29 April 2006


I think Woebot's comment about my mix being an "array of exclusives and dubplates" needs some clarification. In the traditional sense, a dubplate is a one-off acetate disc, created at a specialist cutting studio. I wouldn't want anyone thinking I'd taken that step yet! In this day and age, where audio is easily copied and burned by digital means, going to the expense of cutting an acetate must be seen as an aesthetic decision on the part of the dj who endorses such an approach. Either they prefer the sound of a properly mastered dub, or they prefer the 'feel' of it, or perhaps they're drawn to a spiritual connection with a tradition spanning many decades .

From a purely sound-based perspective, I still generally prefer the sound of vinyl, but not that much more. If I was regularly playing out at clubs, and needed to consider what was suitable for soundsystem requirements, I reckon I'd definitely go down the acetate route too. But as I'm primarily recording mixes for MP3 download, where the results will probably be listened to on standard home audio equipment, PC speakers or iPod ear buds, it really doesn't matter. Regarding the 'feel' of the dubplate, its true that vinyl is nice to mix with, although some records respond to touch differently from others, creating subtle variations that one must adjust to. CD-Rs, on the other hand, always respond in exactly the same way. And now that I've started to get used to the feel of my Numark CD-J, I find its a perfectly satisfactory tool for mixing with. I'm now getting some really accurate results with it. In fact, I'm gonna buy another one, cos I like it so much!

So you can consider me officially 'pro-CD-R' from now on. And whilst there will be those who scoff at such a notion, I consider my cd-rs as dubplates of the modern age. They do exactly the same job, just much cheaper and easier to create!

But where are all my cd-r dubs coming from? I don't receive any exclusive material from the 'big' players in the dubstep scene. I don't ask and they don't offer. But I do get sent a significant amount of material from lesser known, usually unsigned, producers. I'm not sure quite when all this started, I guess it must've been over a year ago that the first demos started trickling into my inbox or arriving on my doormat. I consider these to be very important and I actually prefer the idea of discovering new talent rather than reinforcing the work of the established 'name producers', who are well catered for elsewhere. I discovered Boxcutter in this way, and who knows what else might come my way? The weird thing is that I now find that at least 50% of my listening time is dedicated to unreleased music. I like to share what I'm hearing, which is the reason for investing in the cd-r decks. Its all about pushing the new talent, now. As a mark of my respect for all the producers out there who feed me their tunes, here's a few examples of the sort of things I receive...

Wedge Dubz

A 6-track cd-r from DJ Wedge, of Dark FM infamy. Wedge is now a fully paid-up member of the H.E.N.C.H. crew, the West Country's very own collective of FWD-thinking producers, and I have high hopes for them all.

Bass Clef Dubz

The second selection received from Mr. Bass Clef. 8 tracks, revealing an even more sparse, dubwise sound, including a new version of "Welcome To Echo Chamber". Interesting fact: Bass Clef composes and records all his music using hardware gear! He also sent me a wonderful reggae mix that he recorded live at home. I enjoyed it so much I arranged for it to be placed online at Smokering. Check it out!

Forensics Dubs

Jesus, I've lost count of the amount of cd-rs that Forensics (aka Krys from Ruffnek Discotek) has sent me. A lot of his stuff is like a learning process, and I think he sends out more than he needs to. But its getting better. The above 4-track selection is called the "Deadstep" EP, an almost perfect description of Krys' vibeless, ungroovy constructions. But when he brings in a little hook, like the low string melody on "Warm Storm", the vibe is instantly elevated. You need things like that to keep people listening, otherwise its just a joyless procession of computerised beats plodding away without purpose. I'm persevering with Krys, cos I reckon he's gonna turn an important corner very soon. You can check loads of Krys' beats here, and read his new blog here.

White Boi Dubz

More H.E.N.C.H. exclusives, this time from the White Boi, which he handed to me at Noir last month. Some big tunes on this one. I'm gathering as many H.E.N.C.H. dubs as I can right now. I've got a few from Headhunter and J@kes as well, plus the promise of some tunes from new member Komonazmuk. These guys are like a dream come true for me - a genuinely impressive collective of Bristol-based dubstep producers who just seem to be oozing with quality beats. Big-up Wedge for bringing all this to my attention via his radio show.

Secret Agent Gel Dubz

Top marks for presentation go to Secret Agent Gel, who's been busy developing his own delicious brand of dubstep innovation from his remote outpost in Pennsylvania, USA. The latest batch arrived just this week and once again the results are highly impressive. Stardom beckons...

Upstart Dubz

A lot of material comes to me over the internet, either single tracks as e-mail attachments, or links to secret URLs where the tracks are hosted, or zipped folders sent via Yousendit. If I think the tunes are usable, I burn my own digital dubplate, as in the latest example above which comes from a new producer called Upstart. Look out for him on future GutterFMs!

Hotflush Dubz

Very occasionally I might receive something like this - an advance cd-r of forthcoming music from a record label, in this case Hotflush Recordings. This arrived back last month and contains two Skuba EPs and one from luke.envoy, which I've been putting to good use. Obviously, in an ideal world I'd prefer test-pressings, but I appreciate that would be a much more expensive option for them, and I'm just grateful that Paul Rose considered it worth his while to send me this cd-r.

Thanks to all producers and labels who send me stuff. Its always appreciated!

18 April 2006


OneiricSo the debut album from Barry Lynn aka Boxcutter has finally hit the streets this week. Its a bit of a weird feeling to see all those tracks, some of which I've had on MP3 dub for over a year, collected onto a Planet Mu CD. Boxcutter has become one of the most heavily featured artists on Gutterbreakz FM, having appeared on half of the twelve transmissions to date. Consequently, "Oneiric" has, for me, the feel of a great compilation of all the brilliant tracks I've been privileged to hear. They're all present: the incendiary "Brood", the majestic "Rikta", the meditive calm of "Gave Dub", along with more recent constructions like "Skuff'd", Barry's most overtly dancefloor-orientated tune, and the plaintive weird-stepper "Hyloz", where dreamy "Selected Ambient Works" melodies sway across a riddim of strange snare placements, not too dissimilar from Loefah & Skream's "Fearless".

I feel really lucky to be in a position of trust with Barry - it's like befriending Aphex Twin 12 months before he got famous! And I don't make that comparison lightly, as I'm convinced that Mr. Lynn is gonna be one of the leading figures in the world of electronica for some time to come, if there's any justice. Now he's signed to one of the most respected labels in the world, he's performed a Breezeblock session and played live in London and I'm feeling strange sensations I haven't experienced before. Writing about an album by someone who I feel like I know quite well is a new experience. I correspond with Barry regularly, I met him and his lovely girlfriend on a trip to Belfast last year, yet suddenly he's out there in the public domain with a big record, the sort of person I would only know through interviews in the music press in the old days. Admittedly, that sort of music press doesn't function like it used to, which is why I had to interview Barry - cos the only way I could read an interview with him was if I did it myself! This leads to the other odd sensation - the idea that I might've actually had a hand in kickstarting Barry's recording career. It would've happened anyway, and I certainly wasn't the first to champion his music (Jay Da Flex for one was playing "Brood" on Radio 1 before I got on the case) but...as far as I'm aware I was the first person to write about him anywhere, and I wrote it without any outside influence, it was all based on my personal reaction, the first time I had to rely on my own taste without any journalist, blogger or other hipsters telling me it was 'okay' to like this music. The fact that so many people seem to be into it now is great for Barry, but it makes me feel good too, cos it means my sense of taste must be reasonably good!

Barry is an incredible, imaginative musician, producer and composer. If he wanted to, I'm sure he could be a success in rock, pop, soundtrack, modern jazz or whatever; he has that sort of talent. But he chooses to chase the zeitgeist of underground dance culture, which isn't a particularly safe career move these days, but its a decision on his part which I for one am very grateful for. In the same way that Squarepusher took jungle into explosive new directions in the mid-90's, Barry has the musical chops, aspiration and, one would assume, a high level of self-confidence bordering on arrogance (though I've never detected any in my correspondence with him) necessary to morph the myriad elements of garage, sublow and dubstep into startlingly new complex shapes far beyond the capabilities or desires of many of the underground originators. I like my brutal, gutter-productions as much as the next man, but still have that weak spot for highly detailed, exquisitely arranged production, which Barry delivers every time.

I think its safe to assume that, for the first half of this year at least, the two big albums to come out under the dubstep banner are this one and Burial's eponymous debut on Hyperdub. Both will probably be hailed as masterpieces, but from different quarters. Whilst Burial's vision is a grainy, haunted, post-'90s reverie, Boxcutter's ultra-modernist standpoint looks only to the future; its outlook is completely utopian, even when shadowed by moments of great poignancy. I recently read the term 'apocalypse music' in reference to this album, but for me nothing could be further from the truth. Its more like Genesis and the Creation, as a billion fragment of sound particles coalesce into beautiful, crystalline structures. It has its reference points, sometimes from unexpected quarters like the trickling guitar chimes at the start of the sublime "Mossy", which put me in mind of mid-80's Cocteau Twins, or the joyous interplay of the truly phenomenal "Sunshine V.I.P." (which completely fucks over the original version - no mean feat!) that loses itself in the ecstatic delirium that Barry finds in the work of freeform jazz-voyagers like Pharoah Sanders. It's that sort of surging, emotional charge that binds these tracks together so effectively. No matter how technically clever the production gets, there's always that magical warmth of human expression, conveyed by subtle splashes of melodic texture, that evoke feelings of elation and sorrow, or vicious waves of dubbed-out distorted delay creating dark tension, yet at the same time you're stunned by the astonishing 3D beat-wizardry, where every bar is saturated with information, yet still managing to sound spacious with a strong rhythmic undercurrent. Truly, music for the mind, body and soul, and surely one of the strongest debut albums we've seen in many years.

The other good news is that Boxcutter will be playing live at Noir in Bristol next month, so it looks like I'll finally get to see him performing his stage act (after it all went pear-shaped in Belfast last year). Lets hope the laptop behaves itself this time!

CD available at Warpmart

10 April 2006


Kode 9 and Pinch

It was a funny ol' night at Dubloaded this month. Blackdown failed to show, apparently due to illness (am I destined never to meet my London counterpart?!), and there was obviously some frantic rescheduling to be sorted. Chef was reportedly on his way to Bristol to fill-in for Martin, but he wouldn't be arriving till late, so the set times were reorganised. No worries for Peverlist's warm-up hour, though. I arrived a little later than planned, and missed the first 20 minutes of Tom's set (when he played all his own productions - damn!) . Although this was his first publicly-performed dubstep set, the Peverlist had already assembled his own little selection of exclusive tunes, all cut on dubplate (so regular Rooted customers now know what Tom's been squandering his profits on!) focusing on artists outside of the usual pool of dubstep resource. Actually, it sounds like Tom has been acquiring beats from the same sources as me - I heard Bass Clef's "Clapton Deep", Monkey Steak's "Lighthouse Dub" and luke.envoy's "Honour Kill" in the mix. My suspicion that Dubloaded's soundsystem still isn't quite configured correctly was confirmed when the awesome snare on luke's track was reduced to a feeble 'pish'. That system can kick-out a respectable level of subs, but it definitely doesn't do proper justice to the top-end. But am I the only one concerned about the upper frequencies? Peverlist interspersed his set with some grimey niceness from Slew Dem, Danny Weed, and Footsie's "Dirty Skankin" (a personal favourite), with the sure-handed mixing skills associated with his renowned junglist sets. Big-up the Peverlist!

Mr Neat: The Peverlist gets accurate

Originally scheduled to play at the end of the evening, Pinch and Blazey had to bring their back2back grime-dubstep battle forward to 11pm. Although outwardly cool and collected, Pinch must've been a bit rattled by the turn of events, as I saw him do something I've never seem him do before: trainwreck a beatmix! (he later muttered something about the right deck being 'possessed'). It really wasn't his night - shortly after that he tripped over a wire and killed the sound for about two minutes, then one of his dubs got stuck in a lock groove. He didn't even get to play for very long, as he had to dash off to collect Kode 9, leaving Blazey to fight on alone. Not that I'm complaining, as we were treated to a wicked grime selection from producers like Wiley, Jammer, Slew Dem (again) and of course the Black Ops. Kode 9 was delivered to the venue in time for his appointed midnight kick-off, which I was particularly excited about as I've never seen him live before. As expected, his set had a subtly different flavour from the norm, with some vicious dubbed-out tune early on emanating waves of harsh distorted echo that enveloped the crowd in a barrage of white-noise oblivion. I guess there were a few of his own tracks in there, and maybe some Burial, but most of it was pretty new to me. It would've been nice if the SpaceApe had been present on the mic, but at least he did make a brief appearance in disembodied form via the grooves of a dubplate, with his customary dread philosophy sending shudders of portent through the room. There was a bit of grime, some forthcoming 'Skreamisms' and the devastating string-section swirl of Calenda's "Forever" in there too. Serious stuff!

Pinch and Kode 9
Pinch making a few minor adjustments, as Kode 9 reaches for the weaponry

Incidentally, I've never mentioned the visual aspect of Dubloaded before, but it worth noting the care that goes into the imagery that is projected against the back wall of the stage area every month. I was particularly impressed this time by the paranoid barrage of surveillance cameras, riot police and scenes of civil unrest interspersed with more abstract, even mundane images, that seems to connect with the pioneering work of Sheffield group Cabaret Voltaire, who, inspired by the literary work of William Burroughs, applied his 'cut-up' theories to the visual arts, splicing news footage, pornography and religion with more banal/kitch imagery. They became one of the first independent groups to create their own stage projections and promo films using video editing technology that was only just becoming affordable/accessible at that time in the late '70s. Of course, these days its all done on laptops, but the end result seems uncannily similar to the questioning/destabilizing spirit of the post-punk era. You'll rarely see the Cabs namechecked as important figures in the development of avant-garde film, yet I was struck by the feeling that they must've had some influence, as there were so many things at Dubloaded that reminded me of their visionary approach, even if it wasn't quite as extreme. It's good to see that Dubloaded is matching form and content, taking care to apply intelligent, stimulating visuals to accompany this most cutting-edge form of modern electronic music. Fuck the dry-ice and flashy disco lights!!

Kode 9 and Pinch

One o'clock arrived, and still no sign of Chef! Kode 9 gamely played on beyond his allotted hour for another ten minutes or so, when suddenly - Chef was in the building! I know some Dubloaded regulars still say his headline set last year was the best we've ever had, so obviously there was plenty of excitement about his unexpected return, and sure enough he proceeded to hype the room with his energetic style from the second he stepped-up on the 'one's and two's'. Unfortunately, I had a schedule of my own to follow, and so with regret had to leave the party slightly early, missing the last half-hour....

Chef cooking up a storm

Myself, Appleblim, Wedge and a few friends quickly made our way across town to the Black Swan in Easton, where the Therapy Sessions were in full swing. I briefly wandered into the main room, but was swiftly repelled by the dreadful racket blaring within, and so made my way upstairs, where our local 'wonderboy' Headhunter was preparing to hit the decks at 2am. All Dubloaders were offered half-price admission for this, but I didn't see many others making the trek across. Atki2 showed up, but no sign of Kode 9, even though the he'd seemed keen on the idea. They missed a wicked set, which, funnily enough, had the purest half-step vibe of the entire evening. With only one CD deck at his disposal, Headhunter's set was split 50/50 between H.E.N.C.H. crew originals and a fine selection of 12 inchers from the past year. So we got to hear Wedge's "Fever", White Boi's murderously brutal "Cha Remix" (Blazey arrived just in time to exclaim "who the fuck did that?!") and Headhunter's own blissful "Sleepwalker" and "7th Curse", plus luke.envoy's "Gamma" and, once again, "Honour Kill" (sounding much nicer on this system) suggesting that he and Headhunter have a mutual admiration for each other. But we were also treated to Coki's timeless "Officer", Distance's "Fallen" and "Taipan", Loefah's "Root" and "Goat Stare", Skream's "Traitor" (still such a devestating track), plus some early Tectonic cuts - Pinch and P.Dutty's "War Dub" and Moving Ninja's "Shellcode"....ah, I like an exclusive mix as much as the next man, but it's always great to hear all the established classics on a beefy system too. There was a small but enthusiastic crowd in that little upstairs room, with some tidy hosting from Scorpio, the H.E.N.C.H. crew's microphone queen.

Headhunter and Scorpio
H.E.N.C.H. vibes: Scorpio and Headunter

Of course, we were all really curious to hear what Tech Itch had to offer. Apparently he'd already played a pretty heavy d'n'b set downstairs, but this was to be his first ever dubstep selection; the public unveiling of his new direction. Not mentioning any names, but there's a few dubsteppers who seem a bit cynical about all this. Myself, having no real knowledge of Tech Itch's previous work, nor any claim to be part of the scene's original core, am completely ambivalent towards the 'politics' of the situation. I judge the man by the quality of his work, not his C/V. Besides, one of the aspects that continue to intrigue me is the way that dubstep is infiltrating/mutating other established scenes. Tech Itch has some sort of reputation. Some people seem to love him, others aren't so keen. The room certainly filled-up as he took to the decks (presumably all the hardcore Tech Itch fans?) and there was a palpable sense of expectation in the air. So what was he like? Fucking heavy, actually. Maybe a little less warmth at the bottom end, perhaps a smidgen of extra mid-range violence (possible 'white rage' undertones?), a tiny bit more complexity with some of the drum fills and edits, but still very much dubstep, though more from the industrial strength variety pioneered by Vex'd. One tune in particular featured an awesome distorted riff that could've been Distance in a really bad mood. Naturally he played "Implant", the only tune that I've managed to obtain a copy of so far, which will be released shortly on his new label Ascension (backed with Headhunter's "7th Curse"), which seems like a perfect track to commence his dubstep direction with, as it features some sampled dialogue that says "they did something to my mind, they implanted something into my brain", which I take to be an acknowledgment of the way that dubstep has twisted his creativity in such an intriguing way. The most striking thing about this track though, is the 303 acid lockdown that kicks-in halfway though. Jesus christ! Why didn't anyone think of doing that before?! Or maybe they had but I didn't know about it. I've always liked my acid at a slower pace (still much prefer the old 120bpm Chicago stuff to its european acid trance bastard offspring) and dubstep gives the space to really let that 303 groove grind into your skull. Yeah, I love it!

Tech Itch
The dark side: Tech Itch (right) and Headhunter

I'd hoped to get a nice shot of Tech Itch's first dubstep set (it could prove historically significant?) but Jack was away so it was just me and my mobile phone, which couldn't cope with the near-total darkness in that room. But I actually quite like the spectral image above - the dark Lord of the Sith and his young apprentice (housemate, actually) emerging from the mist to conquer the dubstep scene! Haha! Okay, I'm being silly now, but I heard enough last night to know that you need to keep an eye on what these guys are doing. I certainly will be....

PS. Got to bed at 4.30am. Urrrgghhhh....

05 April 2006


New StepThe premise is simple enough: a young electronic recording artist collects fifteen of his best tracks onto a CD, gets a few hundred copies pressed with a nice little sleeve design and sells them to other young electronic music enthusiasts via internet forums and a few sympathetic retail outlets. Nothing unusual about that, surely? Well, in the vinyl/dubplate/dj-centric world of dubstep, its a highly unusual move. But with "New Step", that is exactly what Benga has done. "Chris Blacklay (Kiss 100 Producer) made me see that not everybody in the scene is a dj, so not everybody would have decks", he explains, "big up all the ravers - the cd is for you as well".

"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"

02 April 2006


Gutter HQ

The Blue Mountain Club has been around for a long time. I have good memories of some wicked nights there, particularly seeing my old heroes Renegade Soundwave about ten years ago, but last Friday was the first time its main room had played host to a dubstep event. The Noir team had certainly pulled out all the stops to bring together a quality line-up of artists, all affiliated to Tectonic Records, the label set-up by DJ Pinch last year, which continues grow in stature. Then there was the other vital ingredient for a successful dubstep event: the soundsystem, powered by Dissident, providing the necessary levels of wattage required for maximum sub-bass destruction. In terms of sheer weight, this was the heaviest dose of subsonic force I'd experienced since Subloaded II. I could hear the rumble of "Bombardment Of Saturn" permeating through the thick walls of the building as I walked towards the venue. Inside, the bass just vibrated through your whole body and, depending on where you were stood and the frequencies used, it could focus it's power on certain parts of the anatomy, such as the throat, the chest, or even the tip of the nose! Our hosts Kidkut and ThinKing were taking care of the first hour, and DJ Wedge arrived just in time to hear one of his own creations blasting through that awesome system. There's nothing like the expression on the face of a new producer when he hears one of his tunes through such a monstrous P.A. for the first time. Clearly, Mr. Wedge is getting his mixdowns just right.

Dub Prophet: Cyrus taking it from the edge

OmenNext I had my first opportunity to check Omen (left) in action, during his excellent back-to-back set with Random Trio-associate Cyrus. Omen is at the forefront of a new wave of Manchester producers, and from what little I've heard there's some serious talent up there, building on the steel and concrete foundations of M.R.K. 1's "One Way", repopulating the Northern wastelands with a fresh wave of dread creativity. The little army of Croydanites who had travelled over for the event, including Benga, Chef and Walsh, were loving every minute of it. Among the many highlights were the mighty "Rebellion" from Omen's first release on Tectonic (which is out now, kids) plus a couple of versions of the equally impressive "Rise", which should be out on N-Type's Terrain imprint sometime this month.

I'd been curious to see how many punters would turn up for this event - the first time that Noir has been focused on dubstep rather than d'n'b (which was relegated to the smaller room upstairs) - and at that point it was looking respectable although hardly rammed. But when the main attraction, Loefah b2b Skream, hit the decks, it seemed that a sudden influx of ravers nearly doubled the headcount in a matter of minutes. The first time I experienced dubstep in its full sonic glory was at one of the final Subtext nights a year ago, when Loefah and Skream entertained us for the entire evening. There were only about 30 people in that little room at the Croft back then, but seeing the massed entourage at Noir, which must've been close to the 200 mark, clearly illustrated the growth in support for this sound, and interest in these two artist, over the past year. Hardly DMZ proportions, but we're getting there!

Skream & LoefahThere's such a wicked contrast between Loefah and Skream (left), possibly even more pronounced than when Loe goes head to head with Mala. Some of Skream's latest tunes have a really 'up' vibe. At the start he was rolling out some sort of bouncy/happy stuff with unashamed lashings of saccharine melody propelled by energetic grooves with four 'skanks' to the bar (rather than two) creating something that's more like Skastep than dubstep, but with futuristic cyberpop arrangements, proving that he's still striking out, one step ahead of the game, searching for fresh approaches. Of course, all those 'Skreamism' tracks went down well too, along with the "0800 Dub", but then Loefah would step back up to the decks and the vibe would alter dramatically. Melody seems almost an irrelevance in Loefah's work - unnecessary clutter in an otherwise austere arrangement of beats, bass and fx, with the focus on perfect sonic balance. Every bass note, every kick drum, every snare, is given ample space in the mix for maximum attack. But it's only when you hear it on a rig of this specification, played from Loefah's beloved Transition acetates, that you experience the full force of his vision. And its still a shocking, physically overpowering force that literally pummels you into awestruck submission. Surprisingly, Loefah played lots of released material - almost a 'greatest hits' - and amazingly, it was a track that must be 18 months old by now that took the crown for maximum devastating impact: "Horrorshow". Yep, that tune still destroys everything in its path. When the bass kicked-in my legs nearly crumpled under the weight. I looked over to see Headhunter, still a relative newcomer to this scene, with his jaw on the floor in utter astonishment, as the terrifying frequencies rippled through his system. It should've been a painful experience, but somehow it always feels amazingly good. It's only afterwards that you feel the utter exhaustion, as though you've been physically harmed by the sound.

Skream, Chef, Loefah
Bass Bliss: Skream, Chef and Loefah feeling the aftershocks

After all the bliss and the horror of Loefah and Skream, it's hardly surprising that the venue started to clear out pretty quickly afterwards. You could see the walking wounded staggering out almost straight away. Like all the other Dubstep allnighters I've attended or read about, 3am is pretty much the limit in terms of audience levels, and by the time Pinch had cue'd his third dubplate, he was practically playing to an empty room. I hung-on for another half-hour or so, but was a bit of a wreck by that point, and Pinch's unremitting flow of uncompromising hardline dubs, which would've sounded great with fresh ears, just felt kind of spiteful, like he was rubbing salt into my wounds. I simply couldn't take any more. I felt battered and abused. As I limped towards the exit, I noticed there was just one guy still dancing, all on his own in the middle of the floor. Either he'd turned up late or he was on steroids. Crazy bastard.

Dub Sadist: Pinch picks off the remaining survivors

Big up all the crew who reached and lived to tell the tale: Pete Bubonic, Kymatik, Headhunter, Whiteboi, Scorpio, Wedge, Rich B, Madboy, Peverlist, Ed, Jack (and his camera) and anyone else I forgot. See you all at Subloaded IV for another dose of punishment...

01 April 2006



Nikki St. George - Attack Of The Alien Minds (Trunk)
Pinch - Qawwali V.I.P. (Planet Mu)
DJ Wedge - Fever (dub)
Shackleton - Hypno Angel (forthcoming on Skull Disco)
luke.envoy - Honour Kill (Hotflush)
Vex'd - Bombardment Of Saturn (Planet Mu)
Grim Feast - Monopoly (dub)
Boxcutter - Bad You Do [Halfstep] (Planet Mu)
Digital Mystikz - Anti-War Dub (DMZ)
Richard H. Kirk - BN2 (Dust Science)
Uniform - He's Above His Station (Planet Mu)
Kyler - Brewster Baked A Sour Apple Memory (Planet Mu)
Breakage - The 9th Hand (Planet Mu)
Equinox - Do You Understand Me? (Planet Mu)
Bizzy B - Flava (Planet Mu)
Exile - Openable Dog (Planet Mu)
The Gasman - Flatus (Planet Mu)
Drop The Lime - Mathhead Megamix (Reduced Phat)
Dolphin - Soul Cannibal (Planet Mu)

It was one year ago to the day that DJ Pinch revealed "Qawwali" to the world, via a short mix he recorded for me to promote Subloaded II. A couple of month's later, Pinch handed me a cd-r with several of his tracks on, including "Qawwali", which seemed to me to signify that a level of trust had been established, following our earlier disagreements about the ethics of MP3 blogging. Then, last month at Dubloaded, he gave me a copy on vinyl, released by Planet Mu, backed by the equally essential V.I.P mix which adds an even darker, emptier element with the descending bassline and ultra-economical drum pattern. Its the first true anthem of Bristolian dubstep; a symbol of everything that Pinch, and to an extent myself, have been building towards. The first chapter has now been written, FWD>> the revolution!

There's two other big dubstep releases on Planet Mu as well. Vex'd follow-up "Degenerate" with the much-anticipated "Bombardment Of Saturn/Killing Floor" and Boxcutter makes his Mu-debut with the four track "Tauhid" EP, with the album "Oneiric" coming later this month (full review shortly). These, along with Digital Mystikz gorgeous "Haunted/Anti War Dub" are all essential purchases!

I was delighted to receive a white label of Skull Disco 003 - a three tracker from Shackleton that once again displays his unique vision. Two of the tunes, "Naked" and "Blood On My Hands", bookend Paul Autonomic's mix (which is temporaily offline due to bandwidth annihilation I'm afraid), and I'm featuring the third one here. Sam's eastern/african influences seep through these tracks, propelled by complex percussion lines and eye-watering, almost violent, grinding sub-bass. I can't shake the (hopefully premature) feeling that we're teetering on the brink of a new era of 'dubstep orthodoxy', but if producers like Shackleton continue to forge their own sound, rather than trying to sound like Skream, then it'll help keep the scene fresh and innovative.

I had originally planned to feature lots of unreleased tunes this month, partly to clear the backlog, but also because I've had an expensive month with bills etc, and couldn't afford to buy much vinyl. But the big package from Planet Mu changed that idea pretty quickly! However I have squeezed in a couple of exclusives, from artists who haven't featured on GutterFM before. DJ Wedge is a name most will be familiar with by now, thanks to his excellent Tuesday night show on Dark FM, and I wanted to showcase his particular brand of minimalist dubstep with a recent tune he sent me called "Fever". If anyone's remotely interested to know how I'm getting on with my new CD deck, listen to the segue between this and "Qawwali V.I.P", where I just about manage to keep the grooves locked for over a minute. Then there's Grim Feast, a producer from Poland, who might be familiar to Dubstep forum members as r33lc4sh. His production skills are very high, although I find some of his work a bit too glossy/trancey. But when he gets on a dirty breakstep tip, as on "Monopoly", the results speak for themselves.

Hotflush Recordings are on a hot streak at the moment, with a busy release schedule which, admirably, continues to push new talent, such as luke.envoy, who's excellent debut release hits the streets this month. I'm actually getting a bit ahead of myself here, as I haven't got Elemental's release yet (due to abject poverty), but I was lucky enough to receive a cd-r from Hotflush with the next three releases, including luke's powerful music. Don't miss this one, kids...

I couldn't resist slipping in a track from my all-time hero Richard H. Kirk, making a much-welcome return to vinyl with his new EP on Sheffield label Dust Science. The EP kicks off with "Toned", a hard-edged remake of "Testone", the classic Bleep track he recorded with DJ Parrot as Sweet Exorcist back in 1990, plus three other slices of tough afro-funk, mutant electro and dubbed-out disco. A quality selection from the originator. Maximum respect, each and every...

The latter half of this month's transmission, designed to explore some of the recent non-dubstep Planet Mu releases, involved a drastic change of direction and tempo. As a bridge between the two halves, I created a little ambient mood section using a track from the Kyler album and one from Uniform, who's terrifying new Planet Mu album "Protocal" is released on 3rd April. It's a dark, violent 'ambient' electronic collection, with several vocal contributers, including post-punk legends Lydia Lunch and Alan Vega. Scary stuff!

From there the mix moves back into rhythmic territory with a track from Breakage, a prolific nu-skool d'n'b producer making his debut on P.Mu with the Drowning/9th Hand 12". His work is characterised by tastefully constructed breaks, weighty sub-bass and washes of ethereal ambiance, creating a strangely tranquil mood despite the frantic pace, that puts me in mind of LTJ Bukem/Good Looking stuff. I wouldn't say I was converted, but its a nice noise, particularly the flip with the endlessly absorbing Apache break fluctuations.

I find Bizzy B both astonishing and slightly ridiculous at the same time. The guy's been doing this shit since the early '90s, and this rather lovely looking double-10" pack "Science EP Vol. V", continues a series he originally began in 1993. How many times can Bizzy tear apart an Amen loop and stitch it back together in a different order? He seems to gain endless creative inspiration from this activity, and the results are, as always, heavy. If you're into proper hardcore junglist vibes, from one of the true originals, then this release is mandatory. The same goes for Equinox. He collaborated with Bizzy on "The Brain Crew" EP in '93, but it's only in recent years, largely due to the patronage of Inperspective Records that he's had a regular flow of releases. His double-pack "Acid Rain V.I.P" EP is an efficient selection of rinsed-out junglist excursions that stays true to the 'old skool ways', although I'm slightly ambivalent towards it. The breaks collapse and reform in endlessly interesting ways, the sub frequencies throb nicely, the vaguely ominous soundtracky pads swirl in and out of the mix at regular intervals, but ultimately it all seems quite safe and conservative. Surely there's nothing here that hasn't been done a thousand times before?

Tim Exile is another matter entirely, though. I had the pleasure of seeing him in action in Belfast last year and can attest to the high entertainment value of his live act. His "Pro-Agonist" double-pack vinyl/CD isn't quite as outrageous as the live improvised stuff, but nevertheless brings some much-needed mischief to the d'n'b agenda. The eight tracks on offer here reveal Exile's renegade sensibilities; he isn't afraid to be playful/disrespectful with the genre, taking it down unexpected avenues and generally having some serious fun with it. On "Mushroom Santa", Tim connects with the inner child with some wonderfully naive melodic lines, whilst "Sliiime" see him exploring his interest in experimental electro-acoustic collage. But there's plenty of dancefloor belters too, like opener "Big Bad Purple Bad Boy" and "Openable Dog" which features a distorted riff worthy of Distance and enough melodic imperative to keep my attention levels high. I don't claim to know anything about current d'n'b trends, but Exile's non-purist stance seems like a far more engaging, creative path for the genre.

Crammed in amongst all the Mu-madness is a track from Mathhead's "Most Lethal Dance" EP, released on the Reduced Phat label. Side A features three Mathhead originals which, although a bit too manic with the breakcore beats for my tastes, does utilize some wonderfully evocative old skool rave noises, like that electric piano riff that always reminds me of Outlander's Belgian classic "Vamp". It also brings back some nice memories of seeing Ben live at Toxic Dancehall last year. Side B features remixes from Aaron Spectre and, my personal favourite, the "Mathhead Megamix" from fellow NYC producer Drop The Lime, where fragments of the original tunes are crushed into an insane breakcore-sublow crossover. Watch out for further releases from Mathhead this year, including the excellent dubstep-flavoured "Stagger", released on Pitch Black soon.

The show concludes with a track from Dolphin, taken from his split 12" with The Teknoist, "Soul Cannibal/Closing Down". I'm afraid I can't agree with the blurb at Warpmart. Any potential 'boundary pushing' or 'emotion' is lost in the blur of hyper-speed gabba-techno beats, which frankly leave me stone cold. I had to play the track at 33rpm just to make it bearable. Maybe I could've gained something from it once, but my body clock runs at a different tempo these days. I'm glad I had the chance to listen to it, but my heart is beating to a different drum now.

I'm slightly concerned that I'm letting a regressive gene infiltrate my otherwise 'fwd-thinking' show, but GutterFM is meant to be a snapshot of all the new musik I'm listening to in any given month, plus I was actually curious to see how well I could mix these tracks. The thing is, during my previous, erratic dj 'career' (roughly 1993-96) I was mainly playing leftfield house and techno, around 130-140 bpm, and never dreamed that I could mix the frantic breaks I was hearing on jungle mixtapes - the speed and complexity just seemed beyond my capabilities. I never bought jungle or d'n'b on vinyl either (preferring to keep up via mixtapes/CD compilations, etc) so never even had an opportunity to try. But now, with this batch of vinyl in front of me, it seemed like a good excuse to have a go. Predictably, the results aren't very impressive, but actually came out slightly better than I expected. Perhaps all that hard work mixing breakstep is paying off. So the latter half of this month's transmission is essentially my one-off voyage into drum 'n' bass mixology. It made a nice change. I enjoyed it. Hope some of you do too...