The dubstep scene?

November 21, 2007

Another day, another endless discussion of “Whither dubstep?” at the dubstepforum. Dubstep is, simultaneously, a genre named several years ago and a genre in which a hell of a lot of major developments have happened in the last year and a half or so. It’s either having its fifteen minutes, or it’s about to, and there’s a lot of discussion online about whether the club scene is deteriorating or exploding, whether the music is being dumbed down by crowdpleasing stompers or climbing up its own butt with music that seems aimed more at listeners than dancers, and whether producers should keep their tracks as exclusive as possible for the clubbers and DJs or reach out to the world by releasing more CDs, and it all comes down to uncertainty due to the explosion in the number of labels, tracks, producers, DJs, local scenes, releases, blogs, and posts on in recent months.

There’s a scene, and then there’s a genre of music, and both are going to develop in interrelated but occasionally different ways. I don’t know anything about the scene, not being in the right place or time, but I love the music, so I’ll blather about that. Keep in mind this is coming from a North American perspective, from well outside the scene.

Evolving and splintering is what music genres do (especially electronic music). A number of musicians make music, someone notices common elements and tags it with a genre name, the people who invented it explore new directions, people making other forms of music incorporate elements of the genre into their own genres, new people come up and strip the genre down to its lowest common denominator and make formulaic stuff (which often becomes the bestselling version of the genre), other newcomers come in and try to move the genre forward or turn it inside out… dubstep is itself an example of that process in action, and it’s not going to be immune.

A lot of people into dubstep got there from UK garage or drum ‘n’ bass, both of which have had their own evolutionary and splintering processes, both of which still exist. There are people who are still loyal to those genres. The thing is, the world in general has passed them by. For the average North American music fan, anyway, drum ‘n’ bass is that stuff that was used in a lot of car commercials in the ’90s (and that David Bowie bandwagon-jumped for a few minutes), and garage is a type of ’60s rock, and it doesn’t rhyme with carriage. Triphop did make people outside its scene take notice. Portishead and Massive Attack sold a lot of albums and spawned a lot of imitators. Dubstep right now has about as much of a profile outside the billions of people for whom “nuum” is not a word as garage does, if that much; even Burial’s new album is mainly a blog phenomenon rather than a mainstream press phenomenon. Unless some album really catches on — and I did think Untrue might be that album; computer says no, judging by the number of Google news hits — dubstep’s staying underground for the foreseeable future. And what I think that may mean is that the more interesting artists will go off in their own directions, away from the wobble thump formulas, and dubstep will become a dull kind of music that’s meant for the clubs only, not home listening. It has the potential for more, though, so I’m still hopeul…

Dubstep on

November 16, 2007

Well, why not. Unlike Itunes and most other online digital music stores, you don’t go to emusic to buy an album or a song, you go to get a subscription. X downloads a month for Y dollars. If, in a given month, you only use .75X downloads, you don’t get 1.25X downloads the next month, you just lose .25X downloads. What that often means in practical terms is that emusic users try a lot of new and unfamiliar music, in order to use up the downloads.

And so it came to pass that I downloaded Boxcutter’s Oneiric, after reading about it somewhere. Listened to it once or twice, kinda liked it, more or less forgot about it because there were so many other things to listen to. Then a few months later I read something else that inspired me to download Burial, and then Kode9, and Various Production, and Vex’d, etc. Loads of dubstep goodness from one source.

Not that everything is on emusic; it’s a collection of independent labels, some of which come and go, some of which add only part of their catalogue, some of which add their albums a few weeks or more after the CD release… but you can get a lot there. Well, I can, anyway. There are sometimes licencing issues that mean certain albums are unavailable in certain territories, and I’m writing from North America.

So. Dubstep on emusic. Burial, Kode9, Various Production, Boxcutter, Cyrus (Random Trio), Distance, Vex’d, MarkOne/MRK1, Sub Version, Milanese, Bass Clef — they all have albums on emusic. The Box of Dub albums are on emusic. Tectonic Plates is on emusic (disc one, anyway). Singles from Hyperdub, Tectonic, Crater, and Earwax. Albums from electronic musicians not part of the dubstep scene but showing an influence in their recent work — Stealth by Scorn, Unit of Resistance by Raz Mesinai’s Badawi, Journeyman’s Annual by Deadbeat, Restaurant of Assassins by Neil Landstrumm. Influences on dubstep — there’s a lot of Jamaican dub, a bit of garage and 2step or whatever (including Phuturistix), there’s minimal techno including a few Pole albums, there’s even a few Rhythm and Sound items to be found.

And that’s not mentioning all the other stuff emusic has. Lots of great jazz, classical, and world music. Lots of indie stuff. And lots of complete garbage, like any big record store, but it’s easy to avoid.

Probably not essential for people who are always haunting the record stores in London looking for promo 12″ singles and that sort of thing, but dubstep newbies with wide-ranging musical tastes could find it worthwhile. Oh… and it’s a lot cheaper than Itunes, and DRM-free.

Burial: Untrue

November 13, 2007

Years ago, I told a friend that the second Portishead album was like the first one, but more so. In other words, it intensified the elements that were unique rather than drawing on more outside or mainstream influences. Burial’s second album Untrue incorporates R&B-style vocals, but subjects them to so many forms of musical tinkering that this is still a long way from standard R&B or UK garage. Instead, the uniquely lo fi, crackly Burial sound is in full effect, wrapping the smeared and haunted vocals in a recognizably unique Burial sound.

You could think of this as a 21st century urban counterpart to My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless — it’s a sound you couldn’t expect to hear reproduced live, but Burial’s impossible music is much more stripped down than MBV’s wall of everything. Both evoke emotions and sometimes unease at least as much through the music as the words.

The album (on CD, at least) is saved from the risk of sameyness in terms of beats and crackles and whatnot through the appearance of a few beatless, near-ambient tracks that add more atmosphere (as if more were needed). Interludes aside, it’s a tight-focused and claustrophobic album that will strike some (like me) as a work of unusual beauty, though I can imagine it annoying or boring some people. It’s party music in much the same way as Joy Division’s Closer is: i.e., not at all. That’s got a few dubstepforum participants dumping on it for not being a series of dancefloor bangers; a lot of other people posting there are happy there’s something like this out there. If that mp3 of Coki’s “Spongebob” I found is the real thing, and it really is what gets people excited in the clubs, bring on more album-oriented dubstep. I know I’ll be listening to Untrue years after some of the dubstep mix CDs are lost in dust and cobwebs.


November 13, 2007

Already have Space and Time, 10 Tons Heavy, Glyphic, Untrue, Box of Dub 2… still waiting for Dubstep Drama and Underwater Dancehall. And maybe the Itunes-only Dubstep Sessions will go Itunes Plus in more countries soon. And then there’s Worldwide Babylon Vol 1 at digital-tunes, another digital-only release.

But wait, there’s more. Fabriclive 37 from Caspa and Rusko. Rinse 02 from Skream. No end in sight.

So, now that we’ve started…

October 9, 2007

I hope to write entries on various individual albums over the next few weeks. I’m not a music critic, a musician, or a writer, for that matter, so keep your expectations low.

Oh, and I intend to stay as anonymous as possible. Why? Because you wouldn’t know who I am even if you knew who I am. Nobody I know offline has any interest in dubstep. Nobody who has any interest in dubstep knows me. You want real expertise, check the links. I’m just trying to provide something I’d find useful if someone else had done it first.

Coming soon

October 9, 2007

Finally, here’s some albums coming soon:

Dubstep Drama. Actually, it looks like this one’s out already. Compilation/soundtrack to an interactive TV series featuring dubstep and grime, the second release from the Rinse label.

10 Tons Heavy. Double CD compilation from Planet Mu, due in October.

Deep Medi Musik Presents. CD compilation of the first several Deep Medi singles, due in October.

Boxcutter: Glyphic. Second Boxcutter album, on Planet Mu, due in October.

Hotflush Presents: Space and Time. Unmixed compilation CD, apparently due in October.

Pinch: Underwater Dancehall. First album by Pinch, a two-CD set, one disc with vocals, one instrumental, on Tectonic. Due in November.

Burial: Untrue. Second album by Burial, whose first album was received with rapturous hosannas from the press last year, and rightly so. On Hyperdub, due in November.

Benga: Diaries of an Afro Warrior. Second album by a dubstep pioneer. On Tempa, originally due in October, but apparently delayed.

Plastician: Beg to Differ. First album on Terrorhythm, delayed a few times already.

Compilations and mix CDs

October 9, 2007

Again swiped and revised from dubstepforum:

Back to the Underground
Box of Dub
Built for Boundaries Volume 1
Dubstep Allstars Vol 1 Mixed by DJ Hatcha
Dubstep Allstars Vol 2 Mixed by DJ Youngsta
Dubstep Allstars Vol 3 Mixed by Kode 9
Dubstep Allstars Vol 4 Mixed by DJ Youngsta and DJ Hatcha
Dubstep Allstars Vol 5 Mixed by N-Type
Grim FM
Grime 2
Mary Anne Hobbs: Warrior Dubz
Our Sound
The Roots of Dubstep
Science Faction: Dubstep
Skull Disco Soundboy Punishments
Sub Stance
Tectonic Plates
The World’s Heaviest Dubstep, Grime, and Bass

I’ve deleted some download-only stuff (like Bay Area Dubstep Volume 1, which is supposed to get a CD release but I haven’t seen any sign of it, but it’s pretty damn good so get it from

There are people who argue that mix CDs are the way to go — that dubstep, being a club-oriented scene, is full of tracks that are just too long and dull to play in full, because they only exist to be played for a couple minutes and then you mix in another track. For an extreme example, see Dubstep Allstars 5, 38 tracks on one CD. The mix proponents are not entirely wrong. Some tracks do go on long enough to outstay their welcome, and some collections of singles can be a bit much for one listening — especially the ones with multiple remixed versions of the same track. But they may be the only way to get some of the key tracks. And you can always listen to them as background music rather than giving them your full attention. For that matter, some collections of 12″ singles make damn good albums, like Soundboy Punishments, which may benefit from being the work of only three producers or so (mainly Shackleton and Appleblim).

I’ve left out a few compilations that are probably impossible to find except as downloads online, because they were CDs only available with certain magazines. If you’re really that interested, ask.