Wednesday, November 26, 2008


Dubstep may now rightfully lay claim as heir to London's three decade old bass culture— a rich tapestry which began with Jamaican immigrant sound clashes of 80’s; fused with rave to spawn the drum & bass movement of the early 90’s; and then once that had moved out into the suburbs mutated into the bubbly pop breakbeat rnb of 2-Step Garage. By the end of the millennium—save for a select few; El-B, Zed Bias, Oris Jay- the 2-Step sound was waning. Mostly do to commercial overexposure, an excess of ego and a dearth of creativity. The inner city yoot, however, were quietly reclaiming their culture. The result:, Grime. Championed by Wiley, Jammer, and a host of fresh faced teenagers like MRK1 & Plastician. The sound was harder, darker and seething with inner city paranoia. Mixing gangsta bravado with the production values of late 90’s era Ed Rush and Optical, this was Britains equivalent to the reactionary stage of American hip hop that saw NWA come to prominence. Dubstep, a periphery movement quietly spun out of all of these myriad sounds.

What began around the turn of the millennium in South London at the now Legendary club night
FWD pushed by djs like Hatcha and Kode 9 has since exploded into world-wide phenomenon due in large part to the Internet. At the epicenter of this phenomenon, Tempa, the record label, whose first mix compilation of boundary pushing 2-Step gave the genre it’s very namesake.

Here is a shortlist of some of my favorite producers:

Benga is unquestionably one of the quintessential Dubstep dons, along with Skream and the Digital Mystiks. Hailing form Croydon in South London, he’s been around since the beginning. His sound incorporates stuttering Detroit-esque synths, syncopated riddims and deep deadly sub bass.

Essential listening:
Diary of an Afro Warrior Tempa

Digital Mystikz The duo of Mala & Coki have a more traditionally dub take on the sound. Dubstep by definition minimal, but the Mystikz take it to a whole new plateau. Soundscapes devoid of almost anything save for the odd orchestral sample with heavy delay and the constant throbbing pulse of sub sonic frequencies.

Essential Listening: Anything of the releases on their
DMZ label.

has by far the highest profile outside of the “scene”. Although his music is classed with Dubstep, it’s more akin to Rhythm & Sound crossed with late 90’s 2-Step. His sound could be classed lo-fi by some. Dense, cinematic, almost mournful, atmosphere, and jerky minimal beats conjure the experience of a stroll though London’s run-down industrial parkland on a cold rainy day. With his newer material he’s Incorporated processed contemporary style r&b vox which sound eerily disembodied over his sparse and haunting production.

Essential Listening:
Ghost Hardware EP

Distance, another producer that could be considered somewhat of an outsider. He seems to draw more on the influence form metal, than rave. This is definitely apparent in the results he achieves. Heavy drums and twisted bass that sounds like it’s been run through guitar petals.

Essential Listening: My Demons Planet Mu
(And watch out for his new album
out this month on Planet Mu)

is an alias of England's Barry Lynn. A jack and master of all trades both in terms of versatility and production/engineering capabilities. In fact even classing him as merely a dubstep artist is doing him somewhat of a disservice. Lynn, a virtuoso bass player is equally adept at making minimal techno, 2-step, grime and atmospheric drum and bass . His skittering glitchly beats dance around celestial atmospherics and seriously grimy low end.His sound is somewhat like a dubbed out Squarepusher, dub being the anchoring aspect of all his experiments.

Essential Listing:
Planet Mu
Planet Mu
Balancing Lakes
(as Barry Lynn) Planet Mu

A Few others I'd mention:

Skull Disco is a label/collective formed of three producers; Shackleton, Appleblim and Gatekeeper. Another variation on the Dubstep theme, these guys' sound is heavily influenced by Asia. The sounds these guys are pushing features lots of tablas and sitars and middle eastern sounding atmosphere. A very tribal feel with percussion more evocative of a drum circle than a rave. And of course there’s plenty of subs to go around.

has kind of Basic Channel-esque take on the sound. Equal parts minimal techno and dub. Some really good stuff!

 and Cluekid are all on this grimy 8bit bleep crossed with vintage old school 'ardcore thing. It’s really interesting to see the influence of early video games crossed with rave and the low end sensibilities of the dancehall.
Listen Here

I don’t even pretend to be an authority on whats emerging from this corner of the music world. I did buy records and dj this stuff back in ‘04 – ‘05 ish. But man, I listen to a lot of different things, no one scene can contain me. If you wanna here from someone who really has their ear to the ground, check out Blackdown’s blog, it’s the best Dubstep resource I’ve yet found.

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