Following a minor scuffle in my comments box (wherever Dubmugga/Pollywog lurkes, trouble invariably follows!) I figured in was time to look at the new Hotflush compilation "Space and Time". I love Burial's calcified 2 Step beats, but there's room in my life for other modes of rhythmic expression too. I admit I hadn't really been taking much notice of Hotflush's output for the past year or so, but then their new admin guy Alex sent me some promos to chew on. The label has been operating for quite a while now, much longer than most of the dubstep labels that have sprung up in the past couple of years, yet it never seems to get the kind of respect that DMZ or Tempa enjoy. Maybe because Hotflush has always championed the breakier end of the garage spectrum, aka breakstep, which a lot of people consider to be the 'lower' form of the music, yet spawned some early classics like Toasty's "The Knowledge" and "Angel" plus the first Boxcutter EP which set the standard for, erm, 'intelligent' breakstep. When I wrote my Breakstep post in April 2005, I was virtually a lone voice in the blogosphere to cover that sound, and frankly I don't see much change of attitudes since then.
But Breaks was only one aspect of the Hotflush sound. As far back as 2004, they released Distance's vastly underrated exploratory early effort "Nomad/3rd Wish" and of course label-head Paul Rose has been investigating various other avenues via his Scuba project. But what does Hotflush represent at the end of 2007? Well for me "Space And Time" is a mixed bag. Opening track "One" by Jazzsteppa starts out nicely with some authentic-sounding Rootsy atmosphere, but is quickly let down by the predictable wobbly bassline and lumpen halfstep beat. I'm not completely anti-halfstep (as I will shortly demonstrate), but this sort of plodding kick-snare pattern is becoming a real fucking drag, merely marking the passage of time like the most unimaginative sludge-rock. This is quickly followed by an even worse halfstep offender from Vaccine, featuring that awful, dominating snare on the 2's and 4's. It really is like listening to a macho industrial-rock group (despite the female vocal) - all testosterone grunt and thrust with absolutely no Fwd propulsion. To hell with it, I say.
But halfstep doesn't have to be so dull and unimaginative - there's plenty of space between the kick and snare for further percussive ingenuity (go ask Pinch) as ably demonstrated by Intex Systems, who's "DS9" is a real highlight of this compilation, with it's edgy, restless groove skittering under soft-focus chords. The dub techno producers should take note of this track too, because it shows you can be texturally deep without falling back on that basic kick/hi-hat 4/4 beat which plagues that scene at the moment. Top tune, although I'm a little wary of those languid 'blue notes' - let's not get too mellow and jazzy just yet, please.
I wasn't too keen on previous Gravious tracks, but "Subterfuge" is the best thing I've heard from him so far. Yes, the halfstep beat is a bit orthadox, but at least it sounds proper electronic and snappy with a nice rollin' conga loop in the second half, but what really sells this tune is the grimey cello riff and the bright, tumbling melodic elements that give the track an urgent impetus. Slaughter Mob make an appearence with "No Big Deal", the title of which says it all, really. Of course, the 'Mob have been reppin' for longer than anyone else on this collection, and none of us are fit to lick their boots, but they do seem to be riding the Coki-clone wobbly-halfstep current a bit too heavily here. I'd rather listen to the stuff they released on Rephlex and Soulja three years ago. Scuba contributes two solid tunes, of which "Inmost" is the one that moves me the most, mainly on account of that gorgeous evolving analogue-style pad sweep offsetting the bell-like digital tones - another deeply personal track from Paul there, I reckon.
Elemental is possibly one of the strongest exponents of breakstep right now, and his "Raw Material" cements his reputation further. It's a busy tune full of frantic randomised arpeggios and metallic chord stabs, but keeps the shit dirty and funky the way proper breakbeat should be. Boxcutter contributes two typically cerebral variations on the breakstep theme, with "Infraviolet" being a particularly intense textural extravaganza, and also remixes Elemental's "Sparkle" into a cavernous tunnel of dub-matter. If you like these then make sure to get hold of "Glyphic", his superb second album for Planet Mu. Toasty's aforementioned breakstep classic "The Knowledge" gets another makeover courtesy of Vex'd, who apply their trademark caustic sound palette to deadly effect. The original "I seek knowledge" sample gets heavily timestretched, and the effect is a bit similar to the woozy vocal sampledelia of Boards Of Canada circa "Geogaddi", but with added murderous intent. Si Begg undertakes a remix of Toasty's "Angel" that's surprisingly respectful to the original and shows that an old techno dog can still learn a few new tricks from this dubstep lark.
So maybe some of it isn't to my taste, but all told I think Hotflush have come up with a pretty adventurous collection that reflects the various aspects of dubstep as it stands. Recommended to anyone looking for a good scene primer that doesn't focus on the 'big names' (you know who I'm talking about) in a genre that still doesn't have enough useful compilation albums.