Monday, November 27, 2006
Dubstep = backroom business
Friday night was Hospitality @ Heaven. First pleasure of the night was meeting Reza in the pub outside. Yes, contrary to how it might have looked, he’s actually not dead, and promises he’s back on the beats after a barren (musical) year dominated by increased pressures on his time in other departments. Know the feeling bruv.
Hospital records have a surprisingly long history of involvement with dubstep. Landslide, percussionist for London Elektricity and broken beat specialist, was one of the original Forward>> residents and, alongside Zed Bias and Jay Da Flex, pushed the broken beat-dubstep fusion for quite some time. (The pinnacle of this “brukstep” style, is the amazing Bugz in the Attic Fabric mix CD which includes Artwork’s “Red” pitched down so low it’s seemingly screwed-and-chopped).
Hospital records were often seen on the Plastic People dancefloor at Forward>> in the 2002-4 era and put out Zed Bias’ landmark Phuturistix album. (They’ve also held in the vaults three FWD>> remixes of Hospital artists – by Horsepower, Lombardo and Plastician – but I suspect we’ll never see them released. I have asked several times!).
Despite all this history it’s still a pretty large moment when Hospital choose to put dubstep in one of their backrooms. Because make no bones about it, Hospital might put out good music, but they’re no financial mugs. Phuturistix, those FWD>> remixes and Landslide weren’t all dropped from Hospital because their productions weren’t good enough, they were dropped because dubstep didn’t sell. But now it does - hence FWD>> in the back room. With the influx of d&b producers earlier this year, it also seems the fans have followed too. I clocked Brian Belle-Fortune (author of seminal jungle tome “All Crews”) leaving the FWD>> room and overheard a classic conversation in the guest list queue:
D&b souljah: “You see they got dubstep in the back room.”
D&b souljah’s bird: “Yeah”
D&b souljah: “I love that.”
D&b souljah’s bird: “Yeah”
D&b souljah: “Dubstep’s PHAT mate. You heard any?”
D&b souljah’s bird: “Yeah.”
D&b souljah: “PHAT mate…”
Going into Heaven, it couldn’t be staggeringly clearer how far Hospital have come from being a margins liquid imprint to a mainstream d&b player. This isn’t a monthly at Herbal: Hospitality is bigger than Fabric. You’ve got four rooms (two d&b, one FWD>>, one funk/eclectic etc), Andy C headlining one room, Doc Scott the other. You’ve got lasers, strobes, gangs of dealers, gaggles of girls in formation bikini’s and glowsticks, geezer-goons with fluorescent workmen’s jackets gurning on the dancefloor.
The Fabric comparison doesn’t end there. The one thing that mars most of my Fabric nights is overcrowding. You can’t stand or skank anywhere without people crashing through you from about eight directions: Heaven was no different.
Andy C in the main room was a sensory onslaught. OK so it wasn’t dangerously overcrowded, but it was irritatingly ramjam on the dancefloor. Raving goons flailed about, oblivious to how they were shoving you in the back. Strobes beat down like it was Helter Skelter @ the Sanctuary (RIP). And way, way up a DJ on a pedestal.
Watching Andy C mix is kinda creepy. For what seemed like minutes, his face bathed in pale white strobe, he’d jerk back and forward at 175bpm, as in some kind of d&b convulsion. From close to the stage his eyes seemed to be locked on some distant horizon point, or glazed over all together. It looked robotic, kinda soulless. Andy C: the mix machine playing drum & base… not drum & bass.
I can’t help but make comparisons to DMZ. With a few simple, yet profound choices, Digital Mystikz and Loefah have made their night everything d&b superclubbing isn’t. There’s the decks within arms reach of the skankers, promoting a sense of unity not lofty, inaccessible DJ worship. Then there’s the lack of strobes or fancy lighting. When I see strobes I think rave, ecstasy, “take me away”, escapist “dance music”. Whereas clubs without them are grounded, real, alert, music-focused, in control… urban.
standing bass-waves on a drink at DMZ
Finally there’s the soundsytem. Now I hate to sound like a soundsystem purist (a similar breed perhaps to an audiophile, ah well so be it…), but if there’s one thing that dubstep has brought the fore, it’s that decent soundsystems are a must. At DMZ the bass could break your rib. At Heaven the mid range could leave you permanently deaf.
I wore professionally made earplugs at Heaven: my ears still rang. Friends of mine had their ears ringing two days later. I’ve not heard such vicious, caustic and frankly dangerous over driven mid range sound in a club in quite some time. Not just in the main room either, but in each of the four.
I did have a funny Skream convergence moment. In the main room High Contrast dropped what must have been the Zinc mix of “Deep Concentration.” As it faded out we headed upstairs to the FWD>> room to find Geneus dropping the original, pitched up.
If that had been my first experience of dubstep, I’m not sure I would have known what the fuss was all about. The fourth room in Heaven is an odd place. People wander in and out various exits and stand on different levels. The bar takes up 50% of the room, though you can approach it from 360 degrees. The sound, well, it wasn’t as bad as the other three rooms, but it seemed at best uninspiring. The lesson here is see dubstep at Forward>>, DMZ, Dubloaded, Transmission or Dub War… or don’t bother.
Dubstep = supporting act
So there was the Junior Boys gig @ Cargo the other week. I first heard about them through Kode9’s now, *sniff sniff*, sadly defunct Hyperdub site, so it was fitting that he was the supporting DJ for them.
DJing before and after a live band must be a thankless task, even before you factor in dubstep. Beforehand you have a crowd who don’t really care what you play, but they’re standing still. Then afterwards you have a crowd who don’t really care what you play, they’re off.
Kode seemed to enjoy it though, perhaps it was liberating. He seems to have several new post-LP instrumental productions by himself I shall try and look out for, all technoid and sour spot melodics, as you might expect, but kinda darker too. (He played in Russia on the weekend and now is off to China. That’s just stupidly over-large.)
I’d been warned about Junior Boys from the reviews of their recent gigs online, so the “live” drummer wasn’t too much of a shock. What was far more surprising was how light and fey they seemed live, perhaps shorn of lots of the stop-start Timbaland drum programming the first LP deployed.
Equally amusing was the crowd. Maybe I spend to much time in urban, dance or general bar/pub type venues, but I’d not seen lads dance that, well, fey. There’s an inherent masculinity in much of urban music that immediately appeals. Seeing skinny indie lads doing this kind of odd, limp wristed, dance was comical. Ah well, gender boundaries were never my field of interest.
Dubstep = need not apply ;-)
A couple of weeks ago I went to Shanty House, the manifesto of which is below. Held at the Whitechapel Art Gallery, the format was a few tunes from the DJs, a film, more DJ tunes and then a live set. The highlight, bar Stelfox’s comedy flat cap (where’s your whippet mate?) and hearing Woebot drop Specialist and Tru Skool (I asked him for a rewind, he smiled nodded and then didn’t. I got air!), was the film Resistencia, a documentary of Columbia’s grass roots hip hop.
The film left me with two overwhelming feelings.
Firstly that hip hop is such an amusingly exportable package. Here you were, looking at Columbian ghetto kids that you’d never seen or met before, yet their moves, their mannerisms, their clothes were just so familiar. Baseball cap: tick. Keep it real hand gestures: tick. Spouting about the four pillars of hip hop (yawn…): tick. They could have been French. They could have been American. They could have been Algerian, Finnish or Peruvian. They’d have still looked familiar. They were “keeping it real” and it didn’t matter what the US government was or wasn’t doing to/with the war in their country, they still bought into globalised US hip hop culture as their way out, as an expression of their own personal identities. The film outlined how so few of them are signed, and how the Columbian majors don’t want to touch it with a barge pole. But you always hear about how Spanish is going to take over at some point as the most-spoken language in the US (29.7m of the 300m people in the US currently speak Spanish according to wikipedia) . Surely then that will open the floodgates to the US market for Spanish-language hip hop? It’s light at the end of the tunnel I guess, a light that French, Algerian or Finnish MCs perhaps won’t see.
The second feeling the documentary left me with is, was that far more interesting than their music was how the film provided a window into their world and how hip hop (like grime for me in the UK) allowed a shared platform from which commonality could be found and from which a further understanding of their world could be gained. The documentary’s killer shot was its opening sequence, where kids leap off rusty, ships that have run aground. If this is hip hop, it’s a far, far galaxy away from where Puffy & co. Crazy how it was bling hip hop, of all genres, that let us in.