Earth-shattering, to put it mildly. I arrived just before 11.00pm, with the end of ThinKing and October's set rumbling in the background as I made my way to the bar, where I immediately struck-up a conversation with Laurie Appleblim. I'm afraid I missed Cyrus' set too as I ended up being far too busy 'networking' in the bar. The sense of occasion was heightened by the fact that various non-performing artists were present, such as Kode 9 and Skream, and it seemed as though the entire cream of the South London massive had descended on this little venue in Bristol which was, for one night only, the dubstep capitol of the universe. Even Infinite (the first lady of dubstep reportage) made it down. My ego was given a damn good massage as everyone seemed to know who I was and were down with the Gutterblog thang, including Digital Mystik Mala who was very complimentary. Kode 9 bought me a pint and wouldn't let me buy him one back. Suffice to say I felt very welcome and very pleased that no one was taking offense about my occasional sharing of their work. On the subject of downloads, Mala was less militant than his DMZ partner Loefah, and conceded that legal downloads might be a possibility in the future. Also of particular interest to overseas readers will be the news that Plasticman is working on getting his Terrorhythm label online at Bleep.
Having said that, I must admit that I'm coming to the conclusion that MP3s will never really do this music justice. In fact, when you're talking about the DMZ material, even listening to the vinyl on domestic hi-fi equipment will only give you an approximation of their sound. Until you've actually seen DMZ in action in a club situation, through a powerful system, you're only ever going to experience 50% of what they're about. At least DMZ003 is a heavier pressing with one track per side, because you need that space in the grooves to maximise the potential of capturing their essence (and it's now available at Warpmart, incidently). I think Rephlex fucked-up with Grime 2 because (a) they didn't pick the strongest tracks and (b) they crammed three tracks per side for the Loefah and Mystikz material and it just sounds too damn quiet. DMZ is truly soundsystem music, and the Black Swan's impressive spec. was capable of doing that music the justice it deserved. As Loefah and Mala (with Sgt. Pokes on the mic) prepared to hit the decks at midnight for a mammoth two-hour dubsession, we all shuffled into the main area with a real sense that something special was about to occur. We were not disappointed. I can't imagine even the most hardcore bass-junkie being unimpressed by this. In fact, the sound was so heavy that there were some initial problems with the needles jumping due to the vibrations! They had to put jumpers under the turntables to try and absorb some of it. I think the heaviest tune was actually a Kode 9 dub called "The Blues", which featured some of the deepest bass I've ever experienced. As Sgt. Pokes gleefully observed; "Feel it in your neck cartilage!". Abso-fucking-lutely. I felt like I was being strangled by it at one point. A couple of times I felt like a bit of a pussy for putting my fingers in my ears, but then I noticed that Appleblim was doing the same thing, so I didn't feel so bad. But of course it wasn't all about bass weight and we were treated to some really beautiful, spiritual music that must've won a few more hearts that night. And yes, it was a decent turn-out from the Bristol crowd. I think Pinch might've even made a small profit this time!
Two hours of DMZ would make for a great night on it's own but the evening was still young and so at 2.00am it was Plasticman's turn on the decks. Now, as anyone who's been reading this blog for the past six months will know, I love this guy, so you can imagine how pant-pissingly excited I was at the prospect of his set - my first experience of the man in the flesh. And any rumours you might've heard are true: Plasticman is tiny. Not like a Person of Restricted Growth tiny - he's slim and well-proportioned - but sort of scaled-down like a thirteen-year-old. Being a strapping six-footer myself, I had to stoop right down when talking to him beforehand. It was hard to marry this diminutive character with the gigantic sound that emanates from within him. It's as though, through his music, Plasticman is overcoming his physical form by turning himself into Empire State Human. And in case Plastic ever reads this, I should explain that's a reference to an old electropop song by a Sheffield group called The Human League - you see, as Plastic admitted to me, all he really knows is UK Garage and Grime. I had to explain to him who Blissblogger was - "yes, he lives in New York now but he's actually English and used to write for a music paper called Melody Maker etc etc" - which is one of the things I find so endearing about Plastic. He is unburdened by the weight of history or influence, which allows him to be free to make music that circumnavigates all the usual reference points and which sounds fresh as fuck to these jaded old 'scholar of electronica' ears. Even when some of his beats sound similar to the kind of thing that Cabaret Voltaire were cooking-up in the mid-eighties, it's simply a happy coincidence. He just happens to feel sound the same way Kirk & Mallinder did 20 years ago.
Working with the turntables and a couple of CD players, Plasticman treated us to a blinding set that totally lived up to all those MP3 mixes of his that I've been collecting. Apart from a fresh outbreak of needle-jumping when he dropped "Cha", it was an hour of pure grimey heaven. Plastic's sound is as invigorating at the top-end of the frequency range as the bottom, which is probably why most of his tunes still sound powerful even through a PC monitor. Those crisp, in-yer-face snare hits and ultra-resonant squarewaves just blow my head off everytime. Interestingly, early on in the set Plastic went on a really slow, grinding vibe (although when I say 'slow' most of these tunes would probably clock 140 bpm - damn, that half-step is a muthafucka!) keeping it stealthy and ominous, but then suddenly his hands would work the faders in a blur of motion and the beats would go nuclear and kick the shit out of your senses for a minute before easing back into a steady flow of grimy pressure once more. He was fucking with our heads and we loved it. Towards the end he broke into a 4/4 groove - the nearest thing to 'traditional' dance music all night - which made such cathartic sense, like a release of energy after all the incredible tension-building. I was spell-bound; rooted to the spot for the entire hour. Awesome. Inspirational. I worship at the man's alter. And then, later on, I was listening to him going into graphic detail about his recent bout of appendicitis when his mum had to rush him to hospital (he showed me the scar!) and observing him and his mate Smiler giggling like schoolboys as they told me about the well-hung transvestite they spotted on the bus down to Bristol. A very weird experience.
But still there was more to come, as Vex'd took the stage faced with the unenviable task of following Plasticman. But don't worry, they excelled in the task. Roly kicked-off proceedings by taking the vibe right out into the unknown, with a track which was like a broken beat-dubstep hybrid, all hemorrhaging riddim convulsions and sledgehammer bass attack that sounded like the next level of everything. I think this one will be on the debut album "Degenerate" , scheduled to drop in June on Planet Mu. Make no mistake - that record is gonna be unmissable. Vex'd are my next Great White Hope for electronica and this album is gonna change the fucking landscape of our little world. I haven't actually heard it yet, but I feel it in my bones and the shit they were dishing out on Friday was just mindfuck after mindfuck. "Degenerate" will probably be the album of the year. Of course, when putting that idea to Jamie earlier on in the evening he was extremely modest of his group's achievements. But trust me, mate - you guys are white-hot. I hear trace-elements of early Aphex Twin circa the R&S EPs (back when he really was making Melodies from Mars), the abrasive-yet-spiritual intensity of Pan Sonic in full-flight, the sheer monolithic grind of Suicide at their most incisive, all wrapped-up in production levels of the highest order. This scene is still developing, yet Vex'd are already post-dubstep. They were also responsible for the other moment of supreme bassweight that night when they dropped new single "Gunman". I swear, that bassline was fucking malevolent. I was actually fearing for my physical safety as the bass frequencies tore through my nearly exhausted body - I could feel the pressure squeezing my scalp. Then I thought; "christ, are any of these people actually qualified to administer this level of bass?! How will they know if they've gone too far?! " The threat of permanent damage seemed immanent. So what did Vex'd do? Rewind the tune and play it again from the start. Bastards! Listen to the clips of "Gunman" and the flip "Smart Bomb" and then mentally pile-on the decibels to get some idea of what I was dealing with.
By the time Vex'd finished it was 4.00am and I was completely fucked and practically traumatised. I just about managed to catch the first ten minutes of our hosts Pinch and Blazey playing out the final hour, but my ears were pulp and my brain was mashed, so decided it was time to say my goodbyes and head for my bed, which was thankfully just a short trip up the Fishponds Road. Special mention for the man like Blazey, mind. He MC'd for two hours straight over Plasticman and Vex'd before doing his own set with Pinch and, like me, had the prospect of 'little ones' waking him up early next morning. A Herculean effort for the cause. I've even forgiven him for not sorting out a tracklist for that mix I've been hosting!
It's now late on Sunday evening, and I'm pleased to report that my ears and all other senses and major organs are back to some sort of normal functionality. I survived the evening without any major long-term side-effects, other than having my belief in this music even more firmly established. Here's to Subloaded III...