For those of you that may not know, El-B rose to prominence in the late 90’s UK 2-Step Garage scene. And by the turn of the millennium as Garage was fizzling out into a bubbly froth of over-indulgence, El-B was veering into uncharted territory with a sound that would eventually become the first wave of Dubstep. Stripping back the excess and forging a more muscular synthesis of moody rhythm, El-B’s syncopated sound was a hybrid of stutter-stepping Garage drums, bongos, swung hi-hats; dirty modulated bottom end; and London rude bwoy chatter run through huge amounts of delay. This mutant off-spring of urban dance music which, he aptly new dark swing, was prize fighter-like- weaving agile rhythms that packed bass bombs powerful enough to drop a grown man before you could say “come again selecta”.
This retrospect, compiled by Dubsteps de facto biographer Martin “Blackdown” Clark, was painstakingly culled from various b-sides, remixes, dubplates, DATs and white labels. Clark's selection, as one would expect, is impeccable- here is every El-B track worth having from the years 2000-02. (It should go without saying that this is probably the only chance most of us ever would have had to own decent quality copies of these siminal works.)
The earlier more straight-ahead 2-stepish stuff like In the Club, 2000, Digital and Show a Little Love head up the disc. Even at this point, these tracks though technically classed Garage, were exceptional in their clock-work precision drums, spliced up hip hop vocals, brawny bottom end and the dubby use of space as atmosphere. The obligatory dance hall smashers Serious and Lyrical Tempo are included as are a stellar pair of remixes for Zed Bias (the clanging samurai percussion and wistful vocal tune Timed Out and the crushing low end weighted Neighborhood ). The ultra-rare, proto-Dubstep skank of FWD anthem Buck ‘n’ Bury feat. Juice Man is available finally. And so are Cuba and Amazon, which both featured on original Dubstep All-Stars, the mix compilation that gave the sound its very name. And then so are gems like Among the Stars whose swinging astral jazziness; vaguely eastern sounding atmosphere; and steppy lopsided groove defies classification.
El-B ‘s output in this brief period of time is the stuff of legend. He repeatedly struck gold (and in the process inspired a cadre of up-and comers like Burial) by taking the most novel and enduring aspect of Garage, the infectiously skipping, off-kilter rhythms and marrying it with Jamaican attitude and the deepest gnarliest bass ever heard this side of 165 BPMs. And he did it always with meticulous production values. Since Dubstep blew up over three years ago, it’s good to see the man finally getting his due. If you like UK Garage or are at all interested in the genealogy of Dubstep this is an absolutely essential record.