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Soul Jazz Presents
Steppas' Delight 2 Marcus O'Dair , November 10th, 2009 05:38

It may have been just 18 months, but dubstep has changed considerably since the release of the original, yellow-hued Steppas' Delight compilation. The once untouchable genre has experienced the beginnings of a backlash, being denounced as music for lairy lager lads and — worse — students. Listening to this double-disc set, however, leaves no doubt that there's been a tangible sonic evolution too.

Perhaps the biggest change to the genre since Steppas' Mk 1 has been the rise of Funky, which has made explicit a link back to the music's 2-Step and UK Garage roots. It's represented here by Crazy Cousinz' anthem 'Inflation', as well as the synth-heavy 'Get A Job' by Rob Kemp, aka Brackles. Elsewhere on the compilation, however, one can hear traces of everything from Basic Channel-style dub techno to off-kilter hip hop, the two discs stretching from the four-to-the-floor of D1 to Cluekid's jazz-tinged jungle.

'On The Edge' by Benga provides something closer to a "classic" dubstep template, if such a thing exists; though not among his most choice cuts, neither does it dent his reputation as one of the scene's key players. It's testament to the speed at which British bass music evolves, however, that there are already pretenders to his crown, among them Jack Dunning, aka Untold. His 'You Didn't Win The Holiday' more than justifies the current hype, laying repeated and mildly disconcerting vocal samples over a stripped, sinister bed reminiscent of Detroit techno.

That track is an exclusive, but there are established anthems here too, including Pangaea's 'Router' — although the track's soaring, soulful vocals are a little cloying. Without meaning to cry "sell out" at the first sign of mainstream acceptance, this does seem part of a general move away from the genre's pirate roots, towards slickness and, arguably, sterility. 'Show Me' by Von D is the compilation's worst offender in this regard, thanks to an anodyne, uplifting house style refrain from vocalist Phephe.

'Purple City' by Joker & Ginz, also previously released, is by contrast one of the strongest tracks on the compilation, and evidence of another, more positive, change undergone by dubstep: an expansion beyond South London. Like Appleblim and Gemmy, also represented here, the pair hail from Bristol — a city so buzzing that the sleevenotes suggest "it's like the Wild Bunch all over again". In fact, the genre's diffusion is on an even bigger scale: there's room here for Portuguese duo Octa Push, as well as Mr Gasparov (Portuguese, now resident in Barcelona) and Martyn (Dutch, now resident in the US). Each in his own way represents a further hybridisation of the music.

Quite what dubstep is (or is not) has always been a matter of debate, but if the breadth of the genre is perhaps more evident than ever, it's surely something to be savoured: when things gets pinned down, it'll all be over. So while this second instalment — though it undoubtedly contains some superb music — is to these ears not quite in the league of the first Steppas' comp, those differences should be celebrated as evidence of life. After all, no-one's removed the original from your record collection, virtual or otherwise.