Mar 23, 2006

Dub vector

Too often, high profile mix CDs seem to come up short in reproducing the excitement of their scene. Whatever gains they make in sound quality and mixological precision are typically muted in the anechoic confinement of the studio. Music made for clubs and pirate radio can't help but sound a bit lonely when the audience is amputated from the mix, especially in genres that rely so heavily on the feedback network of producer-DJ-MC-crowd. Sometimes an MC will be added to liven up the mix, but when it's all calls and no response the performance comes off a bit like virtual reality - lots of shiny surfaces, but something's missing.

Of course the format isn't inherently flawed either. A big mix is a big mix. In the last three years, Tempa has released three sets that have become defining documents of dubstep as it's grown out of its Croydon home. Hatcha's 2003 mix for Dubstep Allstars 1 was the sound of a new music taking flight, while last year's follow up by Youngsta was a little more restrained - a scene taking stock and consolidating its core. Both were crucial releases but they still left room for experimentation - something between the regular studio mix and the recorded live set.


With Allstars 3, Kode 9 and Space Ape try to move beyond the traditional DJ mix format and sidestep some of its pitfalls. On the surface it may seem little different from the usual - top DJ, exclusive dubs and MC tucked away in a studio. But the innovation is in the dynamic they create. In one sense it's a closed system between DJ and MC. This has a lot to do with Space Ape's microphone style which draws on dub poetry influences (and probably grime) to create something more lyrical and self-contained than either battle-oriented grime or post-jungle toasting. This suits the format perfectly and lets the pair give up the pretence of performing to a hypothetical audience so they can set about building a machine of a different type, one with no lack, only potential.

Lyrically, Space Ape moves through the dread and Deleuzian...

Mobilised and lifted by the powers I've been gifted
Answers to questions that never even existed
Who the ras is the sum of their parts
Who should tell of this becoming-Hell

to the virology of hyperdub...

Victims themselves of a close encounter
Desperate abductors, constructors
Become an infected vex
By an alien virus

Not your typical toasts. Space Ape gives more coded insight into philosophical underpinnings of the Hyperdub kru. Then, halfway through the set, his live chatter dissolves into the mix. Disembodied, his remixed vocals become refrains echoing through the end of the set.

Mirroring this DJ/MC interaction is Kode 9's ideal of a meritocracy in dubplate selection. Rather than dropping just the biggest tracks from the biggest names, he feeds widely on the energies of this growing scene, pulling together 28 tracks by 16 artists in under 60 minutes. If there was a complaint to be had with Allstars 2 it was that, as crucial as the tracks were, they all came from a small number of producers and represented a very particular take on what dubstep could be. Allstars 3, on the other hand, is all about scenius, the energies and feedbacks that generate the scene as a whole.

The track selection is huge and the cuts are quick (few tracks go for longer than 2:00) with a lot of new producers alongside the usual suspects. The rolling spaghetti western-dub of Kode's "9 Samurai" kicks off the set before heading into a very heavy remix of Pressure & Warrior Queen's post-7/7 track "Dem a Bomb We." 9's affection for grimey bits also makes its way into the mix with tracks by Geeneus ("You Know Me" - a suspenseful lurker with plucked strings and distorted bass), Plasticman ("Unhappy Shopper" - halfstep molasses) and, surprisingly, Digital Mystikz ("Intergalactic" - shades of Dexplicit, DJ Oddz and Slimzee sets). Of course DMZ, Loefah, Skream and D1 each add their own highly refined flavours to the mix. Skream, as Loefah recently noted, has been taking some liberties with his production, pushing out the boundaries in a all sorts of mad directions. He's here in all his odd-style glory with "0800 Dub," the mashed up electro of "Colourful," and the trippy vocal cut up of "Korma." D1 follows that one with the stepping panzerbass of "ET." Mucky. Blackdown's "dis/East" could be Microstoria making dubstep in a metal shop. N-Type's epic "Way of the Dub" pushes all the right post-junglist buttons and will undoubtedly be the intro to countless mixes over the summer.

With "Forever," Calenda (aka Jason H) provides one of the most original and unlikely dubstep anthems, combining stuttered beats with an over-the-top orchestral sample used to brilliant effect. The first thing it brings to mind is the James Bond breakdown in Acen's 'ardkore anthem "Trip to the Moon 1." Mournful and euphoric at the same time. Watch out for more under the Calenda moniker. And watch out for more from the mysterious Burial who close out the set with a static-y atmospheric stepper that makes definite links to Pole and the Rhythm and Sound digidub axis.

Altogether, Kode 9 has done an excellent job showcasing a wide selection of dubstep at a moment when the scene is exploding with creativity. It also couldn't have come at a more opportune time. Dubstep's audience appears to have grown exponentially since BBC 1Xtra aired its scene-spanning Breezeblock special in January. The scene seems uncertain whether or not it's comfortable with its increasing success, but Dubstep Allstars 3, which stakes out dozens of potential evolutionary paths, will undoubtedly push the virus even further.


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