Sunday, April 01, 2007

One Friday night...

night LDN

On Friday night, tempted by a Kode9 double bill, I rolled through Old Street. First up was Forward>>. Arriving outside Plastic People at about 11:45, I found myself faced with a queue of around 50 people and the bouncer saying “one in one out”. How times have changed. For years there were months when Forward>> limped by. I remember one Slimzee set, right towards the end of his reign as the grime DJ, when the only, and I mean only, person on the dancefloor, was Philip Sherborne, whooping, hollering and waving his hands above his head at some gritty grime dubplate. As I say, how things have changed.

Inside Forward>>, Appleblim was in mid flow. It’s the second time I’ve heard him play recently and on both occasions I’ve been really impressed. Of all the DJs who’ve really made their mark on dubstep (Hatcha, Youngsta, N Type, Mala…), when they’ve truly come into their own is often when they’ve come to a strong sense of what their “sound” is. Any old DJ can pull together some unreleased (or often unfinished…) tracks, but only when they form some coherent whole, does the DJ really go clear. As Appleblim’s set progressed, I began to get the sense that he’s really forming a sonic identity.

If you happened to be confused about what that direction was, a hint was written across his chest. It read “Hardwax,” the legendary vinyl emporium owned by Berlin’s Basic Channel. It’s said the Hardwax boys are pretty enamoured with the Skull Disco sound and Shackleton in particular, and Appleblim seems to be returning the admiration through his sets of dubbed out BC-esque beats. There were a few percussive moments that felt distinctly “oingy boingy” (god how I miss that element to Hatcha’s sound…) and others that had hints of jungle, but on the whole it’s how subby and tempered Appleblim’s sound is, compared to the mid range wobble onslaught of N Type and co, that makes it special. Oh and he dropped Plastician and Skepta’s “Intensive Snare” – that has bars written especially for Forward>> – that had me hollering the lyrics like a goon. And what?! Loveit.


Next up Kode. For years Mr 9 was the default warm up DJ at FWD>>, which more often than not meant playing to the bar staff. No doubt this was the perfect time to drop the beatless “Sign of the Dub” but those sets had an effect on Kode because he’s long since been focused on maintaining energy levels in his sets.

This time, his set was definitely special not for sense of whole, the way Appleblim’s was, but for the individual selections. Favourites like Mala’s “Forgive” and Loefah’s “Jah War” remix got dropped as did Kode’s lushly drummed MF Doom remix. The Peveralist 12” had me locked in a eyes-closed rhythmic groove. His “Find My Way” remix is still next level but I’ve never noted that the pull up moment isn’t when the sub bass drops on the first switch, but on the second when the grimey synth gets it’s wobble on.

Also a revelation was the new Kode9 v Warrior Queen riddim that seems to have her practicing her swear word repertoire, which was quite a contrast with what must have been a new Burial track. Oh and Skream’s “2D” is still a thing of exceptional beauty, pulling off that trick he did so well on “Request Line” which was to make the melodies fluctuate so much they become part of the rhythmic propulsion of the track.

Following Kode was N Type v Youngsta with special guest MC JME. Personally, I get next to nothing out of the N Type/Hatcha/Benga/Coki-clones/Skream-in-hard-mode axis these days: the riffs are inanely atonal, the mids too noisy, there’s few melodic components (warm, dissonant or otherwise) and the overall dynamic balance between emotional response and dancefloor energy has been lost. N Type pulled his first tune within 8 bars of the drop. JME spent most of the first three tunes fighting to cut his voice through the mid range wobble. I’d much prefer to have heard him over a grime set… but there you go.


It didn’t matter, however, as the second phase of the night was about to begin. Lead by Kode, a convoy that included Shackleton, The Bug and assorted partners wandered its way out of Forward>> and towards the Dubstep After Hours squat party.

The idea of a Hackney dubstep squat party had instantly piqued my curiosity, and it had been in my phone diary for a month or so before Chantelle wrote about it in The London Paper, causing some exchanges on the Dubstep Forum. Advertising on forums is one thing, put putting it in the free “newspapers” they give out on the tube network to over a million London commuters is another, in terms of exposure to certain demographics and risk of comeback. Frankly it all added to the hype which made it all the more reason to attend.

Ducking down some side alleyway and round a decaying Victorian factory building, you were presented with twelve foot high steel gates, topped with razor wire. They’d been tied half shut using chain with such chunky links you'd think a tank couldn’t be able to snap, so there was just enough room for one person to squeeze through. Currently about thirty people were trying to fit through that hole, and a bouncer of sorts was having none of it.

Entering the building was total buzz. There are few moments in life that actually feel like you’re experiencing scenes from a film, but rolling into an illegal underground club is one of them. As we passed through the front door, it became apparent that this was some kind of abandoned office space. But one thing was wrong… it was deadly quiet. Had the police locked off the rave already?

We rolled through fire doors and down below ground. Down, right through corridors starkly lit by neon strip lighting, led us through another set of fire doors. Suddenly the lights went down, the music came up and an entire underground dubstep rave opened out before us.


It took a while to adjust to the space. It became apparent that we were standing in what had been a square open plan office space that was now lit only by a set of technicolour rave lights. The ceiling was low and built from the kind of cheap Styrofoam squares you see in, well, offices. At one end, there was a red neon clock, which seemed to only tell the time upside down. The energy was tangible, with people dancing wherever your eyes could focus.

With Kode due on the decks and Shackleton happily skanking at the front, I decided to take a look around, not least because I had my camera with me. It soon became apparent that this was in fact a room within a room, as a corridor surrounded it. The only difference was that much of the partition wall that formed the inner wall had been smashed out above waist level, so that throughout the night people would just as happily climb through the walls as walk through the door, adding the to the edgy sense that hoards were descending from the darkness of the night.

side doors

The soundsystem lost its impact towards the edges of the room, and having heard Kode once that night I began to be more interested in investigating. The more I looked, the more I noticed that the outer room of the rave had doors leading off it in multiple directions. Some doors lead back to other doors along the corridor. Others were filled with mangled electronics, leads pouring out of battered server stacks or phone exchanges. All of the rooms were lit with stark neon strip lighting again, which made for this extreme contrast when the doors were opened, as if you were stepping across an abrupt barrier that switched you from a dark, night time, weekend illegal dubstep rave to a light, daytime, weekday corporate 9-5 job. People were slumped on the floors and depending on the light they’d change which side of the barrier they were on.

side rooms

In the pitch darkness of the rave room itself, the lack of light meant what was underfoot was very unpredictable and occasionally unstable, something that only added to the sense of edge to the night. On one occasion I tried to pass through a doorway only to find myself stumbling over a large moveable object. Fairly surprisingly for a club environment, it was a large bull mastiff.


While the rave didn’t feel like your full on, rural England, traveller/crusty free party crowd, the presence of free roaming dogs certainly distinguished it from your average London night. The outer gates, where a fire burnt in an oil drum, definitely had a free party feel to it (the people around the drum fire were clapping our their own beats: the drugs do work…) but largely the demographic seemed mostly the kind you’d find at a breakcore/electronica night, except for the odd gang of road kids. And while there was a core of dubstep fammo (The Bug, Shackleton, Coki, Pokes, SLT Mob, Chef, Boomnoise, Melissa Bradshaw…) inside, it felt on the whole like a new mix for dubstep.

I drifted into a really good conversation with someone I’d chatted to on email a bit before. By his own admission he’d only been listening to dubstep for around two years, but had also developed strong love for the stuff that had gone before too, like Horsepower and some of the more swung 2step. I forget how the conversation came around to it, but at one moment we came to the issue of how all the rapid developments within dubstep can continue to retain its sense of identity.

I’m not sure when I started to feel this way, but I’m now sure it probably can’t in all cases. In fact, clearly in some cases it already hasn't. Given the Life of Brian principle (“I’m dubstep and so’s my wife”) seems to apply to everyone under the sun these days (Time Out described Ben Westbeech’s work with DJ Die and Clipz as “ a chart friendly take on dubstep” this month… hmm), many of the values and attributes that signify dubstep won’t necessarily be retained (i.e. the central importance of quality soundsystems, the avoidance of drugs apart from weed/beer, the quest for new rhythmic or sonic ideas…). As the scene expanded, it’s come into contact with so many other scenes and styles (electronica, desi, hip hop, breakcore, d&b…) that to retain all or many of the core elements of the scene in all cases is near impossible and also no bad thing. From Forward>> to illegal squat parties, the hyperdub virus has broken out: let’s celebrate the mutations.


basspoet said...

Yo man. Really feeling the words and your review of Friday night was spot on. I was surprised by the Plastic crush and felt slighty guilty about being ushered into the dance ahead of a cold but enthusiastic line of heads. However Ade and my crew go way back so the tuts fell on death ears. There already seems to be a tone of 'I don't recognise your face and Time Out haven't written about you so why are you here' vibe running through the scene already which is a shame but expected.

Once inside it was all good if not rather on the loud side. I mean i'm all for bass but understand that the Plastic Sound Sysyem sounds best when not running into the red. Loudness does not disguise weakness and a slight dip in volume where you can actually hear all of the subtle textures of a tune should be encouraged. Tubby was loud but crystal clear ask Shaka.

Anyone who books Kode for a warm up set has spent unwisely. He rocked and gave an excellent demonstration of what shall be known as the 'Wire waist dance'. It must be a South London thing and a new dance to add to the cannon of emerging dubstep moves.

I grew up in Peckham and remember comming home in th midnight hours and walking past the Lazerdom hearing Jungle for the first time. Crazy music that i thought would never be heard outside of the M25. A couple of years later and it was back with a new name advertising Tampax on the TV.

Fingers crossed it doesn't happen again but if it does expect exciting times as the next wave of kids start hacking their PS4's and making some next new crazy beat music. Just wanted to connect and big you up. Peace Bass Poet E15

Blackdown said...

basspoet, you're large. out to the Lazerdrome crew...

Roro said...

wicked article, always a pleasure to read but this time definitely made me feel really gutted to not be in London anymore and experience something like that. Sounds like things have definitely changed.
It's interesting seeing how the virus has been mutating out here in Japan - there's some very interesting things happening musically/sonically, and also it's really fascinating to see how the nights go down with the crowd and just how people of all walks of life are responding to the sound. Seeing Mala the other week was really interesting - so many good memories of his sets at FWD and DMZ came flooding back and the reaction from people was really impressive.
But anyways thanks for the words as usual. been reading for a long time and as someone who also enjoys writing i've got to say your work is 'inspirational' in many ways. big up

David Lollia said...

excellent report and thoughts. your chest.

antrophe said...

MK1 played in Dublin last Friday, guess its the first in an increasing series of dubstep nights as interest in it spirals out of a support base in breakcore circles. The crowd at the gig was massive, far larger than normal or so I thought - with a decent queue of 20 at one point. Just a quick comment on your assertion that dubstep kept clear of drugs apart from beer and weed - having a smoke outside two girls were gushing all over one of the visiting Dj's about being at Bloc and doing Ketamine for the first time on the Ryanair flight over. Why would this be the first thing they would say to this person they never met before? Because of some circle jerking in magazines and so on, there's been a serious amount of hype around dubstep as part of the "new rave" thing - NME has ran about two covers along this line and always includes dubstep within this new party orbit. Theres' a fixation then on K as the drug of the scene, as an outsider and having only attended three gig's in London thought was relatively based in some sort of reality - so I was surprised to see you say it was a purely weed/beer buzz.

Blackdown said...

there's been a serious amount of hype around dubstep as part of the "new rave" thing - NME has ran about two covers along this line and always includes dubstep within this new party orbit. Theres' a fixation then on K as the drug of the scene, as an outsider and having only attended three gig's in London thought was relatively based in some sort of reality

Hey Antrophe

really dont know where you're coming with the dubstep/K connection. I was part of at least one of the NME articles and there were no drug references. Dubstep's been a weed/beer thing since it's inception, like most urban music, but as sections of it get ravier and it moves into superclubs, you can see the pills crew getting involved... sadly.

Lex Liondub said...

Easy Blackdown

I agree wholeheartedly with your analysis of the scene. The music as you say is already mutating, which of course is to be expected. For Me what has come out of Dubstep so far is a set of supremely talented producers. Skream is an obvious candidate. I did'nt like his album, it was a let down after Skreamizm vol 1 etc. However his recent Marc Ashken Remixes (this pair of tunes is so heavy especially the sub bass mastery of the Size 3 remix)have reaffirmed to me that he is just warming up. Burial has carved a Photek style Niche for himself and he is going to be around for years God willing.
Mala also is clearly leading the way with his roots infused sound.

It is like you say about Appleblim making himself a sonic identity, those who are putting there stamp on the sound are those who are really impressing. Appleblim, Shackleton, D1, Kode9, Headhunter, Loefah etc. I am not overly enamoured with those who are bringing heavy metal influences to the scene but that is just a personal preference

Then of course as Dubstep has exploded you have your bandwagon posse who are bringing nothing to the table but the same shit which made people stop listening to other music forms. Anyone can make a tune but it is crucial to form your own identity, not bite others. Who knows what way the scene will go. I can see a sort of Intelligent Dubstep VS Jump up Dubstep argument emerging.

Anyway I have a couple of quick completely unrelated questions, which if you have time it would be nice to know if you have the answers to.

1, Do you by any chance know whether Heartless Ninja the Mystikz tune on Dubstep Allstars 3 will ever see the light of day ?. That is definitely my type of tune, and although it has been a long while now I am still hoping it will surface

2, What ever happened to Loefah's Ital Records. Was it a one hit wonder or is there more to come from it ?

Cheers Man keep up the excellent work. I really enjoyed your column
on Pitchfork although I haven't been able to find it for a while strangely. I think there website is a bit crowded but hey. Plus this blog is the mutts nuts also


Blackdown said...

Re Ital, I've not heard of any new plans by Loefah for this label.

Re old/early Mystikz tunes: I wouldnt be surprised if one day they come out in some kind of collection but right now there's no plans I know of, so don't hold your breath.

oh and "Intelligent Dubstep," please take this term and never use it on my blog again! Eeek...

pollywog said...

props man...

...for once your words moved me and not in the bowel sense

yes, dubstep does seem to be heading into it's rebellious hormonally charged teenage years not sure of what the wider world holds in store but assured enough in it's own identity to adapt and thrive come what

...sometimes, just like a kid you've reared and loved, guided through it's infancy, picked up and dusted off when it's fallen over and fretted about, you have to let it go to find it's own feet and stand on it's own

I think it was supporting Mala and talking to him about the DMZ 'simple but loud' philosophy last week here in NZ and seeing it move people including me on the dance floor that may signal some watershed moment in our own evolution...

...maybe it's time to straighten up and fly right. So apologies for any past offense i've made to you and yours

peace on out wit ya bad self...

pollywog the dubmugga

ripley said...

ah, afterhours squat parties in Hackney. That's some of my favorite memories from living in Hackney! glad it's permeated with dubstep now, better sounds a flow.

nice write-up, as usual.. calling up the atmosphere well.