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Lost Dubz James Butterworth , February 11th, 2020 08:17

A compilation of 'lost dubz' from grime's doldrum years of 2007–11 proves the genre never lost its fire, even when it was out of the spotlight, finds James Butterworth

After the media fascination with grime started to wane in the mid-to-late 00s, some of the scene’s frontmen decided to trade in Eskimo Dance and dubplates for the more lucrative option of pop hits, major labels and UK tours. However, certain MCs and producers who refused to succumb to the allure of six-figure deals and potential superstardom worked tirelessly to keep the underground scene alive. One of the most prolific producers during this period was Spooky, a DJ and beatmaker for the Slew Dem Crew who earned his stripes on pirate stations like Rinse FM, Deja Vu and Raw Blaze. In 2010 he released ‘Spartan’, a grime classic that dominated the airwaves for months and was vocalled by hordes of MCs.

Now, a decade down the line, Spooky (otherwise known as Spartan Spooky, or Spooky Bizzle, or even by his most recent nickname El Clarto) has decided to take us back to grime’s years in the doldrums with a compilation of beats he produced between 2007–11. Released on his own label, Ghost House, it’s a thrilling, unrelenting affair, a blitzkrieg of twenty percussive, sledgehammer-subtle, in-your-face instrumentals that rain down on your eardrums for almost one and half hours.

Unsurprisingly there’s plenty of pure grime on this album. ‘Liquid Nitrogen’ (a collaboration with Nu Klear, the only feature on the album) and ‘Morse Code’ are two highlights, the latter a reworking of his classic ‘Spartan’ instrumental. Piercing snares and whirring bass combine at hyper-energetic levels to assault your senses and you feel as though you’ve been transported into an old school Super Mario game. On ‘Fire Man’ Spooky uses samples from Wiley’s sub-zero degree eskibeat instrumentals, and running on for a lengthy six minutes the beat feels perfectly suited for a host of spitters on an 8 or 16-bar relay.

Elsewhere, anthemic turns ‘East Side Ryder’ and ‘Shallow Minds’ use orchestral riffs that wouldn’t sound out of place in Game of Thrones and give a nod to other instrumentalists known for their use of strings such as Maniac and Nocturnal. But the influences on this compilation spread wider than just grime itself. Grime’s mother genre dancehall is never far from Spooky’s work and appears again here on ‘Red Eye Dub’, where a timeless soundsystem melody combines with a wobbling, dubsteppy bass to create the most uplifting and infectious track on the album. ‘First Love’ uses silky R&B tones combined with Spooky’s signature chords. It sounds like grime-meets-Frank Ocean and nicely contrasts the more fiery and uncompromising tracks on the album.

Ultimately, Lost Dubz serves as a welcome addition to Spooky’s extensive back catalogue and whets the appetite for more, not least further installments of his Ghost Mode series, featuring more recent work. But it also serves as a timely reminder that grime survives and thrives even without media interest, and acts as an arresting example of the vitality and dynamism of the genre long after the hype train had rolled on.