Thursday, November 02, 2006

Dubstep: The Sound of a City Coming Down.

This is one that has been lazying around in assemblage for some time in various noises and downloaded sign posts over the past few months and it's only now I'm getting together to quickly fire it off in a quieter moment in Buneos Aires. There's a track on Chevron's debut album where a sampled hardcore pirate station MC repeats in a maelstrom of budding effects that 'London is a city coming down.' It's somewhere within this intense feeling of a city having moved rapidly through a whole series of musical species from the 1980's, with all night parties and drugs as a constant fulcrum that dub step lies. Intertwine this musical history with the broader feelings of big city atomisation, both industrial and urban decay and then you have some sense of the puddles fertilising the concrete gardens that sprout dub step.

Mary Ann Hobbes has been playing something of an evangelical role for dub step outside of its urban heart lands. Dragging together the cream of the underground for a once off back to back mix some months ago led to the idea of releasing a compilation through Overkill and after months of pensive build, up the BBC Breezeblock show took itself off the waves and made its home for the night in a far from little club called the Mass, in the Brixton heart land to launch Dubstep Warriorz.

After going through the ritualistic shakedown from bouncers at that axis where crim culture colides with club culture on the London club door, it's in and up a spiralling set of stairs with bass echoing all around. Upon entering the cavernous venue, it's impossible not to stop for a second and feel overcome by the sheer pounding oppressiveness of the set coming from Amit. Pounding and oppressive; two words most fitted to describing this thing they call dub step. It lacks any of the warmth of other forms of electronic music, it barely facilitates the form of ecstatic release generated by dancing manically all night and is far too all engulfing to be considered minimally cold like Authecre's metallic clang.

While it moves too slow for any catharsis, amidst the weight of sound there are moments of elation in sudden tempo changes or the introduction of etheral vocal lines that massage away the tensions it wroughts from the off. Amit sat on this line for the night, increasing tensions until just at the right moment providing a hint of release through the faint hints of an angelic female voice within 'Motherland' that was reminiscent of material put out by Enduser.

In ways dub step burns with the fires and sins of old. This echoes through out the music with intense shuddering collections of paranoid bass sines swelling in these hollowed out musical shells. Its the feeling of being left standing last at a party or leaving one and coming out into the brisk air of abandoned city streets. Throughout it there is something famaliar, with nods to traditions of electronic music in vacous landscapes - where you hear the faintest echoes of foundations in drum and bass, techno, happy hardcore, jungle and dub. Loefah delicately traced these paths during his own set which proved to be the most minimal all night, as traces of happy hardcore piano lines rippled above waves of bass before setting down again on traditional dub clouds. His set stopped and started as he corrected his pace, greeting the crowd with relished rewinds. Mala from Digital Mistick pushed the crowd onwards with encouragment and claims you had to be a 'warrior to get through the step' as his dreads fought and flayed while he ran on the spot, clearly present as the master of ceremonies.

DJ Rupture commented recently how the dubstep sound was simply grime stripped of black subjectivity. The abscene of a black voice, he claims renders it void of the regurgitations of street level experience being made real to those outside the immediate cultures of London estates. ┬┤So dubstep becomes a bit like a sonic representation of old Leith without the speed fueled inhead narratives of Welsh. Virus Syndicate provided a long lyrically fueled interlude that liad this creation of a chasm between the two scenes to rest, the violence of the Manchester grime crew shook you completely out of the idea that you had become acclimatised to the grit of the dub step sound and could spend the night bouncing easily from one foot to the other. Their song 'Dead man Walking' went on impossibly long, broken up with rants about the lack of ganja in Manchester. The Brixton audience traded back odds on their own black economy with the massive crew spewing intensely violent sonic fictions across the heads of the crowd. I had to sit that one out.

Despite his insistence on being a grime producer, Plastician overshot both genres as flavours of the month in his rocketing dubstep as techno set that left the venue bouncing all over the place in what was obviously the peak moments of the night. Nialler 9 will be glad to know that the Bug started his set by throwing it down with Skream's Warrior Queen collaboration, before meandering up similar dub step as hyped up electric dub paths.


Dup step is a sound stripped of traditional artillaries of rapid drums, it replaces them with a more dense and distant sense through their abscene. You close your eyes and fill in the rolls and sputters by yourself. You can hear it all with in it, but it's all swept away by that massive bass kick. We left the Mass in Brixton at 6am, leaving behind a cathedral devoured with a form of deep-vein thrombosisas as dubstep kicked its old nooks and crannies into new vibrating existences with echoes booming up the elevator shafts cutting through the building like thunder. At one point during the night I placed my finger over a bottle of beer for a moment, taking it off led to a fountain of beer violently erupting a foot in the air. Such is what happens when some serious bass action sends the glass encasing your beer mental.

Skip forward two weeks to Buenos Aires and we are in a majorly up market club given the devaluation of the Peso here, its impossibly stylish and ridiculously ovr priced. Clearly one not of the pueblo and more of the burges. While A lanky dreaded DJ, is playing Dizee Rascal tracks from a burnt CD without any effort at mixing them. Later in the night, a duo in early millenium street wear, one trouser leg rolled higher than the other blast away spitting lines over his awkward beats. Grime in Buenos Aires? Jaysus. Not that it was any good mind, though no doubt a city flanked with areas with La Boco and the Villas no doubt should have something more interesting than this hipster posing going on in it.

The Warrior Dubz night was impossibly 'scene' too, it was impossible not to fall prey to the hype around the gig. The daily freebie press on the tube even advised attendence. Surprisingly, I remain convinced a similar gig in Dublin with the same line up would draw a crowd of equal size. If dubstep is of the streets, then the streets weren't leading to the Mass in Brixton for this album launch. Which begs the question of how the underground becomes the overground. Music fans living on the other side of the pond can count their prayers given the role their national broadcaster plays in spreading hype. Back in dreary old Ireland, we can rest assured 2fm is advising us there is another rock band around the corner.

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