"New Step" sees a welcome return by Benga, who hasn't had a release since his last split-12" with Skream on the Big Apple imprint back in 2004. As a young UK Garage dj, Benga had been seduced by the new dubstep sounds centered around the Big Apple record shop. "Hatcha used to work at Big Apple and I liked the more darker side", remembers Benga. "Producers like Wookie an El B got me producing dubstep. Then Skream met my brother Flash, and Flash gave Skream my number, and it went from there..." Making beats exclusively for Hatcha, Benga and Skream were soon making parallel progress, developing the sound into its next phase of evolution, pushing each other forward ("We used to play tunes down the phone to each other") with input/suggestions from Hatcha, resulting in a small but crucial series of EPs appearing in 2003-04 that helped shape the sound into what it is today. But then Skream's reputation grew at an astonishing rate throughout 2005, and it seemed like his friend was being left behind - virtually unknown to most in the rapidly expanding army of dubstep converts, simply because he had no new releases. Missing in action?
"To be honest I haven't been missing", he says, "I just wasn't making 1000 songs a week anymore. I've been trying to understand music a lot more, learning about chords, progressions, keys...". All that hard work and personal research has certainly paid-off. Just skip to track 2, "World War7", and be astonished by Benga's accomplishments. Featuring limpid pools of icey melody and breathtaking string arrangements, its a mini-symphony, one of the most profoundly emotional compositions to come from the dubstep scene so far. It's the sort of tune I know I'll be returning to in ten, even twenty years time, with tears of pure joy streaming down my cheeks. Elsewhere, "6306" uses wonderful synthetic woodwind parts over a superb 808 riddim, with similarly beautiful results. Anyone who still says dubstep isn't as melodically inventive as grime needs to hear a track like this and shut their fucking mouths. "Hotstepping" combines super-phat synth-bass funk with jazz-inflected Rhodes keys and lashings of sitar. It seems like Benga's absorbing influences from lots of different sources. Is he a closet jazz fan, I wonder? "I like all types of music" he says, "if the production is good and it's understandable, then I like it."
"The Visitor" seems like a memory of his earlier Big Apple cuts, a vestige of dubstep's earlier phase. "The Visitor is about 3 years old", confirms Benga. "When I was making tracks like that I wasn't releasing a lot, so it's there for the people who missed them or couldn't get hold of them."
There's such a spacious, life-affirming vibe throughout this collection, a real lightness of touch that probably reaches a pinnacle of excellence on "Killerstep", which might just be one of the most perfect dubstep tunes so far, awash with swirls of 'analogue' texture and an irresistible groove that pretty much defines 'great music' for me. I reckon there must be a few people reading this who own cherished records by artists like Derrick May, Gerald Simpson and Carl Craig or, going slightly further back, Herbie Hancock and P-Funk, and Benga is part of that great lineage of late 20th Century afro-futurists. He may have emerged from the South London UK Garage scene, but his work connects with these historically important black electronic innovators on a basic emotional level. You need to get this album in your life right now, otherwise you'll be kicking yourselves a few years down the line, when you're desperately searching for a copy on e-bay.
But don't take my word for it. Benga has given me permission to share an exclusive mix (which will eventually be commercially released on the Mixing Records tapepack) for a limited period. Many of the tracks from "New Step" are included, plus a few more besides. If this doesn't convince you of Benga's worth, then you must have a cold slab of granite where your heart should be. Download. Listen. Believe....
If you wanna know the tracklist, you'll have to wait for the official release...
Thanks to N-Type for helping to make this possible, and big-up Deapoh at Bare Files for the hosting!
Buy "New Step"