27 February 2006


Lohan @ Noir

Friday was a busy night, and my loyalties were split three ways. What to do? Where to go? Phone calls were made, texts and e-mails were exchanged, set-times were noted and routes were planned like a military operation. I left the house just after 10.30pm and headed over to my first port-of-call - an intimate little basement club called Cosies on Portland Square, where DJ Pinch was due on the decks at 11.00. I believe this was the first time dubstep had been featured at Cosies (the night in question, Steamrolla, is generally known for drum'n'bass) and rather than his usual peerless dubplate selection, Pinch was spinning primarily a 'greatest hits' package to introduce the clientele to the sound. That meant a heavy dose of DMZ classics, like "Da Wrath V.I.P", "Mood Dub", "Neverland", etc, but of course Pinch couldn't resist slipping in a few exclusives including a dutty new Mala tune which, in an uncharacteristically informative way, he revealed is due to be released by the respected re-issue label Soul Jazz very soon (which confirms the rumours I'd heard). Along with Distance's "Fallen", Pinch also dusted-off Benga's old Big Apple classic "Walkin' Bass". Its a great tune, still, but its surprising just how 'garagey' it sounds in comparison to what's happening now. So much has changed in the past couple of years since I first got into this music, but the increments of innovation occur at an almost imperceptible rate, so you don't realise just how much the sound has changed until you listen back to the older stuff. Incidentaly, for those who haven't heard, Benga is making something of a comeback right now, taking the unprecedented step (in dubstep terms) of releasing a bunch of his tunes as a self-financed CD album. Check his Myspace page for the details. He's also making a rare public appearance at Dubloaded in March, but more on that another day.

Another interesting aspect of this particular gig was how low the volume was. Cosie's soundsystem simply wasn't prepared to deal with dubstep frequencies and it kept cutting out! A compromise was found, but it meant that the volume was really quiet - almost background music - it was easy to hold a conversation without having to yell in people's ears (which actually made a nice change). But I think it was Jaki Liebezeit of Can who once said that the best rhythms work at any volume, and I must say that dubstep still sounds rhythmically compulsive even when its just mingling with the conversation. Its fantastic ambient/background music!

It was good to link-up with the H.E.N.C.H. crew at Cosies, too. This is a little Bristol collective of like-minded dubstep producers - Headhunter, White Boi and J@kes - and they're busy hatching plans for world domination. I'm feeling their beats, and will definitely be keeping an eye on their activities, maybe even getting involved with some of their planned club events. But again, more on that another time...

No sooner had Pinch lifted the needle for the final time, I was saying my goodbyes and marching off to the Croft, where R.L.F. (aka Bass Clef) was due on stage at midnight. I got there just in time to hear the opening unearthly tones of "Welcome To Echo Chamber". Anyone who enjoyed that track on 64kbps GutterFM in January would've been thrilled to hear it blasting at full-frequency. In fact the first half of Ralph's set was all super-subby halfstep rollers of the finest quality (he's been spotted at DMZ, so I guess the experience has rubbed-off on him). As the set progressed, Ralph moved into more familiar territory (for me at least) with the Amen-driven sublow bounce of "King Of Stokes Croft" (an ode to the very street in which The Croft is situated) and the freaky sliced string-sections of "The Pembury Riddim". These are serious beats that you could rinse in any dj set, but the big difference here is the method of presentation: R.L.F. is essentially a one-man live act, triggering sounds manually and adding various fx, plus anything else he feels the urge to play. One minute he's giving it some on his trusty trombone, the next he's waving his hands in front of a Theremin (the Kaoss Pad of the 1930's) making wobbly swooping sounds, then he's banging the shit out of a cowbell or blowing a whistle, and so on.

R.L.F. 1
R.L.F. gets horny

But that's only part of R.L.F.'s unique allure. His whole demeanor is that of the genial Butlins holiday camp compere, or a novelty cabaret act - the softly-spoken light entertainer par excellance. He chats with the audience between tracks, makes self-depreciating little wise-cracks and generally doesn't take himself too seriously. The fact that some of his beats are as heavy and inventive as anything else coming from the underground is the delicious juxtaposition in the whole R.L.F. package. Its hardcore, Jim, but not as we know it. Ralph is a real breath of fresh air, and I'm happy to admit that I'm absolutely crazy about him! Expect more R.L.F. coverage from me in future...

R.L.F. 2
Vintage wobbles from R.L.F.

Next it was another brisk march down to the other end of Stokes Croft, to the Blue Mountain Club's monthly Noir party. I didn't get a chance to check out the d'n'b stuff in the mainroom, but upstairs the vibe was a little bit subdued, with just a handful of devotees scattered around the room. Pinch and Headhunter had arrived from Cosies and the familiar faces of Monkey Steak could be seen lurking in the shadows. Atki2 and Hanuman were eager to tell me about their new live set-up, with full sequencer control and MIDI link-up between laptops, which they were intending to road test the following evening at the Black Swan. This was also where I linked with my photographer Jack who, on the strength of the shots he's been taking for the blog, had been invited down by the Noir organisers to document the event. Madboy was there as well, gathering more footage for his documentary. As I wandered around chatting I started to become increasingly aware of how weird the music was getting...

Elemental on the buttons

It was a decks 'n' laptop set from Elemental, a name I've seen mentioned quite a lot but who's work I hadn't really been exposed to. Despite the fact that the Roots Radical soundsytem wasn't really on form that night, his style (an abstract, dubbed-out variation of breakstep) was certainly intriguing. I need to hear his work in more focused circumstances before I try to describe it properly, but the fact that the next Hotflush release is by him indicates that he's already gaining some serious recognition. Nice bloke, too!

Elemental 2
Elemental staring into the future

I've been diligently buying their records for well over a year now, but this was the night I finally got to meet Lohan and Prior aka headliners Search & Destroy. My favourite track of theirs is still "Wavescape", b-side of the first Storming release. I like that more cold, minimal approach best, which comes mainly from Prior, who's similarly alien "Auto" (under the Flatline alias) , was included on "Our Sound", the compilation released on their own Destructive label last year. Prior was spinning a few dubs in a similar style which sounded great and I was urging him to hurry up and release them all! Hopefully the release schedule for Destructive (and sister label Pitch Black) will pick-up a bit this year, so he tells me.

Search & Destroy
Search & Destroy: Prior and Lohan
(look closely at the poster on the left for sneak preview of next month's awesome line-up!)

gutta & Lohan
Lohan ripping it up, observed by Gutta

Lohan's more maximal tendencies showed themselves with a ferocious breakstep rinse-out, but unfortunately the soundsystem just wasn't doing it any justice. It was getting late by this point, so I said my goodbyes, promising all concerned that I would do my best to represent at the big Heatwave/Ruffnek party the following night. I finally hit the sack about 3am, but it took me ages to get to sleep - I couldn't switch off, cos my brain was still buzzing from all the sights, sounds and information I'd been absorbing. But eventually I must've drifted off....