I reckon at least 50% of the punters were wearing ear-plugs. Such is the reputation of Subloaded, powered by the Dissident soundsystem. I didn't bother with the plugs, cos I'm fuckin' hard. Not that it mattered, as #3 wasn't quite in the same league as the previous one in terms of sonic density. You see, the Black Swan has had the environmental people on it's back and has been forced to take measures to reduce the volume, which means putting in limiters and so forth. In fact, I understand there were some people from the council there on the night monitoring the decibels. Which means that, sound-wise, it was heavy, but not fucking heavy, if you know what I mean. And maybe it was the bad weather, but the turn-out was noticeably lower than at #2 as well. True, there were enough punters to keep the main room looking respectably busy, but then if you looked out into room 2 and the bar area, it was practically deserted. Factor in that the previous week's Toxic Dancehall at the same venue was apparently too busy, and you realise that maybe it's still too early to say that dubstep has taken Bristol by storm. It feels that perhaps #3 was a step back, rather than forward, but this is entertainment on the frontier of sonic innovation, and breaking this sound to a new audience is gonna take time, resulting in hard-won increments of success tempered by occasional set-backs and disappointments.
But for those who did show up...oh, what a night.
Having spent a little time in the bar having a couple of beers, chatting with a few local headz and saying hello to Skream, Vex'd and N-Type as they wandered in, I made my way into the main room where Thinking was already well into his set, kicking out some quality darkness with an emphasis on breakstep, although there was one really nasty tekstep tune that stuck out for me and I had to enquire who it was by. Turns out it was a cd-r dub from Cogent, a guy I've corresponded with a little, but who I haven't really heard much music from. On the strength of that beat, I reckon he's one to watch out for. Next up was N-Type, undoubtedly one of my favourite Rinse FM djs, due to his quality selection of tunes that always runs across the board from grime, dubstep and breaks, along with his charismatic personality and amusing chatter and it was great to see the man in action at last. Big tunes, as always.
Shortly before DMZ took to the stage, I made a quick exit to get some refreshments at the bar, only to be confronted by the slightly surreal sight of Jamie and Rollie (aka Vex'd - Planet Mu recording artists, fresh from an American tour and possibly the most high-profile act on the bill) playing strictly roots and dub reggae in the second room to an audience of, er, practically nobody. They seemed to be having a great time though - just a couple of mates playing a few old favourites and having a laugh together. As I stood there for a few moments, observing Vex'd at play, a voice came in my left ear saying "Hi, are you Nick?". I turned around to see none other than Mike Paradinas standing next to me. As you can imagine it was a bit of a shock, as I had no idea he was coming down to the event. Of course it was great to finally have a face-to-face chat with a man I've admired for many years, but actually it left me feeling a little dispirited. I'd assumed that Planet Mu, with it's long-standing reputation for innovative music, hectic release schedule and roster of established artists was still doing well, but according to Mike the truth is very different. I don't want to go into all the details, but the fact is that the label is barely keeping its head above water financially, and don't forget Mike doesn't even take a wage from it. Another strange point he made was that people keep telling him he releases too much 'old fashioned' music, despite that fact that he's been signing some fantastic new talent recently. It seems like a ridiculous idea, yet as I looked around the empty room - just me, Mike and Vex'd - I felt a cold shadow of doubt creep over me....could this really be the end of an era?
Thankfully my spirits were quickly lifted when I returned to the main room where Loefah and Mala, with Sgt. Pokes on the mic, were just warming-up for another devastating DMZ set. Awesome vibes as always and some seriously heavyweight dubs in evidence. Yet another spiritually uplifting set that included Mala's VIP mix of "Request Line" which sounded really fresh. Then there was that tune with the two-note staccato keyboard riff that reminded me of the intro to Abba's "Mama Mia"! Loefah's showcase revealed his sound is getting even more extreme, dropping ultra-minimal paranoid riddims awash with analogue-style distorted delay lines rippling into infinity like some distopian King Tubby cyborg. Pure dread vibes. I could've really used a break after that, but there was no time! Next up was a solo set from Skream that simply couldn't be missed. Like a one man Kraftwerk, his set started with a robot voice saying "Subloaded...are you ready?" before launching into a selection of immaculately conceived electro-tek-grime tunes full of sparkling melodies and phat bass wobblers. A few things I recognised from his recent mix, including that one with the Amen break (can't remember the title at the moment, but I'm sure someone will remind me!) yet also the surprise inclusion of DJ Distance's "1 On 1" delivering some uncustomary mid-range attack into the mix. Champion sounds from start to finish.
After nearly three hours solid of the DMZ/Skream experience I was just about knackered, emotionally and physically. It was 3am and a large proportion of the crowd had drifted off home by that point too, but I managed to hang-on for another half hour or so to watch the bulk of Black Ops' set, which was fantastic. Although I generally write about dubstep, whenever I'm in a situation listening to hardcore grimey sublow sounds like this I just feel like it's the best music ever. But these all-nighters are a bit much for my weary old bones and so I decided to drift off into the night. I think the final hour was the turn of our hosts, so sorry I missed them. Pinch seemed a bit edgy - possibly due to the fact that he was facing a big financial loss on this event - and poor old Blazey was very subdued, due to the fact that he's still not feeling very well. Mate, you really need to take an extended break. Hope their set went okay, but by that point Gutta was tucking himself up in bed.
Big-up all the crew who made it down - Pete, Kymatik, Appleblim (sporting a wicked Skull Disco T-shirt - I want one, mate!), Ali and Toxic crew representing, Jack and the guy from Bath who's name I've forgotten, plus the other Room 2 players Tom Peverlist and Dub Boy. See you all at the next one...