Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Blogariddims 49 / Dubtronics

"When I started sending music to Kode 9 he sent me CD back all this music with glitches and crackles. And I was like ‘aw fuck.’ He played me Rhythm and Sound, and told me about Basic Channel and Pole and I thought ‘fuck it sounds like I’m making some kind of electronica’ and I fought so hard against that because I wanted it to be just vibes, urban, that sound I love, proper UK. No genre, just a sound..." Burial – Blackdown interview 2005

So here we are at our penultimate episode and the monstrous delay can only mean one thing – it’s another droid + slug mix! This time we're trying our hardest to be trendy by actually playing some tunes that are less than a year old... You may have noticed that weareie hasn’t really had much to say about dubstep over the last few years – but that’s not to say we haven’t been listening. I was drawn into the world of blogging through a desire to explore the emerging grime scene in 2003, and I’ve followed the split in the scene and it’s divergent streams reasonably closely ever since. I’m not claiming any dubstep credentials here mind. Scene hype tends to alienate me slightly, to the point where I consciously ignored developments I probably should have kept a closer eye on, but as the scene mutated from 2006 on we’ve been buying the odd record here and there, downloading the mixes and reading the forums, so you could probably class us as interested observers…

So – what are our observations? Well, I originally planned this as a mixless post back in early ‘07 and events have proceeded to the point where whatever paltry insights I may once have had are now redundant, but nonetheless, I’ve salvaged some stuff that still seems relevant.

If you’ve been on the forums anytime over the last few years you’ll have noticed a schism between those involved in the dubstep scene who tend to focus on the genealogical development of the scene, and the isolated listeners who point out the sonic connections between this and various preceding but unconnected scenes. I’ve witnessed many, quite militant discussions where the “its nothing new, Broken Beat /UK Dub/Electronica/Nu Breaks was doing this years ago” argument has been put forward. Though I have some sympathy for this point of view, it has to be said that analysing a genre through purely sonic connections, usually by people who are geographically distant from the scene (like myself), though valid, does not make a very solid base for asserting the genealogical routes of the music. Sure, the lack of cultural/social roadsigns does provide for a more objective 'broad strokes' viewpoint, but it’s very easy to miss the nuances and microscopic mutations that lie at the core of a scenes development and prioritise the subjective sonic connections instead...

Anyway, here we are presenting a mix that draws exactly these type of connections, so how is our contribution any different? Well - some see dubstep as a continuation of the UK reggae/dub/dancehall scene, others as a mutation of UK bass heavy dance sounds that stretch back at least to LFO, others as a reinvention of dub influenced techno and electronica, and all of these views have merit (check out this UK Roots/Dubstep mix from Blood and Fire forum resident and Woofah contributor ‘Nemo’ for a convincing (but hardly fresh) exploration of the sonic similarities between the scenes), but personally, I see dubstep as part of the rich tradition of Electronica and 140bpm UK dance music, not a direct ancestor, but rather as a scene that draws on the same foundations… What we’re trying to do here is to take music from the fringes of the scene, tunes that have drawn on influences outside of the traditional dubstep milieu that share that same deep vibe which made Electronica from the mid 90’s so special - to borrow a term from Rephlex: ‘Braindance’. Music aimed at the head (and heart) as much as the feet.

“I think if people just see it as purely dub it’s a problem, because they’ll just make less good versions of reggae. But people need to remember what is interesting about these musics — jungle through to dubstep — is that they can weave together every single music ever, potentially, at that speed, with those basslines. There’s no reason why there shouldn’t be aspects of techno, hip hop, reggae, soul, electro, house... I mean it’s just a speed. The danger right now is that it has become dominated by half-step. But I’m sure that won’t last.” Kode 9 – Spannered Interview 2007

Prescient words from the Hyperdub supremo. What started as essentially a bass heavy drum template based on reggae’s one drop rhythm really has developed (like 90s electronica) into a scene where anything goes (check out any of Ben UFO’s Ruffage sessions for evidence). As Kode 9 points out here, the crucial factor about dubstep has been its tempo – 138 bpm, a speed that allows the scene to flit between influences, taking what it likes from house, dub, techno and electronica, something that was mirrored in the development of Electronica in the 90s’. A genre that was originally based on rave dancefloor templates, but was mutated through its adoption of features from other music. Now the Achilles heel of the electronica scene was it’s slow estrangement from the dancefloor until it became music purely for chin stroking. Dubstep has followed a similar path, reviving the same kind of magpie ethos, but remaining vital through the rigid tempo requirements which bind it so fiercely to the dancefloor. This tabula rasa scenario, - the absence of any ‘big idea’ in the genre is often cited as a meta-criticism of the whole scene, but it’s specifically this lack of content, this developmental as well as sonic space which allow the music to be so flexible and responsive to influence, and where other genres have been swamped and diluted by the influence of external ‘non-scene’ producers, dubstep seems to have been enriched by it, to the point where you can have artists like Coki and Benga occupying the same scene as TRG, Joker and Clouds

A couple of notes about the mix before we delve any deeper. All of this set was done on 2 decks and 1 mixer with a Chaoss mini for the odd bit of FX, but given the tight deadline we gave ourselves (2 weeks with 3 nights actual mixing from start to finish) we ended up doing loads of takes and splicing together the bits we liked Could we do this live? Probably – especially if we aimed towards the more dancefloor oriented end of electronica. In this case we went more for melodic and atmospheric connections rather than rhythmic ones with the attendant increase in difficulty level. As you’ll notice from the tracklist, this set goes dubstep/electronica/dubstep, a self imposed constraint that we thought would best illustrate our concept, and after all, it would’ve been far too easy to just mix like with like and plop big chunks of single genre mixing down beside each other.

Download direct, subscribe here, or peruse the series at your leisure here. This set is going out to Ben UFO and Paul Meme - pioneers in mashing up dubstep with other genres.

droid + slug - Blogariddims 49 / Dubtronics (84.7mb.mp3)

1. Burial – Gutted – Hyperdub
2. Disjecta - Gyric - WARP
3. Shackleton – Blood on my hands – Skull disco
4. AFX - Sloth - Rephlex
5. Pangea – Coiled – Hessle Audio
6. Autechre - Stud - WARP
7. Blackdown - Crackle Blues - Keysound
8. Seefeel - Rupt - WARP
9. Kode 9 - Kingstown (dub) - Hyperdub
10. Autechre – Basscadet (Beaumont Hannant Womx) - WARP
11. Ramadanman – Blimey – Hessle Audio
12. Aphex Twin – D-Scape - WARP
13. Untold – Kingdom – Hessle Audio
14. Bola – Vespers - Skam
15. Pinch – Battered – Tectonic
16. Autechre - Krib – WARP
17. Revial - Untitled (Ambient edit) - Unreleased
18. Burial - Etched Headplate - Hyperdub

1. Burial – Gutted – Hyperdub
2. Disjecta - Gyric – WARP

The genesis of this set comes from back in 2006, not long after ‘Burial’ was released on CD and we played a short slot at a ‘Give us the night’ fundraiser where we opened with this mix, or something very similar. Fact is that we couldn’t actually find the exact mix we did despite trying every combination from the two Disjecta ‘Looking for snags’ EP’s and the Burial album that could possibly work and this is the mix that sounded best on reflection.

There’s been reams of text written about Burial and I see no need to add to it here. Mark Clifford however is one of the unsung heroes of electronica, and his output both as part of Seefeel and Disjecta, as well as his collaborations with Mira Calix are as genre defining as anything by Plaid, Autechre or Aphex. The ‘Clean Pit and Lid’ LP, ‘Looking for Snags’, ‘Succor’ and ‘Chi-Vox’ (with Seefeel) are all consummate works which highlight his mastery of texture and melody in a field often derided for its paucity of ‘soul’.

Along with the obvious Pole and Basic Channel comparisons, the fractured rhythms, plaintive melodies and organic sounds of Clifford’s work as Disjecta were reference points that immediately sprung to our minds when we first heard Burial (3AM eternal being another). ‘Gyric’ obviously has a far more rigid beat structure than ‘Gutted’, but it slots right in vibe-wise. The minimal bass hits/scraping snare/ hi-hat combo, and most importantly the dirt of the Disjecta allow it to blend nicely into the undercurrents of the Burial (in one of his finest moments) before the reverbed emotronic synth line picks up after the track splitting breakdown from ‘Gutted’ drops the tune out.

3. Shackleton – Blood on my hands – Skull disco
4. AFX - Sloth - Rephlex
5. Pangea – Coiled – Hessle Audio

There’s two tunes here that really made me sit up and take notice of dubstep in 2007. ‘Blood on my hands’ was one of the first records that I heard which made a distinct break from the dubstep template and still somehow managed to fit into the scene. Obviously Skull disco have been at the forefront of the ‘technoisation’ (via Berlin rather than Detroit) of the genre, but to me, this tune, with its swathes of reverb and bongo led percussion sounds more like some bastard offshoot of progressive house than dub-techno. It’s that groaning bass line and discreetly euphoric synth line which elevate it to the heavens – and all so simple! Reminds me a bit of the one-away version of the Diwali rhythm used on Wayne Wonder’s ‘No letting go’ (played at the wrong speed of course).

Pangaea’s’ ‘coiled’ from Hessle Audio 2 provided another epiphany when I heard Ben UFO play it at the Reach 10th birthday just after it was released a year(?) or so back. I was ambivalently nodding my head along to some nicely produced electro influenced dubstep when suddenly, out of the blue came a 30 second breakdown of delicate warm ambience which just blew me away. Here was meditative music but not of the facile spliffed up ‘bass weight’ variety. It made me think that if dubstep can encompass this kind of fragility, if you can get away with 30 seconds of near silence in the middle of a dancefloor tune - then maybe there was something in it for us after all…

Slotted between these two is an AFX tune from ‘Analogue Bubblebath 4’. ‘Sloth’ is made up of a rumbling bassline, low key rolling machine hi-hat, some spare symphonics and the odd squelch. Perfect minimalist fodder for a dubstep sandwich and a beautiful track in its own right – one we’ve wanted to get into a recorded set for years. It did present some problems though. Those hi-hats are effectively running at double time – 276 bpm - and they sit above the Shackleton very noticeably in their own sonic space so they needed to be as tight as possible. It may just have been the ageing components on my right hand deck (or in my right hand!), but I had to get Slug to fade out the EQ’s on ‘Blood on my hands’ to get the mix to work as I was too busy tweaking the pitch slider to do it myself.

6. Autechre - Stud - WARP
7. Blackdown - Crackle Blues - Keysound
8. Seefeel - Rupt – WARP
9. Kode 9 - Kingstown (dub) - Hyperdub

Speaking of the fragile and delicate – what a tune from Autechre! Taken from their 3rd LP, ‘Tri Repetae’ (considered the finest collection of their early work by many), ‘Stud’ is a masterful electronic lullaby. Listening to this set after the fact, I found it striking that this track fits in as well as it does – if you hadn’t heard it before now and it appeared in a dubstep set you could almost believe its minimal percussion and deep ambience were further contemporary mutations of the sound and not a decade+ old slice of classic electronica…

Keysound is another one of those essential labels for electronica fans, and the minimal, mournful menace of Blackdown’s ‘Crackle blues’ provides the perfect template to ease between ‘Stud’ and another Mark Clifford production on ‘Rupt’, from Seefeel’s last LP ‘Succor’ (also featured in Shwantology 1). By the time this came out Seefeel had transformed almost entirely from ethereal indie-dub band to a full on ambient-electronica producer led outfit. In this tune, Sarah Peacock’s vocal is relegated to a looping backdrop and the only hint of the groups’ sonic heritage comes form the heavy dub bassline around which the clattering percussion reverberates.

If we were ever going to get some more reggae influenced dubstep into the mix than this was the place, and Kode 9 provides some ideal material here with the dub of ‘Kingstown’. That 4 note descending sequence, played here on some kind of melodica/harmonica instrument and pushed up and down a few octaves, seems to be some kind of musical meme – I’ve heard it from the GZA (Gotcha Back), Steelie & Cleevie (Nightcrawler riddim), and our own Naphta (One Squeeze) amongst other luminaries. I’m sure those with perfect pitch would probably spoil this theory by pointing out that the notes are completely different – though it might be something worthy of further investigation for some sonic trend-spotter out to make a name for himself!

10. Autechre – Basscadet (Beaumont Hannant Womx) - WARP
11. Ramadanman – Blimey – Hessle Audio
12. Aphex Twin – D-Scape - WARP
13. Untold – Kingdom – Hessle Audio

More 276bpm business here from Autechre with the awkward glacial twinkles of Beaumont Hannant’s (who also featured in ‘Droid’s first mixtape’) remix of Basscadet. Another superlative tune from their golden period, this one has a bit more drive than ‘Stud’ featured earlier. It seems that the duo had a tendency to release their more percussive material on EPs during this period – Basscadet/Chiclisuite/Anti/Anvil Vapre etc… and this is a great example of dancefloor electronica at its finest. A solid rhythmic backbone overflowing with melodic dynamism and emotion – beautiful, archetypical stuff.

Possibly the finest release on Hessle to date, the almost bass-less drum work of Ramadanman’s ‘Blimey’ slinks in almost unnoticeably below the Autechre – filling in the rhythmic gaps perfectly. Not so easy in the mix though! Slug had some difficulty in getting out of the AE (“it just keeps building!”), so we eschew the standard fade out here for a more dramatic stop when the breakdown hits. We also had similar problems getting something to work on the way out until we tried one of Slugs’ all time favourites – 'D-Scape' from Aphex’s ‘On’ EP. Which is basically one of the darker tunes from SAW 2 with a stomping 4/4 thrown over the top of it. Again, it’s ‘Blimey’s’ minimalism that allowed us to add such a huge chunk of frigid melody to the mix – sure, it’s marginally out of key in a couple of places, but the clincher for us is when the laughing children of both tunes synch up with nicely haunting results…

We hit a bit of wall here with the four to the floor of ‘D-Scape’ presenting a few problems. Originally we went for a tune of the D1 album and continued from there, but it wasn’t really working vibe-wise and we ended up going for yet another Hessle tune – Untold’s ‘Kingdom’ instead. The rhythmic simplicity of the Untold with that basic kick/snare pattern underpinned by a one-note pulsating bassline was the perfect solution, needing just a touch of Chaoss delay to round off the edges of the mix.

14. Bola – Vespers - Skam
15. Pinch – Battered – Tectonic
16. Autechre - Krib – WARP
17. Revial - Untitled (Ambient edit) - Unreleased
18. Burial - Etched Headplate – Hyperdub

We enter the final straight here with one of Bola’s later tunes – from an ill-conceived EP which featured some incongruous vocals over his customarily laid back electronics. This is probably the most ‘chill-out-cheesy’ tune on the mix, almost saccharine with those choral synths and the meandering glitchy percussion, but, unusually for Bola, its at about 138 bpm, whereas most of his work (including his influential ‘Soup’ LP) clocks in around the 90-110 mark. Incidentally, we met Bola at an Ultramack night in 2000 (I think), and he is one of the genuine nice guys of the scene. A really approachable, down to earth and humble fella…

Pinch is another of those artists who seems to have pushed dubstep in unexpected directions, and the ‘Underwater Dancehall’ instrumentals were another must buy on my relatively short dubstep purchases list. ‘Battered’ is perhaps one of the less innovative tunes on the LP, but as we needed a bit o half-step to get out of the Bola and had pretty much painted ourselves into a corner at this stage we decided to go with it. It’s in on it’s own for less than a minute before another contribution from Booth and Brown lumbers along and stomps all over it. Krib comes from the 2nd of the pair of Cichlisuite EPs from 98, and shows a bit of progression form the previous two AE tunes in the mix with is stretched out ambling percussive decoration pointing toward ditrections the duo would explore more thoroughly with the ‘Chiastic Slide’ and ‘LP5’ albums before succumbing completely to generative temptations.

‘Krib’ was unfortunately too short to get a satisfactory mix out of, so we settled for a brief ambient interlude here from the mysterious ‘Revival’, which drifts nicely into the final tune of the set – Burial’s ‘Etched Headplate’ from ‘Untrue’. Slug loves this LP though I’m still slightly ambivalent to its pitch shifting charms as I don’t think it achieved the same heights of his first LP, nonetheless, it’s a nice place to end up and it seems apt to end where we started and bookend the set with another of his tunes.

So that’s it. Only one more episode to go and it’s a special one to round up the series. It should hit the feeds on the first Monday of October all going well - so please stay tuned… just two more weeks and it’s all over!


Anonymous clom said...

fantastic mix, well done to everyone involved.

i think that the argument as to whether or not dubstep is a conscious continuation of previous musics is one that lends itself to lengthy, circular forum debate.

although you could say that the initial post-rave pulse featured on the mix also lent itself to lengthy circular forum debates so maybe that's where the link lies!

i think the blogariddims series, framing selections within a personal musical continuum is a more enlightened and enlightening approach.

I've really enjoyed the series and found the process where people speak about the meaning of each track and the reasons for their selection to be both inspiring and inclusive.

Hats off.

12:53 PM  
Anonymous Lawrie said...

Some great music here.

Thanks for going in on this (you know wot i mean droid), looks like a superb wtite-up.

Maximum boost!

4:16 PM  
Blogger Rob Booth said...

Great blog .... and this is exactly the kinda tracklist I like ... mixing up all my fav producers. Big up !!

3:35 PM  
Blogger Ben said...

Love it. Wicked, wicked mix.

3:51 PM  
Anonymous Ben UFO said...

wicked mix droid :)

thanks for all the kind words as well

ps: i thought of you when i first heard Timekeeper!

12:56 AM  
Blogger 3oin said...

Really liked this :) Is it me or were AFX, Autechre, Seefeel way ahead of there time?

1:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Simply a wonderful and unique mix!!
Big ups droid!!

9:08 PM  
Blogger droid said...

@Clom - love your blog. Thanks for the link up and the insightful comments.

@Ben UFO - and guess where I first heard timekeeper? your show of course... props well deserved. Probably wouldn't have done this mix if not for you.

@3ion - or maybe dubstep is way behind its time eh? ;)

Thanks all. Glad this has gone down so well.

10:41 AM  
Blogger Little Rascal said...

awesome stuff here - like the science of blog music..

3:11 PM  

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