Tuesday, November 03, 2009
Happy Birthday: I am 5
Five years ago today I started this blog. It was an accident of sorts: I was curious how hard it would be to register for one. Answer: not very. Liberated to write about whatever I felt strongly, I quickly grew to love blogging... and so here we are.
Over the years I've published a bunch of interviews with Dizzee Rascal, Skream, Burial, Burial again in depth, Shackleton, Trim, Skepta, Grievous Angel, Appleblim, Spyro, Mala n Loefah, Loefah, Loefah and Kryptic Minds, Silkie, Newham Generals, DVA, Dot Rotten, Marcus NASTY and Zomby's parrot.
I've documented my trips to Tokyo, NYC once, NYC twice, LDN by night, LDN by Nico Hogg's bike, Southall and China (imagined).
Some of my favourite posts include the What do you call it: funky? with Supa D, Soulja and Gee, *ahem* wonky, where is dubstep, and Trim's flow.
So, as it's traditional to give presents on birthdays, I've got a little something to share: an exclusive vintage mix CD by Hatcha from the foundational days in high quality.
· Download the Hatcha 2002 mix CD: here.
UPDATE: Skream's worked out a tracklist!
Skream and Benga - The Judgment
Benga - Star Wars
Skream - ?
Skream - Dubsteppa
Macarbre Unit - Its All About
Benga - Skank
Benga - Skank VIP
Jameson - Switch
Skream N Benga - WAR BOOTLEG
Dubchild - Roll That,Light It,Smoke It
Benga - The Virus
Skream - The Bug
Menta - Jacknife
Jammin - Tonka - Menta Remix
Benga - Full Cycle
Benni Ill Vs Hatcha - Highland Spring
Skream - Futures Dark
Skream - CapeFear
In the earliest days of dubstep the scene really was a tiny collective, with perhaps no more than 50 or so interested participants. In those times the way music got distributed (long before broadband), was by the passing of CDs, often down at Forward>> and this promo mix CD by Hatcha is one of several he gave out. I have two or three (including the 2005 "Practice Hours" one) and I bet even more exist. They're unique records in the development of dubstep, not least because more than anyone ever has and perhaps ever will, Hatcha singularly had more influence over what dubstep was and has now become.
The hardest part is dating it. My educated guess is 2002 or failing that late 2001. You can date stamp it by book-ending it with producers it doesn't feature. At one end you have no Ghost, Zed Bias or warm garagey beats, so that rules out 2000 and early 2001. On the other hand there's no Mala, no Loefah or coki, so that rules out 2003 when "Pathwayz" and a whole host of DMZ other beats began to emerge through his sets. And it's long before he began blew up Scuba, Distance and Caspa by playing their new dubs. There's even a little bit of 8bar grime, from Jon E Cash and Soulo (aka Jameson), which was never a huge feature of Hatcha's sets, though it popped up from time to time.
(To go off on a tangent, this CD is from even before Rinse embraced dubstep but I remember one time a few years later listening to Hatcha on Rinse only to hear him drop a mashup of Danny Weed and Cage's "Creeper" and a Whitney Houston accapella! It was awesome but it stuck in my mind as so out of character, as his sets were 90% exclusive dubstep dubs.)
What this CD does have is shed loads of Benga and Skream plus a little Artwork/Menta and Horsepower. The first time I recall hearing of Benga and Skream is when Hatcha boasted he had two new protégés while in the coat queue for the Maddslinky album launch party at 2002. It was memorable because in those times dubstep (though it wasn't really named yet) couldn't get into clubs like Cargo. It seems unimaginable now that Skream's remix of La Roux is a chart anthem and Benga is producing for Eve but it's true - and that state of affairs persisted for years, really up until DMZ proved you could successfully do dubstep clubs on a large scale.
So let’s say this is 2002. What you do hear is a snapshot of the early Benga and Skream sound. In many ways it was this just a little of a broad body of work - they were prolific writers, with literally thousands of tracks made between them, many now lost due to hard drive crashes and PC viruses - that transitioned dubstep from the dark swung garage of El-B, Horsepower and Zed Bias to the mid era of Loefah, Mala, Coki, Kode9, and of course Skream & Benga themselves.
You can hear the differences. On one hand gone is the housey warmth and r&b soul that El-B scattered in his bassy tracks to create a potent sweet/sour mix. Equally this is before Mala brought this bright spectrum of technicolour to dubstep with expansive, visionary tracks like "Neverland" and "Forgive" (compare Skream's sound here to his 2005 promo mix, where he admits Digital Mystikz gave him a kick up the arse). It's also before Loefah popularised the halfstep beat: the structures here are all 2steppy, with snares on the 2 and 4. (Interestingly, I've since noticed that DJ Abstract's early classic "Touch" is sorta halfstep, with snares on the 3 and 4, though it never caught on at the time).
What you see in Skream, Benga and also Plastician's sound of the time is a vision that's dark, clipped, minimal and grime-inspired. Indeed Geeneus has said in interview to me that he and Slimzee (an early champion of Benga), when they weren’t busy smashing up raves as proto grime godfathers Pay As U Go used to refer to dubstep as "safe grime." Listen to their sound, built on Fruity Loop synths, and there's a coldness to it. The warping basslines, which became a signature at the time, were built on the TS404 plug in. It was to Croydon what the 303 was to Chicago in the late 80s.
While Skream and Benga have since made more emotive records, I'm nostalgic for this era, especially as it now no longer makes up such a large proportion of the output of the scene. But this proportion played a crucial role. Around these times UK garage as a scene was all but collapsed, grime was going it's own angry way and no one wanted to touch what would be dubstep with a barge pole. El-B got frustrated at the darkness in the Forward>> scene and disbanded Ghost to form El-Tuff while Zed Bias began to be interested in broken beats. So as the dubstep scene narrowed while everything around it collapsed, in retrospect these sparse beats acted like a palate cleanser. Some critics mourn loss the house/garage/r&b touches, and with good reason, but the narrowing into Benga and Skream's sound made room for subsequent possibilities. Here was a dark minimal plateau: what can we build on it?
Well next came "Pathwayz" obviously, then "Indian" and "B" and before you know it we're into "Horror Show," "Neverland", "Request Line" and beyond. As Snoop Dogg jumps on Chase & Status riddims it's hard to imagine, but at once stage, indeed for several years, dubstep's flame flickered perilously - it could have gone out. This mixtape is primary evidence of what kept it burning.
So anyway, there it is. I hope you enjoy it. To complete the birthday celebrations, I believe it's traditional to make a wish. My wish is to blog for another five years. God knows who, where or what I'll be in five years time, but I hope I still feel as strongly about music as I did on both November 3rd 2004 and 2009.
· Permalink to the wav: here.