Monday, July 16, 2007
“This is not your normal dubstep mix...”
“This is not your normal dubstep mix – this is filled with hyped up, nervous energy, and it gets pretty banging – there’s a techno flavour here, but it’s not minimal at all. In fact, after a sub-aquatic start, this mix represents a maximalist dubstep. As ever, there’s lots of re-edits and FX, as well as a heap of unreleased stuff, and this time, I’ve combined the normal dubstep flavour with a lot of wicked grime.”
-- Paul.meme / Grievous Angel
A few weeks ago a link appeared in my inbox to a dubstep mix – nothing out of the ordinary you might think. But within a few minutes, it became very clear how extraordinary Paul.meme aka Grievous Angel’s mix was. He's since blogged about it. Blending dubstep, grime and a little hip hop, it quickly showed itself to be far greater than the sum of it’s (many) parts, not just capturing the zeitgeist of the cutting edge of dubstep but bringing into question where exactly the boundaries of mixes, live sets and production cross…
Grievous Angel Presents: Dubstep Sufferah Volume 3: download it here
[00:00] Narcossist: No Love (CDR)
[03:36] Caspa: Homesick (CDR)
[04:24] DQ1: Gud Money (CDR - forthcoming on Tectonic)
[05:24] Kano: Mr Me Too (Kano Mixtape)
[10:43] Side 9000: Dhun (CDR)
[13:42] Massive Music: Find My Way (Kode 9 remix) (Hyperdub)
[16:52] TimeBlind: Copy Copy (Soot)
[18:31] Roll Deep: Celebrate (Rules and Regulations CD)
[21:28] DJ JSL: Coyote Dub (CDR) / Slew Dem: Bumbaclaat Badman
[23:19] Monochrome: Mine a Kill Dem (CDR)
[26:44] Narcossist: White Lotus (CDR) / Scare Dem Crew: Take Off
[30:18] Skream: Make Me (Tempa) / Timbaland & Magoo: Get Crunk / JME: Deadout / Caspa: LFO King (CDR)
[33:36] Cloaks: Dark (Version) (CDR) / Kano & Jammer: Tapout (Jah Mek The World The Classics Mixtape)
[37:40] Komonazmuk: Fear (CDR) / Roll Deep: Babylon Burners (Rules and Regulations CD)
[40:55] Coki: Tortured (Tempa) / Ruff Sqwad: Down (Gun and Roses Mixtape)
[43:44] Cloaks: Too On Top (CDR) / Trim: But I Still (Soul Food mixtape)
[47:17] Loefah: Voodoo (666) / Lord Finesse: Check the Method (DJ Premier Scratch Mix)
[52:20] Loefah: Natural Charge (Grievous Angel Edit) (CDR)
[56:40] Loefah: Disko Rekah (Deep Medi) / Cluekid & Cotti: Sensi Dub (White)
[59:41] Cluekid & Cotti: Flashback (White) / Ruff Sqwad: When Itz On (Guns and Roses Mixtape)
[63:07] Skream: Losing Control (Grievous Angel Edit) (Tempa)/ Trim: In the Ghetto (Soul Food Volume 1 Mixtape)
[65:28] Grievous Angel: Culture Killer (CDR) / Trim: Wot Part One (Soul Food Volume 1 Mixtape) / JME: 96 Bars of JME
[70:39] TRG Vs Selector DubU: Losing Marbles (CDR)
[73:37] Kode9: Magnetic City (Hyperdub)
B: So, can you tell me some background to the mix…
GA: The idea behind the Dubstep Sufferah series was that while dubstep is fantastic when it's mixed live and hyped up, there's still scope for mixes that were coherent, long-form pieces of music in the manner of house or techno mixes. Obviously this kind of approach is fraught with danger - you can suck the life out of the music if you over-egg. Nevertheless I wanted to hear a denser variant of dubstep that was simultaneously more dubby and more vocal. A wide-screen, cinematic experience in a way. In the first Dubstep Sufferah I was wanted to do dubstep in dub, but with proper track sequencing so the mix had direction. In the second, I wanted to create vocal versions of dubstep tunes while emphasising the reggae aspects of dubstep. For the this one, I was originally going to do an all-vinyl mix, but it wasn't really unique enough, and then Paul Autonomic said he wanted to hear some of the unreleased stuff, so I went in another direction. Simultaneously there was - in my opinion at least - an explosion of creativity in grime, and I found that loads of it actually went really well with dubstep. Plus we were working on the first issue of Woofah magazine, and it became obvious just how important grime is right now.
So Dubstep Sufferah 3 turned into a dubstep versus grime cross over mix, while also showing how dubstep doesn't have to be this narcoleptic, mordant trough of despondency that some people are trying to turn it into. I mean, I like my half step as much as the next guy but the reality of a dubstep night is that it's incredibly high energy. As Simon from Whistlebump (he's a house producer and runs one of the best house nights in London) put it, at dubstep events people really really have it, but really really slowly! Plus I'm trying to create this little side-branch of dubstep that's ragga techno - really banging, but funky and syncopated and rooted in dancehall, not electronica, which is where the mix goes towards the end. It's actually slower in BPM than the rest of the mix, but it sounds faster cos it's all double-time. That's not so far from where Skream and Shackleton are going. I wouldn't want all dubstep to go that way and I wouldn't want all dubstep mixes to be like the Sufferah series, but I think there's space for it.
B: While taking it further, this mix really builds on both some of the ideas Kode9 was looking into during 2004/5 and his recent techno-influenced Sonar mix…
GA: Kode is definitely an inspiration and I'd be interested in your comparisons. Obviously he's always been about grime as much as dubstep, and he rightly believes that the world may not need yet another genre of instrumental dance music. But the Sufferah series started as a response to the mixes Paul Autonomic was doing. I loved the way he re-edited all his tunes and mixed dubstep and grime into one throbbing mass - I heard This One Is Computerised and went out and got Live almost straight away. Our release cycle is pretty much synchronised - he usually gets his ones out a month or so before mine - and I deliberately don't listen to his until I've finished mine. His Going South mix is an attempt to break out of half step, reaching back into dubstep's history while tracing out some of its future. They kind of go together even though we didn't tell each other much about what we were doing, though funnily enough a few people have said it goes with Kode 9's Sonar mix, which is a great compliment. I've been following what The Nine has been doing since the mid-nineties, from when he was talking about 2step. My reggae partner John Eden did a conference with him way back when about Dub Architecture, and he used to do this little garage / breaks / electro night in Brixton that was, I think, one of the roots of FWD>>. Plus he used to drop me the odd email encouraging me with my productions - he's a good guy.
This mix started off as all vinyl, but most of that got trashed along the way as I started adding more unreleased stuff in. Pretty much everything has been edited, and absolutely everything has some FX on it, so it's almost as much composition as it is DJing. The “LFO King” / “Make Me” / “Dead Out” / “Get Crunked” section is probably the most extreme example of that. I think it's good but you don't want to take it too far. I went through nine versions of the mix, changing the selection and running order hugely, and to do that you really need something like Ableton. It's interesting to see Vex'd now doing laptop sets live - I just played with Maga Bo who did this amazing Baile Funk / ragga / breakcore / dubstep mix using Ableton. I love it, but it's too easy to make the seamless beat so relentless it's annoying. Sometimes you really need a rewind! I just played sevens and the next couple of mixes are probably going to be vinyl, just for fun. But I need to get a few tunes finished first.
B: Your mix also brings up some of the issues around beat mixing I went into for Kode9’s Dubstep Allstars sleevenotes. On this, Kode was used mixing of two tunes (cut to dubplate) to create new sounds and dissonances, but this can only happen as quickly as he can mix, which can’t be more than about 50% of any given set length. In Ableton, you've made it possible to be permanently in the mix, so the boundaries and ordering between any given track is lost.... is that the intention?
GA: To a degree this has always been the intention of DJing – “give me two records and I’ll make you a whole world” – and it’s particularly evident in house and techno, where the blend creates radically new music. You can do the same with jungle and UK garage, but it’s less prevalent in “urban” music. r’n’b and hip hop tend to jump between tunes even when they’re mixed, and together with the ragga-derived rewind, creates a deliberately discontinuous, even disjointed, progression through a set that at its best massively builds hype and energy. This is most apparent in live grime. Dubstep is actually very mix-friendly, but done live it has lots of rewinds and is very discontinuous. This has actually been a good thing for dubstep (even though the rewinds have been over-done) because it partially inoculates dubstep from some of the nerdier mixing-for-the-sake-of-it that you get in techno. But I think dubstep’s potential for continuous mixing is under-exploited. Go to see Mala play solo at an out of town event – it’s a completely different experience to what you get at DMZ, it’s a revelatory journey, with a flow that is comparable with people like François K, and it’s amazing. But that’s not really the norm in dubstep, which is good, because it means there’s still a range of different experiences that the genre can offer.
[I think Paul’s comparison between François K is uncanny and timely, not least because Mala and François reportedly really connected in New York, with Mala “owning” the house-bastion Deep Space when he played there post-Dub War. Mala’s groove-lead approach is a refreshing and welcome contrast to the drop-contest much of dubstep seems to be heading for. It also fits with the new dubstep/Basic techno axis that Appleblim, Peverelist, T++ etc are pursuing – Blackdown ]
GA: However, the big feature of the rewind heavy, “if it sounds nice we play it twice” style of mixing (or non-mixing) is that it puts the individual track at the forefront – the “text” if you will. You play the record two or three times, until the crowd really drinks in the significance of that piece of music. When I’m doing a mix like Sufferah 3, I’m doing something completely different to that – I’m diluting the impact of the singular piece of music in order to create something new from the combination of different tunes. Which is great, but you don’t want all dubstep mixing to be like that. There’s always a tension between giving the audience something new and tasty from blending, and actually giving the individual tracks room to breathe so their full impact comes across. I’m happiest with my mixes when I’m making something new with the tracks, whether through re-edits or mixing or effects, while at the same time making sure the full force of the original track comes through. An example of that is “Natural Charge.” It’s totally re-edited and combined with a completely different vocal track, and it’s taken from an early, unfinished version anyway cos that’s all Loefah had at the time. But I think you get all the weight and tension of that tune in the mix. And frankly, the mixes would be enhanced by a couple of strategic rewinds.
The boundaries between production and mixing are broken down by Ableton, which do you think is more powerful and why?
GA: Yes, these mixes are almost like sampladelic albums. You have to set a limit to your re-production though. Atomising the music is great, but you have to make a judgement about whether you’re just boring people with snippets of music. Production and mixing became one in a couple of places on this mix – especially on the mix of Skream’s “Make Me,” Caspa’s “LFO King,” JME’s “DeadOut,” and Timbaland’s “Get Crunked,” where these tracks are combined into a new, symmetrical whole, with Timbaland at the start and end, and, and Make Me and LFO King swapping basslines in different verses. It worked, but in the end you’re reliant on the contribution of all these other producers. Mixing is more powerful than production because you’re using the combined talents of many other people, whereas production is just you and a few collaborators. You have the producers helping you, you have Transition helping you, you have recordings of MCs – there is a lot of great music out there to leverage and synergise. In fact there’s so much great music out there you have to weigh up whether it’s worth adding to the pile.
B: with so many tracks to choose from and the ability to drop any bar at any time in Ableton, how did you decide what to bring in where? With so many tracks piled on top of each other, as the mix came to a close the strongest thing you could do was just to leave one whole track in... I love Kode9’s “Magnetic City” at the end, placed there it it's epic. At the very end of the mix, I found myself struck by how powerful silence felt.
GA: I spent a long time getting the sequencing right. So much is down to happy accidents, as well as skill in figuring out what goes with what. I was trying to get this gentle upward drift of energy, with a jump in vibes when “Celebrate” comes in, another jump with Trim over Cloaks, a step down for Loefah, a massive step up for Trim over Skream and over my tune, a massive drop down for TRG and Kode… it’s a deliberate sequence of moods. I really try to make sure there’s one instrumental track that is dominant at all times, telling its story, by doing really sharp changes in level and in EQ when one track is bowing out and another one coming in. And there’s a few sections where the listener can relax a bit and focus on just one track – at the start with Narcossist, and at the end with “Magnetic City,” which has just the ghostly presence of slivers of Flow Dan on “Jah War.” A cut up sample from that begins and ends the mix. “Magnetic City” is amazing, showing how far dubstep can go in terms of subtle mood. I did a lot of intricate FX editing on that, and layered it under the previous track before bringing it in properly. But in terms of silence – that’s the big issue facing these kinds of mixes. Do they, quite simply, go on too much, are they too intense to bear, should they break down to silence at times? I think they should and there’s some strategically placed double drops to try to create those breathing points, but I’m not sure I put in enough. The most important thing is you can dance to it.
B: speaking of Kode again, Kode spent a lot of time in the grime v dubstep territory a few years ago, were you influenced by that?
GA: Definitely. It’s become controversial to mix grime and dubstep and I think that for example Pokes’ arguments are well-made. Dubstep is a beautiful scene, thus far it has been utterly blessed, to the point of being sacred. There was a deliberate distancing from Grime’s endless beefs and that was both helpful and understandable. But the space between grime and dubstep is still pregnant with opportunity. A tight MC over big wobble, projectile steppers or sub-zero infrasonics is unbeatable and I really wanted to show what could be done with this mix. Again Kode is the inspiration here because he combined dubstep and grime with this other-worldly vision that was really personal. I loved that. And again, there’s his relationship with Space Ape, who for all the acclaim he gets in dubstep is still underrated as an MC in the wider music world. Anyone who’s seen him play out of town, where there is more of a challenge, will know that he is an invocatory, transcendent MC.
B: One thing I suspect that ended up hindering/changing Kode’s approach is that once he left Rinse FM he had reduced access to exclusive grime. Your approach gets round this by re-editing and EQing the tracks like they're new, is this deliberate?
GA: Yes, that search for freshness goes across all I do – this mix has most of my unreleased tracks in it on the dubstep side, including fresh talent like Monochrome and Narcossist, but much is familiar and needs an edit or two to keep the ear candy. On the grime side, it’s mostly off mixtapes. But there is such a wealth of great grime tracks that would work with dubstep if you cut them together in Ableton. Even more so if you edit them so the verse structures fit those of dubstep, which can be very different. I think Grime producers should still be sending Kode exclusives – he’s probably more influential now than ever…
There’s a lot of good dubstep releases at the moment but I think what’s going on in grime is at least as important. There is a whole worldview there that needs to be represented and which is being ignored, and a wealth of musical enjoyment that is being spurned – partly, it has to be said, due to political action. It’s not right – and that’s one of the reasons we started Woofah Magazine, to represent not just dancehall, but grime too.
B: what about the Kano track, is it supposed to sound screwed and chopped? It sounds immense when he comes back in shouting (“what the hell have you been looking for…”) pitched down. Have you heard Trim's mixtape with the screwed and chopped “When I'm Ere” on it?
GA: You mean “Mr Me Too”, near the start. It has to be, well not screwed and chopped, but slowed down. It’s about 100bpm originally, so to keep it half-step and in-time with 138bpm dubstep, you have to take it down a bit, to 70 – if it was really screwed and chopped it would be down to 50 or 60 I reckon. It still just about works – it stretches out the malevolent joy of it. I love the hypnotic, overtoning low end on it – it complements dubstep perfectly. But Kano’s flow is just amazing on “Mr Me Too” and it’s a good statement to put at the start. I think the screwed and chopped “When I’m Ere” is OK, but Trim is so brilliant you just want more new tracks from him.
B: Can you tell me some background about yourself…
GA: Like everyone else I went from jungle to garage and for me 2step is the greatest music ever outside of reggae. It's kind of a cliché now but I really liked the darker, dubbier end of it - El B, Dem2, Groove Chronicles, not so much Ghost and people like that who came later. I was totally set up for the first phase of dubstep but I had a kid in 2001 and moved to Sheffield in 2002, so I dropped out of the scene. It's weird travelling 200 miles to get to DMZ when I used to live on Appach Road, which is about 200 metres from Mass.
I've been playing out for a long time, mainly reggae sets. The last one was with the C90 crew, warming up for Maga Bo (amazing Baile Funk / dub / techno guy) and Heatwave (London's best dancehall crew). It rocked. And I've been producing for a while and people have been picking up on it. I do a lot of dubstep but, going back to your thing about tempo intensities, I do work at a lot of different tempos, and I definitely don't just do half-step! I'm trying to push this idea of ragga techno - the 3-2 syncopated rhythms of ragga, done with 808s and stuff, at techno speeds. It's music with a lot of energy and rush without going down the headbanging 4x4 route and it's ripe for MCs. I'm talking to a label about doing something in the Autumn.
[Paul’s idea of 3+2 percussive dubstep is hot, one that Dusk and I have definitely looked into in the studio. Bring it on - Blackdown ]
Finally, I'm a director of techno and electronica label Dust Science (http://www.dustscience.com/) which is the home of the Black Dog; we've done 20 releases from people like Detroit originators like Anthony Shakir, Claude Young and Dan Curtin, new school stars like Derailleur, and of course the mighty Dog. Hopefully we're going to do a release with Loefah - we really think dubstep is a natural progression from electronica so we've been trying to sign dubstep people for a while.
[Dubstep a progression from electronica?! Gah, fucking spare me… ;) – Blackdown]
Some of Paul.meme / Grievous Angel’s mixes:
Dubstep Sufferah mixes:
· Volume 1
· Volume 2
· Volume 3
· Pure-dub mix for Blogariddims
Dancehall mixes with John Eden:
· "Lyric Maker" fast chat mix:
showcase of 80s UK MCs.
· Fast Chat mix
went out on Resonance FM during Dave Stelfox' residence there.
· Boom Boom Bashment:
the follow up, a showcase of under-appreciated nineties dancehall.
· Blogariddims mix.
· The First Taste of Hope Is Fear
a selection of early 80s industrial, in dub.
Forthcoming mixes include: a series of mixes of 94 jungle