Late last autumn, I began a foolish task: writing about the greatest uses of rhythm in dubstep. There are several reasons why. Obviously dubstep's become a bit rhythmically stagnant of late, especially in the core of its club-orientated producers.
But more than that, as a producer I've always loved the science, or moreover dark black art, of programming beats, extracting the groove from the grid. Explaining why certain tracks stand out seemed like fun, not least when so much music blogging these days seems to be about taking tangential references from track names and implying/fabricating layers of narrative bolted into larger pre-formed philosophical/political agendas.
Recently I realised what a foolishly large task it was, so I've broken it into pieces. Here's the first of many (hopefully): the greatest rhythms in dubstep.
Hold the front page - music-blogger-in-actually-talking-about-the-music shocker.
To call Wookie "dubstep" is to do him a disservice, but equally by "Far East" (circa 2001/2) it was more than just the UKG scene that had accepted him and got played regularly at the Velvet Rooms era of Forward>>. But this dark garage roller is as proto dubstep as they come. Also finding favour with breakbeat garage DJs, it's beats were smarter, more detailed and more dread than the Bingo rollouts that surrounded it at that time.
Take for instance the drop on "Far East." Every other drop known to DJ-kind has been a whole integers of bars; "Far East's" is a fraction or quite possibly a decimal. It slams in like a sucker punch: DJs who mix over the drop beware.
Being needlessly contrary with your beats is easy: anyone could program a dubstep track in 7 bar cycles or in 78/3 time signature. It's getting away with it which is hard. By getting away with it, this means: does the track still retain some sense of groove, however abstract?
And therein lies the glorious challenge of drum programming and a theme that will return in all of these pieces: you have confines - somewhere between predictable bore and unlistenable freakout - in which to work, can you find an untried variant?
But back to "Far East." It's other great joy is something which is found on many Wookie tracks of this era. It's the timbre of the hits he uses. Somehow, where ever they're sampled from, they seem to have picked up a gritty, dirty feel to them that makes them feel raw and organic. So the greatness of the drum sounds here aren't just thanks where they're placed, with exquisite neat fills and dense variants on a 2step groove, but the sound of the sounds. Wookie: he cracked the rhythmic puzzle. He's a don.