Friday, October 31, 2008
A great day in Brixton
If you read this blog regularly or have follow dubstep for a bit, you’ll know what happened early in 2006: dubstep, to the complete surprise of most of its core members, blew up.
Around that time Chantelle and Hattie were asked to do a special edition set of features for a style mag, one of which they turned over to me. Alongside photographers Tim & Barry, I got asked to get a whole bunch of the class of dubstep ’06 together for a “state of the dubstep nation” photo. It immediately made me think of the jazz classic “A Great Day in Harlem.”
After a load of phone calls we got everyone together in one place at the same time. Could you imagine doing that now? Global dubstep would have to pause for a second and headz would have to fly in from all over. Further phonecalls, from Mala to the guys at Mass, secured us 3rd Base and the system there to boot, once church had ended. It felt so right, getting everyone there, right there, in the spot that had arguably broken dubstep as a global phenomenon and under those speakers that had unleashed so many big tunes. The photo even features Burial: this is long before his success snowballed beyond the genre.
Suddenly dubstep ’06 had it’s “A Great Day in Harlem” moment. Until disaster struck. I say “struck” I mean more, gently crept in through the back door. The issue of the magazine got delayed, then stalled. Tim & Barry proved hard to get hold of, though every now and then I’d see them in a club and they’d promise it would happen. It went on so long that they even lost their exclusive: this is the first and up to that point the only press shot of Burial. The Sun newspaper have since forced him to publish one [Update: I've since heard a newspaper tried to buy this photo to out Burial during that time but Tim n Barry said 'no,' gwann lads!]. So I’d long since accepted the Mass ‘06 photo would never appear in public. Until last week, out of the blue, Skream sent me a link to it online.
I’ve included a version here that lists who’s who but roughly it goes:
Sitting (L to R): Kode9, Loefah’s Vinton, LD, Task, George (Drumz of the South)
Front row standing (L to R): Spaceape, Jason Transition, Loefah, Youngsta, Burial, Mary Anne Hobbs, Skream, Scuba, Chef, Benga, Hatcha, Coki, Mala, Crazy D
Back row (L to R): D1, Jamie Vex’d, Blackdown, N Type, Pinch, Cyrus, Sgt. Pokes, Cluekid.
Obviously there were people who couldn’t be there, most notably Soulja. The thing is, this isn’t the first time dubstep has had it’s “A Great Day in Harlem” moment, but Soulja could make the first. It happened in the summer of 2001, when Forward>> had just started. I’d pitched a piece to The Face (RIP) magazine, calls were made and a rooftop invaded. The appearance of the ’06 photo reminded me that The Face shot wasn’t easily available, so I’ve dug it out and scanned it.
Like the Mass ’06 photo there are absentees, most notably Zed Bias, who was a massive part of the foundation of dubstep but couldn’t make it, but sent his production partner Injecta to rep for Phuturistix. Looking back I don’t see Artwork either, but while he was obviously making garage back then, I don’t know if he was on dubstep yet. That said “Red” set the Big Apple foundation from early, and I remember an early version being played by Hatch at Velvet Rooms, so I’m sure he was about, but it wasn’t until 2002 before I heard Hatcha talk (at the Maddslinky album party launch at Cargo) about his two secret new protégés, Benga and Skream.
It’s also interesting to look at the overlap between the two scenes. In five years, despite dubstep being such a tiny scene, there’s only a little continuity. Only Hatcha is in both photos, though I was at both shoots and Soulja was invited to them both too. Kode9 I met at Velvet Rooms and Benny Ill’s played DMZ, so there’s overlap too. El-B and Phuturistix both moved away from dubstep, though Jay Da Flex was about for quite some time after and was asked to close the very first DMZ (but didn’t). He seems to be DJing again. Neil Joliffe co-founded Forward>>, Tempa and Ammunition yet moved on to focus on other things a few years ago. That said he makes his FWD>> debut next week, which should be emotional. Zinc and Hype appear in the photo as part of the “Forward>> sound” umbrella (dark garage + breakbeat garage + proto-grime), though their influence was more felt on the breakstep sound, which the DMZ sound didn’t represent. Looking back, perhaps Slimzee should have been in the shot too? He certainly played early grime at Velvet Rooms.
It all goes to reminds me of the transient nature of movements and collectives, and that despite all the greatest efforts of the artists, creative inspiration and musical relevance is fleeting, or at least hard to sustain. I had this feeling listening to a grime set from ‘06 the other day. At the time you feel so familiar with each ubiquitous big tune or classic lyric that they simply feel permanent, yet in retrospect they’re often so fleeting and transient. With the difference in the personnel in the photo, it makes me ask is it the people in the scene or the ideas they carry that remain?
I wonder how many of the Class of Mass ’06 will feature in the State of the Dubstep nation 2011?