more crystalline, electro-flavoured direction.
It was an invigorating experience, though I don't think there were more than thirty people in the room. Pinch told me he was going to lose money (again), but was pleased that the small crowd who had turned up were a friendly, appreciative bunch. The audience was almost all twenty-something well-mannered white males, with maybe five or six ladies who appeared to be having a thoroughly good time. Incidently, I had the pleasure of meeting in person some of the other figures in the small West Country dubstep scene: DJ ThinKing, Laurie Appleblim and his Skull Disco partner Shackleton. I had difficulty equating Laurie's friendly, upbeat personality with that slice of dark-matter "Mystical Warrior" that he sent me recently. Still, never judge a book by it's cover!
Now's as good a time as any to point out that the latest DMZ release is now in the stores, featuring VIP mixes of Loefah's "Twis Up" and Mala's "Da Wrath" (which appears in it's original form on the Digital Mystiks EP that came out on Big Apple some time ago). The DMZ boys have definitely gone one better with this release - it's beautifully mastered and, for the first time, features a proper printed label. It looks, feels and sounds the fucking business. You need it. All tunes featured in this post are currently in stock at Rooted Records, who really should get themselves sorted with a proper website. In the meantime, Tom and co. will be happy to service all your dubstep needs via e-mail .