01 February 2007


So...another eye-opening thread at Dissensus. It's been a while since I last tuned into Rinse FM, but the thought of pumping minimal techno on the Capitol's leading underground pirate station is bound to increase speculation. Whatever the motives or circumstances, it feels weird, because London's never really been techno-friendly, has it? Massive generalisation, I know, but still you could say that this thing we call the 'Nuum, which coalesced into being from House, Hip Hop and Reggae culture, was never as much in thrall of the coldness, the austerity, the economy of expression that pure techno invites, as, say, Sheffield or Berlin. Indeed, when I think of minimal now, I automatically look to the Germans for inspiration - if I was a professional journalist, no doubt I'd be taking expense-paid trips to Berlin this year, hanging out at the clubs and record stores, trying to divine some meaning from it all. In the UK, it feels like 'proper' Techno's been dead for a decade. As my comrade Ali Wade said recently in conversation, "...at the end of the nineties it all just got stuck in a loop. it's not surprising so many people (dare I say younger than myself) diss techno." Others have made mention to me of that 'generation gap', too. The idea that anyone under the age of thirty thinks techno is irredeemably naff is a sobering concept...and it's a wall of prejudice I'd love to help destroy - time and energy permitting. One thing that needs to be reclaimed for starters is the name 'Techno'. In the past few years I've heard some incredibly cheesy, unimaginative music described as Techno, and it pisses me off. But then, maybe the nature of techno has changed and I'm just an old fart. And anyway, I don't listen to music just because of the way it's labeled. I listen out for a certain approach, and a certain feeling...and theoretically it can come from anywhere.

But back to the main thrust - the dubstep-minimal crossover. Or lack of. My friend Tom 'Peverelist' Ford was scratching his head recently, trying to answer questions sent by an inquisitive journalist on this matter. Of course, it's all Tom's own fault for producing such a zeitgeisty tune that he finds himself having to go on record with his opinions. Personally, I think the magazine in question is jumping on this idea a little too early...I think it's a subject that should remain in the more fluid, nebulous world of blogs and forums for a little while yet. Heh.

If there is a crossover, then where is it likely to occur? Will techno absorb more dubstep, or vice-versa? In Berlin, the minimal scene centers around the Hard Wax record store - so much so that much of the music that has flowered from the Basic Channel root is often referred to as coming from the 'Hard Wax stable'. If Minimal Techno has a spiritual heart, it's probably that shop. Check the Hard Wax online store and you'll see they've got a pretty healthy dubstep section. So obviously the people who run it, and the people who buy from the store, are aware of dubstep, absorbing the sounds and incorporating them into their mixes (and if anything gets the crossover ball really rolling, it'll be the djs, not just the producers, who'll be leading the way in terms of priming audiences for change). The only actual piece of music I've heard to emerge from the Hard Wax stable that I would say clearly displays a dubstep influence is Substance's Remix No.1 of Monolake's "Alaska", which has a strong halfstep vibe, combined with heavy, almost claustrophobic textures that put me very much in mind of Vex'd. In fact, it's so dubsteppy that it's not really techno anymore! I guess it's an experiment on Substance's part, which might lead to more intriguing cross-pollination shortly. It's one of those one-off things that pricks-up my ears (like the track "Blocked" on Andy Stott's long-player, which could almost be a Headhunter tune). But I don't think we're gonna see "Minimal Dubz - The Croydon-Berlin Alliance Vol. 1" just yet, eh?

So far, so ambiguous...

But what of dubstep producers incorporating techno elements? Well, it's been happening for ages anyway. Look at Mala. And what about Mark One? I know he's got that techno gene inside him (the guy was raised in Sheffield, fer chrissakes!) and he's already recorded the odd banging tune, like "Can't Touch Dis", which others might describe as 4x4 grime, but to my ears reveals a different legacy. In fact, I said as much when I reviewed it two years ago, for an early dubstep think-piece. Then there's some of those lovely tunes Search & Destroy used to make, like "Wavescape" and "Sphere", which, although still classed as dark garage, revealed a sublime synthetic sheen of minimalist intent at their hearts. Or what about "Round Sound" from Artwork's first and only Big Apple EP? Rhythmically, it's not techno - but it comes back to what I said before about feeling and emotion. It has that 'star quality' that I'm always looking for. There's a lot of threads from the 2003-04 period of dubstep's development that need to be re-examined. I'm not the only one who feels this. My man Autonomic feels it too...maybe not in exactly the same way, but I think Paul would agree with me in principle. Even some of those late-comer halfstep evangelists (hahaha!) like Paul Meme can't hide a sense of restlessness when reviewing singles earlier this week. We all know dubstep desperately needs a kick up the arse right now, and we've all got our own theories on how that's to be achieved. Some people maybe think it needs more vocals and should be aiming to get to the Next Level. That might well be true, but if so I probably won't be listening. I'm into undiluted music. I'd rather keep it instrumental, at a more basic emotional level. I don't wanna see more traditional musical forms being bolted onto it. Of course I'm being really idealistic here, and I know you can have great vocal tracks - how about Goldie's "Angel"? -a crowning achievement of the mid-90s d'n'b scene. So maybe with the right voice, the right lyric and the right tune, there might be someone out there who can make a vocal dubstep tune that'll reduce me to tears. I hope it happens. But aesthetically I'm just following this really fucking lean, cold vibe right now.