Wednesday, August 20, 2008
State of the bass nation
Two years after her “Dubstep Wars” show grabbed the bubbling dubstep scene and caused it to boil over, Mary Anne Hobbs took the show’s seven original DJs and asked them to predict the taste of the future.
Oneman, Quest and Silkie, Random Trio, Joker, Chef, Starkey and Kulture were accompanied by hosts Nomad and Sgt Pokes down into the bowels of the BBC’s Maida Vale studios.
There’s something special about Maida Vale. It feels arcane, steeped in history and prestige. It’s underground, which only adds to the atmosphere, as does the mass of maze-like corridor routes and identical doors, behind which lurk things like orchestra’s tuning up. Without Mary Anne’s producer to lead you to the light, you feel like you might never escape.
But we – various headz like 1Xtra’s PR Indy, Georgie Drumz of the South, Melissa, Boomnoise, LD and all the mates and girlfriends of the DJs – recently found ourselves on a balcony, looking down onto the decks, staring intently into Mary Anne’s broadcast desk and into the glass panelled control booth behind, as the first track hit the needle (Quest’s epic “Stand”). Suddenly all the joking evaporates as the gravity of the moment hits.
Since Dubstep Wars, it’s not been 100% “all good.” Yes the scene has got hype, critical acclaim and the audience the music’s creativity deserved, and its DJs have had the chances afforded to them that were never possible in the preceding six years: and that’s not to be sniffed at. But, as I’ve outlined several times before, there’s been a massive dilution of quality, a lot of cloning, a stagnation of innovation, and a clumsy rush to the most base, harder-faster-noisier zone of fruitless intensification – from many of the core headz as well as the new comers. An audience has come at a massive cost: quite frankly there’s been many times that previously great nights had been either unbearable to be at, I’ve left the room or not chosen to attend in the first place.
But over seven sets – do you know what? – Generation Bass left me feeling really positive. As the audio attests, this was dubstep DJing at its finest: experimental selectors drawing out the most exclusive VIP section to surge the scene towards multiple new possibilities. Quest and Silkie threw down their usual tech-house hypeness. Oneman and Chef did some ridiculous mixing: the latter on 3 decks, the former in his usual endless, locked tight, jaw drop fashion. Oney dropped a brand new Darkstar bit that sounded nice ‘n’ tasty, while Chef drew some next jungly Cluekid dub. Kulture seems to have been listening to a lot of Skream and Burial, while Random Trio unveiled a new, harder, riff-based direction.
Joker aired his awesome collaboration with Rustie, which is mad crunky. But it was Starkey FTW as far as I’m concerned, ripping up the Serrato to fling down cuts of his – trust me – amazing debut album, all post-grime 8bit riffage and hyped energetics. The first wonky long player? It doesn’t disappoint.
So on this offering I found myself pleasantly surprised: dubstep seems in rude health. OK 50% of the innovation is happening at the peripheries rather than the core but that’s cool: as the scene has now internationalised and delocalised, what is core rather than edge anyway?
Soon it was all over and the DJs began celebrating as only they can: with neat whiskey. Joker managed to poleaxe himself with about 15 minutes to comic effect and someone, who shall remain nameless, was doing some very amusing camp impressions of a grime legend. The banter levels were soaring to levels I simply can’t test when I ducked out. So will this generation rule the dubstep nation? Alongside several absent talented individuals: let’s hope so.
· For some much better photos by a real photographer, check Georgie's shots on Flickr.