It was a wet, miserable Thursday night in Bristol, and competition amongst the city's clubs was fierce. Early signs suggested that the Ruffnek Discotek, committed to pushing new sounds from the underground vanguard, might suffer a low turnout if the punters took the easier options, or simply stayed at home. I arrived at the venue shortly before 10pm, slightly damp and weighed down by a hefty bag of twelves. Timbuk2 is a cool little space - a shady, labyrinthian old wine cellar with a low arched brick ceiling. For many years it was a funky little restaurant with disco, called The Spaghetti Tree. My dad used to throw Xmas parties for his employees there back in the '80s. I'd often tag along to those parties as a young teenager, and so I guess some of my earliest experiences of adult nightlife occurred there, observing all the grown-ups getting pissed and making arses of themselves whilst I sat in a corner sipping a coke. The dining tables, chairs and cutlery may have disappeared, and the decor might be a little different, but essentially it looks the same as it did back then, and my vague memories of an earlier generation's revelry often superimpose themselves against the activities of the venue's new clientele, many of whom were probably still in nappies, or maybe not even born, when I first started going there. Mrs. Gutta used to hang-out at the Spaghetti Tree with her mates from work back in the '90s, but she steadfastly refuses to join me for a night out at Ruffnek. All this combines to make me feel a bit out of place, like I should be involved with activities more befitting of a man my age and 'status'. But the music keeps me young (mentally, if not physically) and so do the people I've been getting to know this past year. I do feel slightly concerned by certain aspects - I gave up smoking weed years ago, but I've noticed a gradual slide back into it, just from accepting offers of a hit on the various spliffs being discreetly passed around. I've gotta keep that situation firmly under control!!
Gutta winging it.
I think I just about acquitted myself during my hour 'pon the decks. The tunes were, of course, hot, but the guy spinning them was luke-warm at best. I reckon barely 50% of the beatmixing went to plan, further hindered by the fact that I hadn't really planned the set properly. A couple of times I gave up completely and had to draw the tracks from the edge. There was barely a handful of punters in the room at that point, so it didn't really matter too much. Surprisingly, the feedback from those that were there early enough to catch The Gutta was generally positive, especially in terms of the tunes I played. Despite harbouring ideas of spinning a few exclusive beats, on the night I was far too cowardly to attempt to use the club's intimidatingly complicated-looking Pioneer CD decks, so just stuck to what I know - the vinyl - playing a selection of quality instrumental grime tracks from Black Ops, Slew Dem, Imp Batch, Eastwood & Oddz, Agent X, Plastician, various Southside classics from the likes of F1, DJ Q, Mr Keaz and Mark One, a bit of Grim and Warlock (Rag'n'Bone) and some Philly Grime from the Slit Jockey crew's debut 7". I thought most of it was all really obvious, well known stuff, but several people were asking me about the tunes, wanting to know who they were by, etc, which was surprising. The thing is, although I tend to focus on dubstep at the blog, I follow the grime scene in tandem, cos I get different stimulation from both and I think they compliment each other well. I could be way off on this, but it seems to suggest that, in Bristol as least (which has never had much of a UK Garage scene in the 'white' sector) many people are coming to dubstep via drum 'n' bass, without really being exposed to much grime/sublow.
Gutta under the watchful eye of Kymatik
Take Kymatik (left) for example - a confirmed long-standing d'n'b head, involved with the Inperspective organisation, with a massive record collection (apparently it takes up an entire wall in the house he shares with Pete Bubonic), but now totally hooked on the dubstep sound (forum members might know him as Neil@INP), as confirmed when he opened his set with a track from "Skreamism Vol.1". He's even hinted that Inperspective might actually be releasing dubstep records soon. Although no doubt having to hold back tears of mirth at seeing my half-arsed djing skills, Kymatik appeared to be enjoying the grimey numbers I was playing, many of which he didn't seem to recognise. The first track I played was the "Mission Riddim" by D-Dark, one of those beautifully melodic, orchestral things that came out last year. I haven't heard it played out anywhere, or noticed anyone mentioning it, but it caught my ear and I really like it, still. Kymatik was feeling it too. This experience has shown me a potential niche market for myself - a non-threatening, slightly flabby white guy playing grime instrumentals at these almost exclusively white dubstep parties (where the crowd usually want to focus on the beats, rather than lyrical flows), providing a bit of yang to dubstep's ying. Afterall, Blazey can't be reppin' at every gig, can he? This idea was further fueled when organiser Krys said he really enjoyed my grime set and reckoned I should play on a later time-slot in future! Cripes!!
Unfortunately I missed nearly all of Kymatik's set cos I was off doing my 'networking' thing. Actually I spent most of the next hour nattering with 'new hairy' Psychbloke and his mate (who's a dead ringer for Richard H. Kirk) in the bar. By the time I returned to the main room, DJ $hy (left) was already well into his set and the crowd and vibe had swelled significantly. $hy is part of the After Dark Productions team and you can hear him playing every Tuesday evening on Sub FM. At Ruffnek he was spinning a heavy breakstep selection, focusing on artists like Search & Destroy, Toasty, Distance, Slaughter Mob, etc, and the energy levels were high. Mind you, some of these tunes seem to have only the most tenuous links to what some people might define as dubstep. Take the latest release from Storming Productions, for example. Darqwan's "Bigger Times" is a great track, really heavy and well produced, but to me it sounds like a straight Metalheadz tribute. It could almost pass for a Dillinja cut circa '95. Some people wanna give Ed DMX grief cos he doesn't list his influences on the records? That seems a bit suspect to me, but by the same criteria Darquan (aka Oris Jay) should be listing his too! Whatever, $hy smacked it hard and I'm looking forward re-living it with my copy the cd-r mixtape he was handing out. I'll let you know if he puts it online.
Man like Skuba
Next up was the evening's headliner Skuba, aka Hotflush supremo Paul Rose. Funnily enough, $hy's set was how I imagine Paul's might have been a year ago, cos Hotflush did a lot to push that dubby-breaks sound. But now he seems to be moving ever closer to the more spacious, half-steppy sound of 'pure' dubstep. Along with his own productions, there were several Digi Mystikz tracks in evidence (including Coki's timeless "Officer" - I swear, people are gonna be playing that tune out in ten years time). Btw, have you checked the latest Hotflush 'remix' EP? Loefah's completely re-structured version of S&D's "Candy Floss" almost totally dispenses with the original, and the end result sounds like a breathtakingly heavy DMZ release, rather than a Hotflush one. Clearly, Paul is starting to align himself with the DMZ axis, but he still found room for some utterly spellbinding Boxcutter tunes - "Brood" and "Bad You Do" (from the forthcoming album). I realised that I'd never actually heard any of Barry's tracks loud through a PA before and they sounded absolutely fucking mindblowing. Yes, he uses breaks and quite a few tried-and-tested production tricks, but the end result is just so unique and unearthly. Its too early and potentially damaging to start with the 'genius' hype, but Barry does seem to be a bit of a 'lightning conductor' right now. But then, as if to prove beyond doubt that we're on the same wavelength, Paul mixed The Plastician's "Cha" into "Bad You Do" and I was on cloud nine. I sometimes find it hard to reconcile my ongoing love of complex electronica with hard, minimal grime energy, but right then Paul brought them together in perfect harmony, the circle was squared and my eyes were rolling back in my head with the sheer fucking orgasmic pleasure of it all.
Gutta worshipping at Skuba's alter
Paul played quite a few exclusives (his whole set was spun off cd-rs) including one with a really clean, distinct electro vibe (in the sense of busy '80s-style Kraftwerky "Tour De France" electronic percussion blips). When I asked him about it afterwards (in the gent's toilets, no less!), Paul said it was an old Skream tune that nobody else had picked-up on. It harks back to the more elektro-fried stuff he was releasing on Big Apple a couple of years ago; an interesting avenue that seems to have been (temporarily?) abandoned.
Ruffnek crowd in full effect
Beforehand, I wasn't sure what to expect from Skuba, but I must say it was an inspirational set. Forward the Hotflush empire!! Special mention also for Urban Collective's Roguestar for providing solid MC hosting throughout. Dunno much about him, although I've heard him guesting on Q-Gritty's Rinse FM show in the past. I was too knackered to hang around for Obscene's jungle set, but I'm sure it was cracking. Big-up everyone who braved the elements to make it down - it was a decent turn-out in the end. I noticed that Mike 'Madboy' and his chum were busy filming for their forthcoming dubstep documentary. Apparently they want to interview me for it, too! Blimey, I'm honoured. Nice to see Wedge and Headhunter in attendance too (more on them another time) plus Atki2 reppin' as always, and thanks to Tim and Krys for putting on another great event and to Jack once again for doing the biz with the camera. Ruffff!!