A tight little mix over at Tempo Tantrum HQ from Reza brought something into focus.
It made me realise the relative merits of fusion v purism have been circulating around unresolved in my brain on several occasions of late. Specifically two types of fusion: fusion in production and fusion in DJing.
The importance of fusion or purism, essentially how a sound grows and evolves, is key. The wrong influence can drag a scene backwards to cover old ground. But to move forward, a scene needs new ideas, either generating them from within or consuming ideas from without.
This thinking on fusion v purism, change from within or without, was triggered by several recent experiences. A lengthy discussion of the porus membrane between the grime and dubstep cells with Kode 9 one evening, and his set last month at FWD>>, comprising of Mystikz dubs and Terror Danjah 12"s. Jay Da Flex's sets of late on 1Xtra and FWD>>, which have been fusing broken beat with breakbeat garage. A conversation with Loefah on the influence of grime on dubstep's "halfstep" flavours. Kid Kameleon's mixes. Semtex's "Crunk & Grime" CD and Dizzee & Semtex' Nike M180 mix, which includes a Neptunes mix of Diz, crunk MCs over grime riddims and Dizzee over a Lil Jon beat. And then of course there's Reza's mix (tracklisting below).
First to fusion in DJing. When the first dark hybrids of garage were emerging in 2000, there weren't enough Ghost, Wookie, Zed Bias or Steve Gurley bits to fill a whole set. I'd use what I had around me to fill the gaps: I'd play pitched up broken beat or techy breaky stuff, the odd bit of electronica or electro or even slowed down jungle. Soon though it began to feel pointless, probably around the time Forward>> began and 8bar/grime emerged. Dusk and I were presenting the Forward>> show on Groovetech.com (RIP) and mixing El-B and Horsepower with Plasticman, Dizzee’s “Brand New Day” with Hindzy D’s “Capsule”. Suddenly you could touch all flavours without leaving the same continuum. Furthermore, beyond a varied/inconsistent dancefloor experience, I began to question what could you actually achieve with a fusion set?
It was 2003-4 Hatcha sets, the foundation of the current dubstep sound, that proved how mighty purism could be and how much progress could be made by pulling in a concerted direction. Hatcha had Benga, Skreams, Loefah and Digital Mystikz productions on exclusive at this time allowing him to exert massive A&R control over their productions and pull his DJ sets coherently in one direction. The results, now on vinyl, speak for themselves.
This leads us into fusion in production. In the last two years grime has flourished. Reza and Jayda might be interested in the dubstep/broken beat boundary, Semtex and Dizzee in the grime/crunk border, but to me and other Londoners like Kode 9, the grime/dubstep boundary holds more fascination.
But is there a actually a boundary between the styles?
While we both know they come from the same roots in late '90s garage, my position is there are enough social and sonic differences to make them distinct enough to warrant fusions. Kode 9 has suggested that musically if you think they're separate strains - you're too close to them.
But then check his "'Kingstown' Dub," now forthcoming on his Hyperdub label. It is the perfect grime/dubstep fusion. Mark One-inspired tablas, massive sub bass drop, layered (not chopped) arrangements that develop - all themes from dubstep. Maximalist, in-yer-face, solid riff, starting from the very first bar, written on grimey synths, looping throughout the track ( all substance as opposed to the negative space/textures of dubstep) - all themes from grime.
Kode, ever the enthusiast on science-meets-society thinking then suggested his litmus test of any kind of fusion: does it form a hybrid or a mutant? Ie is the result (a DJ set or production) greater the sum of its parts, or merely the sum of it's parts or less? I think he's nailed a key issue there.
Here's what Kode had to say in full on the matter...
“To talk about fusions you have to be much more sonically specific ‘what is grime?’”
“So to talk about sonic fusions between grime and dubstep – if you subtract the MCs – you would first have to identify an identity to both grime and dubstep. It is precisely in order to reject solidifying grime or dubstep each into a core identity (purism) that I am rejecting the word fusion as a way of thinking about attempting to weave grime and dubstep instrumentals. If you reject purism, then what is left as distinct entities to fuse? Because I think it under-plays the mutations and meshing that these styles are undergoing, and limits future discussion of what can emerge as merely being hybrids, as opposed to mutants.”
“Most people, I’m sure, would think I'm just being too fussy about the word 'fusion'. We all know that these musics come from different microscenes, and different cultures with different outlooks. But it is enlightening to see the way the music spreads, not just its roots ... and its spread is unpredictable in a way that the concept of 'fusion' doesn’t do justice to. Get me? I just don't think its worth calling it a fusion to want more sub weight in my grime, and more mid-range excitement in my dub. It's just pre-occupations with different sets of frequencies, not radical stylistic differences.”
Whether they can be resolved into two parts, or are sub-units of a greater whole, a cutting edge interaction of some kind is definitely taking place. And, like Riko joining the blogsphere, it's no longer 100% one-way traffic. I can't say anymore on this, mostly because nothing's concrete yet, but expect some very exciting movements from different points through the porous membrane this year.
Finally an observation, not a coded hint, just an observation. Traditionally, bar the Rinse/Dumpvalve lot, grime artists have not repped for FWD>>, even if Slim and Maxwell D did a set in about 2002 at Velvet Rooms. But since Wiley first DJed at Forward>> recently, he's attended the last four in a row. He's not been booked, he just comes, stands in the back and listens. As Trim said last year in my Touch piece Wiley "quantum leaps." He foresaw MCs-becoming-artists, Dizzee's future achievements, the lessons to be learned from dancehall (on the Ice Rink riddim series), the street-marketing potential of clashing and the even beatless "devil mixes." Of late he's instigated producer-clashes, seen how to go commercial with "Shake A Leg" and why it's important long term to have a label ("your own situation") not to rely on expensive and short-term major label deals.
He's seen all this. And now he's checking dubstep ...
Some mixes for thought
Kode 9 in Brazil
Kode: “There is a zig zag sequence I'm particularly fond of from “Fuckaz” to “Late Nite Request Line” to “Thuggish Ruggish” to “Poltergeist Relay” to “Twisup original” to “Piano Madness” which peaks at 25:15 to 26min's…”
'Ghost Land' - Kode9/Spaceape/Digital Mystikz' (dubplate)
'Kingstown' Dub - Kode9 (dubplate)
'Stuck' - Digital Mystikz (dubplate)
'Changes' - Digital Mystikz (dubplate)
'?' - Skream (dubplate)
'Mood' - Digital Mystikz (dubplate)
'Fukkaz' - Kode9 & Spaceape (dubplate)
'Late Nite Request Line’ - Skream (dubplate)
'Thuggish Ruggish' - Skepta (white)
'Poltergeist Relay' - Roll Deep (white)
'Twisup' - Loefah (white)
'Piano Madness' - Terror Danjah (Aftershock)
'Slow Down' - Virus Syndicate (Planet Mu)
'Morgue' - Wiley (white)
'Fwd Rmx'- ? (white)
'Conference' - Digital Mystikz (dubplate)
'Shut Down Shop' - Essentials (Paperchase)
'Correction Dub' - Kode9 (dubplate)
Reza at Tempo Tantrum
1. Cold Mission - DH Shuffle
2. Cousin Cockroach & Shox - King Tut Fool
3. Afronaught - Golpe Duro Culinda
4. Dom Um Romao - Lake Of Perseverance
5. Darqwan - Said The Spider
6. Kelis - Milkshake (Freq Nasty's Hip Hall Mix)
7. Somatik - Reflections Of The Future
8. Seiji & Spoonface - Yin Yang
9. Misa Negra - Mixamatosis
10. Lady Sovereign - Chi Ching (Landslide Remix)
11. Almost Human - Criminal Minded
12. Loefah - Indian Dub
13. Solid Groove - Flookin (Domu's Lucky Dub)
14. Zed Bias - Old School, New School
15. Menta - Snakecharmer
16. Horsepower Productions - Classic Deluxe Part 2
17. Toasty - Angel