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Sonic Router

Sonic Router 005 - A Dubstep Column For August
The Quietus , August 27th, 2009 09:27

Summer may be late in arriving but there's always more than enough bass to go round. Oli Marlow serves up this month's Sonic Router

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With all hopes of summer seemingly fading away until I sat down a week ago to conceptualize this column edition, it’s been a real struggle to concentrate with the sun blazing away outside; somewhat of a recurring theme in my weeks of late given my borderline ADD working habits and the strength and sheer quantity of music being released. Trying to listen to all of what gets sent can be a task in itself, jumping from ZIP file to RAR file and back again got me thinking... if only there was some compendium I could just lug around with me; something that was perhaps a little more tailored and concise than several iPod playlists marked either ‘deep’, ‘bouncy’, 'skwee-ish' and 'brockout'.

The fact is bass music and dubstep especially has splintered a tad; with different multi-fronted musical factions appearing like pop-up shops selling the freshest exotic flavoured ice poles in the height of a 30 degree carnival weekend and yet thankfully they’re all weaving themselves into the threads and fabric of the dance; slipping numerous and, at times, unobvious influences into the mix without so much as a warning siren. Compiling tracks that work in the context of each other is one of the prime goals of a DJ and on the strength of a few recent (or forthcoming) compilations there are labels out there that are looking to make that job a whole lot easier.

Dutch label/shop/respected webstore, Rush Hour, has dropped Beat Dimensions Vol 2 on wax over 2 seperate EPs (clips and info here); an essential purchase for anyone besotted with the slower slumping textures made famous by the glut of current beatmakers lumbered clumsily with the ‘Post-Dilla’ tag. Whilst shunning quantization and rigid tempo clocks might be a recurring theme throughout it’s the humanised rhythms of the drum programming that works the neck properly. Opening with Danny Breaks’ ‘The Sound’ is a shrewd manoeuvre by compilers Cinnaman and Jay Scarlett who set the tone from the off with Breaks’ mutated bass line flumping itself all over the skeletal boom bap. Other immediate highlights include Mono/Poly’s hand clap heavy ‘Distant From,’ Nosaj Thing’s lesson in flange bass ‘FWD’, the simplified slap of Samiyam’s ‘Swamp Tarts’ and Dimlite’s impeccable clip clop instrumental ‘Ravemonds Young Problems.’

Dimlite – Ravemond’s Young Problems

The Porter Records camp from LA are also embracing a little of the engrained textures exposed on the Beat Dimensions EP series with their ‘Echo Expansion’ compendium. Put together by the crew behind Dublab, one of the best online streaming stops for the new beats movement, the compilation strays further from the centre point of straight beat-strumentals, including strung out jazz work by The Life Force Trio, pure psych guitar delay from Andrew Pekler and to a lesser extent Gaslamp Killer & The Gonja Sufi who include their track ‘Robots’. Names like Flying Lotus and his Brainfeeder compatriot Ras G, the afore mentioned Dimlite, Daedelus, Take, Kutmah and Dntel flesh out the compilation with an array of stylings and give the compilation a distinctly Californian cornucopia of musical avenues. It’s a truly varied and spirited compilation that might just learn some of those credit card happy Fly Lo fans a thing or two extra.

Bristol’s Punch Drunk label are releasing a singles collection (yes, technically it is a compilation), from the renowned and respected RSD on CD in early September, alongside the 12” of ‘Good Energy’ b/w ‘Green Hill,’ and it really comes as no surprise when you gambit the fact Punch Drunk are a label intent on releasing music that defines the current sound of Bristol and that RSD’s music oozes the city’s personality out of every semi quaver. That Bristolian rude boy swagger is evident in tracks like ‘Pretty Bright Light’ with its dubbed out vocal snippets and rolling flamed snares, echoing the heritage and musical culture that runs in the water of the gateway city to the South West. As one half of Smith & Mighty, Rob Smith achieved a lot of mainstream success in the latter portion of the 80s, signing the duo’s dub heavy output to the K7 label, influencing a whole new generation of musicians as he did so. After immersing himself in his life outside of the limelight it wasn’t until 2007 that he re-emerged, pouring his breakbeats and pristine sub work into the then very prevalent Bristol dubstep template. His productions are moody rollers that wear their junglist roots proudly, eeking out a lot of that hoover bass wamp whilst making no fuss of their drum edits; constantly bringing the pressure whether in the majesty of the hi-hat flicker of ‘Green Hill’ or the literal drum stomp of the album opener, ‘Forward Youth’.

RSD – Good Energy

The undisputed queen of BBC Radio 1’s Experimental output, Mary Anne Hobbs, is also on the brink of putting out a new compilation through the Planet Mu label. Her third and most vibrant compilation to date, Wild Angels, features an impossibly broad range of artists, joining the dots between some of the slower more hip hop theatrics of Hudson Mohawke, Mono/Poly, Mike Slott, Paul White and TAKE with the future bound dubstep stylings of Brackles, Gemmy, Darkstar, Hyetal and Starkey with flawless aim and execution. Completely unsurprising and totally expected considering she’s fully cemented her position as one of the major lynchpins of the scene since she fully embraced bass music with her Dubstep Warz showcase special in early 2006; but she really displays her diversity, including some outside of the box ‘musical’ productions (i.e. tracks made with actual instruments rather than VSTi’s) from Legion of Two, Mark Pritchard and Sunken Foal.

But the real talk of the bass music town this month, has to be the commemorative collation that is 5, a dual CD and vinyl package destined to mark the first 5 years of the Hyperdub label (clips and info here). Kode9’s label, constantly described in the media as “a mutating virus coursing through the veins of music”, has surprised many of its fans with its omnipotent turns and curve ball releases, simultaneously becoming the home to the beat sketches of Samiyam, the iconic vocoder wheeze of Darkstar, the dub heavy drawl of King Midas Sound - The Bug’s side project with Roger Robinson, and, of course, the whispy impassioned garage of Burial. In short it documents how Hyperdub has blossomed into a powerhouse label that sparks trends rather than following them, successfully incubating micro genres, nursing the ‘purple sound’ of Bristol by releasing Joker’s ‘Digidesign’ on the flip of JKamata & 2000F’s ‘Don’t You Know What Love Is’ and giving Zomby the double EP platform needed for him to bring his manic computer game torture to a wider audience.

Joker – 'Digidesign'

Zomby – 'Diamonds & Pearls'

Collating brand new material from Hyperdub artists and some interstellar kin (Martyn, Flying Lotus, Mala from Digital Mystikz) the first CD (and the 5 separate vinyl releases) will be populated by brand new and unreleased music, whilst the second is composed from older material. Speaking to XLR8R recently Kode9 admitted: “I think it finally hammers the nail in the coffin that Hyperdub is a dubstep label...” and the CD package, whose artwork is inspired by Abbot Handerson Thayer and Robert C. Switzer, is living up to that very promise, aiming to prove across the wide selection of tracks and styles on offer that Hyperdub’s viral mutations can poison you in a healthy way; becoming a bastard infection that will help oppose any ill feelings and make you feel better.

Words: Oli Marlow for http://sonicrouter.blogspot.com

Most of the releases mentioned will be available physically as well as digitally. Check your local record shops or online stores for more details. We buy music and recommend you do too. Information on all these artists and more can be found at dubstepforum.com

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