Various Artists, This is Dubstep (Expanded Edition), GetDarker, GD001CD (2010)
Ain’t my usual line of music reviewing business here but on seeing that there’s another compilation of dubstep music by the GetDarker folks being released in 2012 and I’ve actually had this double set for over a year now, I thought I’d better say something about it while it’s on my radar screen. This is an interesting collection of dubstep tracks and musicians, none of whom I know but who may be big names in the UK dubstep scene: folks like Cyrus, Joker (who appears at least twice), Distance (ditto) and Macabre Unit among others. CD1 consists of short remix versions by DJ Darkside of longer tracks on CD2 which is actually the more interesting of the two discs so I’ll concentrate on this one.
Goes without saying that everything you hear is electronic as that’s an essential aspect of dubstep: the wonder is that the music has emerged only in the last twelve years even though electronic music and hiphop have existed since at least 1980 and between that year and the turn of the millennium, someone would have twigged that electronic hiphop with dub, reggae, ska, jazz and other music influences would find a ready audience. Indeed, during the 1990s there were intimations of such a music style in the isolationist scene: acts like Porter Ricks, Scorn and Techno Animal (the last two of these founded by former members of UK underground thrash / death metal band Napalm Death, funnily enough) were some of those isolationists pioneering a style of darkly ambient, heavily electronic music with strong dub-influenced beats and rhythms and a pessimistic attitude about the future of human society. In the mid-1990s, one of the Techno Animal members(Kevin Martin) started a series of compilations called “Macro Dub Infection” and two volumes of industrial dub were released in 1995 and 1996; I used to have Volume 1 but gave it away and I never got around to getting Volume 2.
It’s better late than never though and “This is Dubstep (Expanded Edition)” is welcome though to my hyper-critical mind it’s not a patch on the old “Macro Dub Infection” set I once had; ” … Dubstep” is rather too much in thrall to the machine beats and there’s much less unusual syncopated rhythm than I expected. The sound of many tracks can be very tinny and brittle and there needs to be more emphasis on a full-bodied, sculptured and sensual sound with lots of sonic texture: rough and gritty, sharp-edged or blunt, acid or clear, spaced-out, dreamy, trancey or even hellish in ambience. There is such a rich heritage of music genres that have arrived in Britain since 1975 at least and it seems a shame that this compilation doesn’t draw more on these musics than it does: Afro-Caribbean styles, Bollywood movie soundtracks, bhangra pop, Pakistani qawwali, Bangladeshi styles, Irish folk traditional music, styles from Nigeria and elsewhere in sub-Saharan Africa – where are they all?
The highlight of CD2 and the track I always look out for is “Neighbourhood 09 (Chimpo mix)” by Zed Bias mainly because of the soulful female vocals, the rapping male vocal which seems to have an Indian subcontinental feel or influence, the washes of sound in the background, the song’s use of reverb and the contrasts among the layers of various effects, rhythm loops and the beats. Another good track is Pinch’s suspenseful “Widescreen” which has an uncertain air and even feels slightly oppressive. Generally as the disc proceeds, tracks become more sombre in mood, there’s more rhythmic variety and the music’s atmosphere becomes very foreboding.
As Cameron-era Britain slips further into a dark and uncertain future and George Orwell’s vision of a police state beckons all too readily, dubstep might well be the soundtrack that accompanies the country and documents its downward slide into a bleak future.