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Zomby
Dedication Rory Gibb , July 13th, 2011 11:03

Dubstep's early stereotype of the lone bedroom auteur using comparatively primitive software as fuel for alchemical bass reaction has lost a great deal of its currency in the last couple of years as the sound has hit the mainstream. That mystique almost completely disappeared after many of its originators achieved comparative (and largely deserved) superstar status, and was given a further battering by The Sun's ludicrous push to unmask the scene's most self-consciously anonymous producer, Burial. So it's nice that even at a time of market saturation Zomby has retained at least some of that aura, his status as a semi-mythical entity bolstered by a drip-feed of grime-inspired tracks onto YouTube, an ongoing string of no-shows and a refusal to talk to the press except on his own exacting terms.

Out of the clutch of synth-abusing producers that emerged from the Hyperdub stable in 2007, promising new strands of evolution for the sound, Zomby was always the most promising. It's hard to pin down exactly why; Darkstar and Ikonika's early music was just as emotionally and physically devastating, but there was something about Zomby's productions that betrayed a stylistic restlessness. Even by the time of 'Spliff Dub' and 'Mu5h' (a melted-down take on Eskibeat) the association with dubstep seemed almost coincidental, simply a matter of right place, right time. If 2008 debut album Where Were U In '92?, a neon splatter-flick of a UK hardcore tribute/rebuild, served to confirm the notion that his music was displaced in time, his self-titled Hyperdub EP from later that year offered conclusive proof. It presented the glistening surfaces of his music – a sort of haunted-house grime - as sticky with ectoplasm, the odd celebratory burst of airhorn and the screams of trapped divas embedded deep within the phantom skank of 'Kaliko' and the spiraling vortices of 'Diamonds and Pearls'. It was at this point that his moniker made real sense – how perfect, already, did the name Zomby seem, for a producer reanimating the corpses of raves past with vicious blasts of electrickery? And furthered still by follow-up One Foot Ahead Of The Other, which abandoned the mausoleum in favour of a fluorescent carnival of the damned, where the swirling 8-bit bleeps of 'Pumpkinhead's Revenge' etched occult Spirograph patterns into mechanistic two-step.

Though ostensibly the sound of each of his releases has been very different, there have still been distinct Zomby-isms cutting through everything he's made. That's one of the reasons why his music has always felt like an outlier in the circles where he originally made his name; it's capable of taking on many different guises, while still remaining distinctly Zomby in nature. The same sonic signatures are there in abundance on his second full-length proper, Dedication, but put to the service of something different again. The slimy strands of ghost juice are gone, as are the slickly gleaming surfaces, but his unique way with a melody is still present and correct. Zomby's central motifs are almost always cyclical, single melody lines that pivot around a central fulcrum before returning to the start slightly offset from the last iteration. This asymmetry runs throughout everything he produces, and is capable of lending his tracks everything from sickly hue (the Hyperdub EP) to chaotic edge (One Foot) to delicate sense of yearning (the gorgeous purple hues of his Brainmath 10", 'Digital Flora'). On Dedication it largely takes on the latter role – the album consists mainly of sketch-like tracks, most of which are suffocatingly melancholy in mood. Opener 'Witch Hunt', all muted greys and the odd gunshot sample, sets the tone: it's short and sad, an exquisite miniature. The same is true of the soft shuffle of 'Alothea' and single 'A Devil Lay Here', which consists of little but gently undulating bass and tapped toy keyboard.

He might be a predictable enough reference point by now, but as an entire album Dedication bears surprisingly strong resemblance to Burial's self-titled effort. The similarities certainly aren't sonic, as no-one's yet come close to replicating the magic Bevan formula - I can distinctly remember Blackdown, in one of his Rinse FM shows around 2008, reminding his audience that “just because you've got an ambient pad and a two-step beat, it doesn't mean you're Burial”. It's got more to do with Dedication's total engagement with its own internal environment. Burial was complete in its evocation of South London's boroughs and the night-time wraiths that inhabited them; similarly, at no point in Dedication is the spell broken, nowhere across the record's length does a single track jar with the complete whole. That's as true of 'Natalia's Song' (which, to be fair, does sound a lot like Burial) as it is of the inverted UK funky of 'Salamander', the elegiac ballet of highlight 'Digital Rain' and Panda Bear collaboration 'Things Fall Apart'. The latter admittedly stands out as the single thing that could easily have been left off the album; Noah Lennox's vocals, while not detracting from the track, hardly add anything of particular worth to it either.

But what, then, does Dedication evoke, and what is this environment that it so completely inhabits? Ultimately, it's less far removed from its predecessor than its obvious sonic differences might suggest. Zomby's music still holds up hardcore, the crucible of UK-centric dance music, as an epitome to strive towards, to be remembered and, to a certain extent, to be mourned. There's a naivety to Dedication that's not present on any of his other records except Where Were U In '92; it's just as emotionally unguarded, and just as keen to drag the past, kicking and screaming, into the present. It's not a perfect record; a little of the strutting aggression that frequently made his dancefloor tracks so exhilarating has been buried, and certain tracks lose a great deal of their impact when taken as separate from the album as a whole. But it's an engaging and moody body of work, and one that maintains his status as one of the most interesting musicians to have emerged from the scene surrounding dubstep.

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