Sunday, November 27, 2005
Recently I bought the Shy FX LP (a one-track CD wonder) and the Calibre album (kinda nice … growing on me but I still think his Signature 12”s are better), but they haven’t really changed my life. I’ve been checking Robbo Ranx (dancehall), Bobby Friction and Nihal’s (desi) BBC shows too. I bought the top five albums off this best of bhangra thread Woebot recommended me. Why? One because I know virtually nothing about bhangra yet as someone who loves Asian influenced dubstep it interests me. And also the bhangra boys, they sell their entire albums for £8, less than most grime 12”s.
So as I was saying, it’s important not to just consume music from the scene you’re into. You need new ideas and places to draw reference and inspiration from. Distance was reinforcing this point to me recently, though in fairness I’ve heard it from lots of other producers over the years and it’s true. There were times this year when I seemed to exist on Roll Deep and Youngsta shows alone, and that is not healthy.
Drum & bass’s influx of new producers have been definitely guilty of sonic cannibalism, where their first and only reference points are Bad Company circa 'Planet Dust' and nothing else.
But this also presents a dilemma for dubstep producers. The sound exists in some ways with sonically such close proximity to other underground sounds like d&b, breaks, broken beat, techno and electronica that it’s fundamental that producers find new sonic definers. It’s not good enough to sample the same old funk breaks (cos like black music stopped in the '60s did it?), to go a bit tepid ‘liquid funk’ or draw for the Reece stabs ie to rinse d&b’s tired clichés. It’s fundamental for the sound that it finds it own unique styles and this is done by new ideas not rehashing of old ones.
You can’t mistake a musical buzz. It’s like being in love, you either completely, indivisibly are in love, or you’re not. The buzz is the same. I either think ‘fuck me I have to tell someone about this tune,’ or not.
Seems like Kode 9 had one of those moments on his show this month. Jason H drops a tune by himself called ‘Forever’ and well, the “faaaacking ‘ell” says it all.
I had one of those moments Thursday. Listening to Cameo on 1Xtra, he suddenly drew for this Wiley vocal produced by Skandalous Unlimited. Cameo’s been losing his mind about Scandalous recently. Two years ago I nearly lost my life with Scandalous, driving to Sidewinder. Stanza they’re called roundabouts because you, like, go round them, preferably braking before haha.
Anyway this Wiley vocal is from the True Tiger mixtape, out in the next few weeks, and is called ‘WD25’ (a Watford postcode reference?). It’s next level grime minimalism, just a few synthy tones and the odd crunchy effect. Drumz? Who fucking needs drums! Rags. This is Skandalous out-Devil Mixing the Devil-Mixmaster. Stanza says there’s versions by Aftershock, Virus Syndicate, K Dot and Ghetto, but Wiley certainly drops some of his best bars:
Everything seems cloudy
I’ve never been robbed in the game, I’m rowdy
Carry on, I’ll take a hammer to your Audi
I’m like a soldier from Saudi
You’re not bad round me
Wanna CD? Try hound me
It’s next week you still ain’t me found me
Phone starts ringing when I drive through Boundary
Where’s Lethal? He ain’t in Boundary
I distribute through Pastels
Just like Rowntree
Now see, why I can handle life in the Deep End
They can’t drown me
Blud I’m a cold kid
Don’t come around me
I’m a city kid
I’m not a towny
Badboy like Mike Laury
I don’t don’t wanna be king
So don’t try crown me
I’m alright just being Wiley, I’m rowdy
Plus I eat lamb curry and roti
I’m a war MC, they can all quote me
And I might punch you in the boti
When you get up, everything seems floaty
I guess you wanna find me, but I move low key
Come into your house with no key
Climb through the window
You know me, my name’s Wiley yeah I’m that brer with the goatee
I’ve got Iceberg suits and Hurrache boots
Not once will you see me in no shiny suit
I’m a rudeboy, still by goods from the loot
Drums layered up with a bass and a flute
I score goals even when the angle’s acute
If I gotta go somewhere take the quick route
Forget the long route
Searching for that number one route, house-in-the-sun route
Dilly dally through badboy valley, I ain’t one to try and act pally
Will start going on aggi if I have to, start getting dark if I have to
Switch if I have to
I only do black-on-black crime if I have to
I know it ain’t good, I hope I don’t have to…
Derived of their intonation, transcriptions doesn’t do them justice but I could still write all month about Wiley lyrics. Check the passion in his flow. Sometimes you can hear Wiley single-handedly willing the entire grime scene forward, and not by the ‘long route’ either. Wiley’s flows are always full of glorious contradictions. He’s a rudeboy, he’ll punch you, he knows black-on-black crime isn’t good but he might have to resort to it. Yet despite being road he’s still looking for the “house-in-the-sun route.”
Also keeping the buzz going round here is the prospect of four very exciting dubstep mixes/compilations due in ’06 … that sadly I can’t elaborate on right now. Yes, I know it’s frustrating and certain other bloggers might blab the details straight away, but trust me, if I was to go on like that, then I’d quickly never have excluses to tell. So you’ll have to trust me when I say big tings a gwann in the dubstep mix/compilation field right now, though it’s all very, very early days.
The week before last I got a completely-out-of-the-blue email from Burial, someone I’d never spoken to. No one had, bar Kode 9. In fact one bigboy drum & bass producer went so far as to suggest Burial didn’t even exist. But he does … and after the heavy Hyperdub 12”, he’s back.
Appearing in my inbox were two brand new Burial tracks, “Distant Lights” and “Shutter.” And how can I put this delicately? THEY’RE F***ING LUSH.
No, it’s no great stylistic departure from the Hyperdub 12”, but when you’ve built yourself a sonic trademark, why bother? If you’ve heard that 12” you’ll know these trademarks. Crunchy, semi-swung intricate beats. Like Horsepower circa 2002 but with the ‘going on differently’ setting at 11. They’re so-wrong-they’re-right. Not forgetting the crackles and pops that suggest Pole … and the entire history of black music left to rot on decaying vinyl.
The other characteristic, which I’m a sucker for, it’s that powerful hint of wistful sorrow. Burial says Foul Play are a massive inspiration. I can see that (a curious coincidence since Steve Gurley’s 98-99 garage output was a massive influence on dubstep godfather El-B). Both tunes make me want to jump in the car and cruise the margins of LDN by night. Burial says he’s been working on lots of new material, in several different directions. Come with it bro.
Talking of lush wistful sorrow, the next Hyperdub 10” is gonna be Kode 9 “9 Samurai” with Spaceape vocal tune “Backward”. Can’t wait.
I’ve also been wondering about two Asian-flavoured tunes Hatcha’s been playing over the last few months. This is a link to the two unknown Hatcha dubs. The first 40 seconds is the tune that sounds a bit like Hatcha v Benny Ill ‘Highland Spring.’ The other is like some Bollywood remix. Lush. Can anyone ID them?
Speaking of Asian dubstep, on Monday I did my dubstep soulja duty and went into Radio 1. Soulja duty comes round now and then. Over the years I’ve sent Kode 9 instrumentals into Kano’s manager (before we knew he wanted to follow the ‘mersh path not the ‘…Lately’ route), been told by Shoreditch dancehall promoters they want a dubstep second room (um, turns out they didn’t really), started the Bleep/Road page, left for dubstep nights in places two hours away by nightbus at 11pm on a Sunday night, written for mags with no hope of ever getting paid or tried to hook up impossibly amazing DJ dates - like the time a friend said they needed some DJs to play at the launch party for Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith in Singapore. These longshots almost never come off, or work out great, but it’s important to soldier on, because just sometimes things come of them.
Anyway through a journalism contact (hold tight Rahul Verma) Nihal from “…& Bobby Friction” got in touch about Asian-influenced dubstep. So I found myself in a Radio 1 listening room checking out Distance’s ‘Fallen’ and ‘Temptation,’ Kode 9 & Spaceape’s ‘Fukkaz,’ Skream and Loefah’s ‘Indian’ and ‘Monsoon’ remixes, L Wiz’ Habibi and Skream’s ‘Cheeky…’ over some phat speakers. It was interesting to see Bobby Friction and Nihal’s responses to how dubby, spacey and instrumental most of those tunes are. To dubstep fans these seem normal qualities of our sound, but it’s easy to forget how others respond.
Bobby Friction and Nihal suggested dubsteppers work with more MCs, a fairly standard response from people in the industry who want to appeal to a wider audience. Sure, vocal tunes can evoke a broader emotional range, but there’s far more to it that that. The entire industry is set up to work vocal tunes and market ‘artists’. The most powerful way to market sound is in fact by sight: music TV, magazines and newspapers break the big acts.
There are lots of people in the industry (predominantly called A&Rs) - though probably less than there were even comparatively recently - who spend their time cherry picking the best of the underground and transporting them to the mainstream, with a few changes on route of course. And so following on from Nihal’s point, people could perhaps theoretically argue that since dubstep is suddenly attracting some heat, it should think about undergoing a transformation.
But why? Sure a dubstep artist could get a PR, spend £10,000 on a video (like anyone in dubstep even has this kind of budget), buy in remixes (probably from an indie band these days lmfao) and enlist a token frontwoman blahdeblah etc. Lots of d&b artists have tried this (Shy *cough* FX … MC *cough*Tali, DJ *cough* SS), but mostly they flop and frankly… I don’t see the point. This really isn’t what dubstep is about. It’s underground music.
If I recall correctly, Simon Reynolds once remarked how much UK hip hop’s ‘undergroundist’ attitude was self-fulfilling. Since its ‘no sell out’ attitude views commercial success as failure, it is stunting its own growth, dooming itself to underachievement and permanent financial pressures. Since Simon lives in New York now, he’s probably acutely well positioned to compare this to the US ‘can-do’ attitude which has made the States’ music industry such a global success.
But even if dubstep adopted a ‘can-do’ attitude and made a bid for the mainstream, I’m willing to argue that it’s now harder to do this than ever before. Long gone are the times when LFO’s ‘LFO’ made the charts. Even the times circa 2000 where underground garage hits like ‘Body Groove’ could become mainstream hits seems distant. Not to say the charts are completely inaccessible (d&b’s Ram Record can break the top 40 with vinyl sales alone), but the gap between underground and mainstream is definitely widening, not least because the ‘charts’ are increasingly marginalised as a measure of success compared to other forms of media ie tabloid coverage. I mean, 2005’s ‘Body Groove’ is surely Bear Man’s ‘Drinking Bear’ or Jammer’s ‘Murkel Man’ – and no one’s touched these two with a barge pole. (And was ‘Pow/The Forward Riddim?’ a fluke or one off? Bobby Friction and Nihal say when they play it in places like Newcastle they get very funny looks).
This suggestion that the gap is confirmed by a major label A&R I corresponded with this week, (someone to whom I will always owe a debt re my early breaks in the music industry five years ago). As one of the perhaps 10-30 people in this country who actually decides what gets signed to a major label in this country he should know what’s currently possible. And his analysis seems to confirm my hunch. Why? Because older consumers now seem to want safer and safer acts (hello Dido! Greeting Jamie Cullum! Howdy James Blunt! …arrrgh!) and younger consumers are actually paying for less music, probably because they download it, share it via IM or just watch it on TV and mobiles. So even if an underground scene like dubstep wanted to sell itself … it couldn’t.
The response to this gap, I’m convinced, it to not watch it. Scenes should build their own media (blogs, fan sites, forums, email lists), start their own labels, run their own download shops and clubs. Which to be fair to dubstep, it already is, which is all fine-and-dandy, except of course no one can make a living. But separating money and music, well, if you look at it in certain criterion (ie aesthetically), that’s no bad thing.
Buzz hunting 10
· DJ Distance “My Demons/Temptation”
· Wiley and Scandalous ‘WD25’
· Jason H ‘Forever’
· Digital Mystikz ‘Intergalatic Dub’/‘Anti War Dub’/’Mighty Zulu Nation remix’ (sadly only heard this once at FWD).
· Kode 9 ‘9 Samurai’/‘Backward ft Spaceape’
· Burial ‘Shutter’/‘Distant Lights’
· Those unknown Hatcha dubs.
· Oris Jay ‘Mighty Wan’
· Appleblim’s ‘Cheat I’
· L Wiz ‘Habibi’
PS Roll Deep have revived Danny Weed and Cage's 'Creeper' inna 'Sidewinder' style. Trim opens it up straight. "Yo I'm oh-gutter/come through stinking of coco butter/the local nutter/Original mad-m-mad Nutta...". Are you stupid?