Thursday, June 30, 2005

keysound recordings

myself and dusk are launching keysound recordings as a home for our productions. the imprint has been many years in the making, in the living, in the frustrating, in the struggling.

keysound thinking

the name keysound comes from the music itself, music which in turn reflects our London surroundings. a kick, a snare, a hat, a sub-bassline: in isolation, marked out on a clean sonic background, they’re sterile, contextless, adrift, culture free. “it’s just music”.

this is not just music. many dusk + blackdown tracks instead contain keysounds, a looped sonic keystone that underpins the whole track. tracks with keysounds are therefore build in a context: a constant sound that suggests an environment, a space, a culture, a city.

keysounds reflect our environment, not wistfully dwelling on the way things were, nor escaping towards imagined never-to-arrive future, but facing the pressures of today’s reality. they reflect the diverse multicultural micro-communities that surround us, and the spaces those communities live in.

keysounds are condensed shards of overheard conversations in heavy accents, hints of understanding of other cultures or keys to understanding different ways of living. keysounds are the echoes of decaying buildings, clanking trains, dirty streets and hidden urban communities.

reacting to that which changes, not that which is constant, the brain soon filters the keysound out as the track rolls on… but like the surroundings in which we live, its influence remains a defining one. this is keysound thinking.

dusk + blackdown
keysound recordings
LDN 2005

· dusk + blackdown ‘drenched/ submerge’ [LDN001] is out on keysound recordings via baked goods distribution late july.

· dusk + blackdown present the keysound recordings mix vol 1: watch this space.


‘drenched’ is a snapshot of urban underground living, spread wide across one 12”. tense, intense, compressed, it begins on a south London train, reflecting the rhythms and textures of our surroundings. the train heads south through some of dubstep’s birthplaces: streatham, norbury and norwood, ending of course, in croydon. the recording was made late on a sunday night, heading for one of Digital Mystikz’ Dub Sessions parties.

the name ‘drenched’ comes from London’s rainy experience. constantly under bombardment from sound, sights, information, fellow citizens ... rainfall like is a metaphor for London living. just keeping your head above water is a struggle. under pressure, you exhale to unwind… then inhale fumes. ‘north, south, east ...’ - a local MC marks out garage’s tribal regions, interlocked groups that seldom mix.

‘drenched’ was written in east london. It ends with more rainfall, recorded during a storm in turnpike lane, north london. rudeboys shelter under the park furniture, car breaks squeek down Green Lanes, police sirens wail. the tube station is located across the park, anecdotally said to be the focus of the most multicultural square mile in Britain, with over two hundred languages spoken.


’submerged’ is a testament to uprising. the first kick rises out of a ‘submerged’s’ keysound: a merky, bubbling, primordial soup. the kick coalesces into a live, organic rhythm, leading onwards. at first tiny shards of light filter through the mire, before a weak sun breaks through the grey clouds.

’submerged’ is dedicated to everyone who has dreamt but never acted; wished but never tried. no long ting rudeboy: what are you waiting for? if you want something done: do it yourself. not later. now. do it. grasp it. make it …happen. make the music you want. not the music they make you want.

Friday, June 24, 2005

dub for dub

This evening I participated for the first time in one of urban music’s great rituals: I went dubplate cutting.

You turn east out of Forest Hill train station, deep in south London and head into a sprawl of houses. Transition Studios is tucked away down a terraced street. You meander around the side of pebbledash building hemmed in by people’s back gardens , until you enter the barred front door.

When your time in the waiting room is over, you enter a tiny, and in this current heatwave, sweltering room. There you present your CD to the cutting engineer - and the ritual begins.

He’s sat at an analogue desk. A stack of outboard equipment, valves, EQs and a tiny quaint flashing green oscilloscope, tower above him. Underneath the desk , exposed wires and curious exposed cables snake and writhe. There’s even a telephone, just like in that classic dub photograph (Augustus Pablo is it? Or King Tubby?).

To the right there’s the cutting lathe, part precision engineering tool, part sonic magic-maker. It’s littered with bizarre discarded tools, gas cylinders, a selection of lubricants and is built with three aluminium drawers, complete with green flashing lights.

The process from digital CD to analogue vinyl is not trivial. It’s part art, part science. Part experience, part emotion. After “pulling the tracks apart“ a bit with EQs, the cutting process begins. Soon – I say soon but it’s a process that takes a while and can’t be rushed – you have a freshly cut dark black 10” dubplate. It smells funny, like it’s soaked in some kind of solvent.

I’m not obsessed by tradition: just because something has been done one way before, doesn’t mean it has to be done that way again. I’m open to change: Ableton, Traktor or Final Scratch, I’m excited by them. But I can’t describe the buzz from having a pile of freshly cut exclusive dubs. This might be a routine feeling to Hatcha, Youngsta or Transition’s biggest customer, Jah Shakka. But tonight it’s anything but routine to me. Bring on DMZ03.

Transition Studios are on +44 (0) 20 8 699 7888

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

pitchfork 2

second edition of my monthly column is live-o.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Don't call it a comeback...

yesyes it's true: DMZ03 will feature me pon decks.
many thanks to DMZ for spreading the love.
in the meantime get ready for some fresh new dubz.

Originally uploaded by Blackdown.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Digital dubz

Digital downloading isn't the future, it's the present. Over the last six months I've been busy putting together a legal download page with Bleep, Warp records' sister site.

Right now you'll find high res downloads from Digital Mystikz, Loefah, Kode 9, Skream, Plasticman, Macabre Unit, Reza, Vex'd and Mark One. Expect many more artists to follow.

Find it here: Bleep/road. If you run a label and want to get involved, email me.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Digital pirate material

The feature below was first commissioned for The Guardian's Online section in autumn 2002, and published in Deuce magazine in spring 2003, when the first discussion of the analogue-to-digital radio switch over was suggested.

While everyone else was talking about if/when, of more concern was what would happen to pirate radio - the lifeblood of British urban culture. If they had sold off the analogue FM band then to mobile phone operators, who then jammed the frequency with other services, they would have killed off the nacent grime-to-be scene. Thankfully they didn't, but the question remained in my mind - where was pirate radio going?

In the last few months I think I've found an answer. Yousendit. Combined with online streaming, broadband connections and willing uploaders, Yousendit allows grime and dubstep to suddenly spread way, way beyond Bow and Croydon. Funny how things evolve.

Digital pirate material: what is the future of pirate radio culture?

In a dingy council flat squat a DJ releases the record from underneath his hand. The groove hits the needle and a signal shoots from the pirate radio station across urban Britain. Despite the authorities’ best efforts, it’s a very common event. Unbeknownst to the DJ however, he’s standing at a crossroads in British radio culture. It’s where international corporations meet determined amateurs, cutting edge digital technology finds D.I.Y. graft, the internet reaches the streets and the present looks towards the future.

Pirates have been either the thorn in the radio industry’s side, or an exciting explosion of grass roots UK culture - depending on your viewpoint - for the last 15 years. Many key artists, like So Solid Crew, Ms Dynamite and much of the specialist Radio 1 DJs, honed their craft on the medium. Up to 100 UK pirate stations broadcast illegally each year. There’s a few anarchists and the odd anorak, but the vast majority are commercial enterprises, promoting club ticket sales. Digital radio, by contrast, is a brand new way to broadcast clearer and with extra multimedia services. Its dominance, when the analogue to digital switch over happens in a decade or so, will be a landmark in British radio. But what will happen to pirates when the switch occurs? What is the future of pirate radio?

Looking from 2003 there seems three obvious eventualities: to go online, to stay analogue or to switch to digital. Each will change pirate radio culture as we know it.

Although the conditions should alter massively in the next ten years, digital pirate broadcasting appears difficult at this point. Currently the technology is hard to acquire, complex to use and expensive to buy. According to the director of engineering at the Radio Authority Mark Thomas, running a legal analogue station costs “a low five figure sum” per year. Upgrading that to a digital station converts it to “a high five figure sum.” He leaves us to make the illegal radio comparisons, but this cost is sure to be a significant barrier to pirates.

In the current market, there are very few suppliers of the required digital broadcast equipment and so market prices are high. With digital receivers expensive, the current audience remains small. But both these barriers should shrink over time, with encouraging news like Ford announcing digital radios in cars from last January. Also the way legal stations have to share the digital broadcast equipment called “multiplexes” works against pirates too. “Pirate stations are very much go-it-alone, chuck-up-anything-that-you-think-will-work merchants. That whole mindset is really quite different to the organised and collectivist approach that is inherent with [legal] digital,” explains Thomas.

Finally, because of the properties of digital, there are less numbers of frequencies for pirates to broadcast on. Most the available slots are now assigned. “Your only options as a pirate in London is to use a frequency in Kent, and interfere with that or use one in frequency in Southend. And how many pirates will be able to do that without interfering with each other?” asks Thomas. “The [digital] frequency planning environment is much more difficult.”

However it would be foolish to underestimate the determination and resourcefulness of pirate engineers. “You can never say ‘never’. 20 years ago you would have said they’d never get on FM,” remarks an Area Manager for the Radiocommunications Agency. “I’ve got to say I have a professional respect for what they’re capable of achieving, these pirates.”

When the commercial stations vacate the analogue FM band, could the pirates could just stay put? Analogue radios don’t suffer a lot of wear and tear, so a loyal audience might remain. But would they hear anything? As the 3G licence auction testified, spectrum is a valuable commodity. Some industry experts speculate that it could be sold off for other services to companies like mobile phone operators. Could the pirates broadcast over such a din? Technically it is possible as, according to Mark Thomas, broadcast transmitters tend to be at the upper end of the power range on the airwaves.

Why don’t pirates just broadcast online? Given artist royalties are collected by the Performing Rights Society, netcasting is a legal proposition and one some currently chose to take. have most successfully taken the pirate model online, suggesting it is viable.

Bandwidth costs might increase per user, unlike conventional radio, but they’re still smaller than the costs of running a legal digital radio station. The main drawback is that pirate radio broadcasts to a dense and compact local audience. Internet radio broadcasts to a disperse global audience – which is of no use if your core revenue source is ticket sales to raves in Hackney.

“Really the future of online radio is down to how available the internet becomes in day-to-day life,” explains DJ SL, who simulcasts London’s leading pirate station Rinse FM, over the internet. Penetration of broadband, 3G mobile phones and even in-car internet access will all determine the future of online radio. But for now it’s still a minor influence on the audience pirate radio tries to reach. “We are probably talking at least another 5 years before we see these [technologies] implemented and about another 5 years beyond that until these products are both available and cheap enough.”

Still it is a fruitful option for many artists and one DJ we spoke to had just recently switched from pirate radio to “Whilst we were on pirate only Londoners could hear us and it wasn’t even like we could be heard over the whole of London,” explains a representative of the Frequency collective. “Since being on the internet the interest in us and the offers have been immense ... We feel like the hard work and sacrifices we've made are starting to pay off.” Now the collective are getting offers of work from Malaysia, Australia and Sweden.

As broadband and wireless internet access increases, European webcasters could yet gain ground over US counterparts. Given recent the effect of recent Congress developments on the US market - favouring big corporate players over grass roots providers - niche homegrown EU talent might be just what the world’s music fans are looking for. These are exciting times.

First published in Deuce magazine (RIP) spring 2003

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Belief part 2

"Yes, you've got to be strong..."

Sizzla, "Be Strong" (Drop Leaf riddim)

Thursday, June 02, 2005


Club Forward>>’s summer line up comes true to it’s name and ethos: moving things ... forward. If you’ve followed the fusion/purism debate on the grime/dubstep border on this blog, then this line up is some next level biz:

July 7

July 21
DMZ & Loefah 2hr set

Reading between the lines with this, erm, lineup this looks like FWD>> embracing grime MCs properly. Of course MCs have always guested there, with Slimzee and Maxwell D reaching in about 2002 when Pay As U Go were together, but since then it's been all about Crazie D and SLT Mob MCs - bar the odd suprise slot from Crazy Titch and Roll Deep.

FWD>> has always been a producer stronghold, a place to test new 'plates, so it could never become a haven for MC Nobody, his 12 mates and their wasteman wannabe rivals brewing for a slewing. But it looks like it's now open to the cream of cutting edge grime artists - and rightly so. Tubby brought D Double and Footsie down on unannounced. Geeneus & Slimzee brought Sier B, Riko, Skepta, Dog-Z and Jammer. Watching Jammer and Skepta over Youngsta's dubstep set was a fascinating experiment of grime/dubstep fusion in action. So for Logan and Target, I'd predict the best of Roll Deep MCs, possibly more. Forward>> ... it's aptly named.

Crikey! The FWD>> line up debate has provoked strong opinion on . Check the views of Plasticman, Hotflush, Vex'd, Kode 9, Infinite and more...