Column: The Month in Grime / Dubstep
It's been a pretty insane month in London, and we're not just talking the music. Though some of us like to think politics and urban music culture blend into each other seamlessly, rare is it that a news event overtly permeates music culture. But when someone set off four bombs in the LDN, the worlds of dubstep and grime were no longer islands. The forums were ablaze with virtual headcounts and expressions of concern from people separated only by geography but not culture.
The week of the bombing started so well. At risk of repetition, yes there was another epic DMZ party. Check Georgina Cook's photos here. In the spirit of openness and clarity, yes I played the warm up slot, but I've yet to hear a bad, mediocre, or indifferent review of the night. So much planning, new music, and energy was both invested and returned over the space of 10 hours.
All those attending were left with a strange warm glow afterwards, a mixture of tiredness, profound wellbeing, and internal bone damage caused by dubwise sub bass. The lineup for the fourth DMZ party was announced on the night and congratulations goes to Joe Nice, the U.S.'s foremost dubstep pioneer makes his long overdue UK debut proper. He did play a few tunes at DMZ's ultra underground/ultra under-attended Dub Sessions night in Croydon's Black Sheep bar last year but there were more people behind the decks than in front of them.
On current form, the only man who can test Digital Mystikz on production consistency and output is Skream. The Croydon wonderkid began beat-making at 15, while still at school. Alongside his production partner and mate Benga, Skream played a pivotal role in the progression of dubstep. When it began around 2000, dubstep was a darker hybrid of garage devised primarily by El-B's Ghost, Zed Bias, and Horsepower. Benga and Skream, armed with Fruity Loops and given an audience by their mentor Hatcha's sets, began making a new strain of stripped down, dark, techy dubstep. The scene evolved with the click of their mouse.
Then came Digital Mystikz. Hatcha battered "Pathwayz" and Loefah's "Horror Show" ushered in halfstep (the ultra skunked-out style of dubstep that deploys only one snare per bar: an original, exciting but not as energetic strain). DMZ soon brought an explosion of new musical flavours to dubstep, by bringing overt dub riffs into their tunes ("Officer") or orchestral melodies, like on "Forgive" and "Neverland". Skream, by his own admission, had to up his game.
Skream's days are spent glued to his PC. When it's not working, like the time it nearly died after contracting 11,000 computer viruses, he's not happy. His prolific output-- he's worked on around 1,500 tunes to date-- relates to the dedication he puts in, the hours spent grafting. It paid off. The last six months have seen a wealth of amazing new material in glorious technicolor, raining down from DJs' sets. But the biggest of them all is his electro arpeggio anthem "Late Night Request Line" due out late August. The recent DMZ party saw several hot new remixes of this debuted, both by Mala Digital Mystikz and by Skream himself. Loefah has imbibed the tracks' B-side "I" with yet more sub bass, as the rewind at DMZ attested. Also aired for the first time were dubs of Skream's "Rotten" and Digital Mystikz' "Conference Part 2".
Other dubstep news is that finally the London pirate radio sets being shared online have a home, and it's erm, in Croatia. Hatcha is back with a brand new studio mix which you can download that features an incredible new DJ Distance tune comprised of one long wailing, distorted Arabic vocal. It's called "Fallen" and was recently signed to Boka. The Skull Disco Soundsystem play Stoke Newington's Zen Bar on Friday 29th July 2005. Finally look out for Tasty Grits Productions' "Crunk" (Southern Comfort), the first crunk/dubstep interaction, that's coming out with via a south London connection.
Grimewise, despite the inescapable feeling the sound may be reaching a plateau for the first time in three years, there's still much that enthralls.
After a year's hard work on the Roll Deep album and subsequent promotion, Target is rejuvenating his mighty Aim High imprint. There will be some instrumental 12"s, followed by Riko and Trim vocal releases. His benchmark compilation series Aim High is ready to drop Volume 3-- already. Danny Weed has a lush EP on Southside due soon. Danny and Target have been working on an album for the Roll Deep vocalist Alex Mills-- perhaps the UK's answers to Timbaland will finally get some props.
Terror Danjah's Aftershock imprint might have some big news in the next few months, but we can't say any more. In the meantime Terror has been working with Ms. Dynamite and remixing the Prodigy (looks like a remix LP is underway as bare drum & bass producers are remixing The Prodigy too). An Industry Standard 3 EP is due from Aftershock, which may or may not feature a tune called "Stiffness". Having joined the grime ranks through the old school jungle scene, Terror might be returning to his roots: he claims "Stiffness" is the first grime tune to feature a break (the staple way of making beats in jungle, but long since forsaken by grime). Will he draw for the "Amen" or the "Apache?" And will it work?
Grime evolved in cultural isolation, but recently the links between grime and other scenes have been strengthening. Semtex did a "Crunk & Grime" mix CD and UK hip hop's Kaleshnekoff's been working with Jammer. But recently the links between dancehall and grime have curiously expanded. Dancehall in grime started with Wiley's "Icerink" vocal version series and the hilarious "Donkey Kick" mix of "Eskimo" but since then it's been fairly quiet.
Then came last weekend's appearance of grime-dread Jammer at UK dancehall party Heatwave, following up where Riko (who has a mix CD forthcoming called The Truth featuring God's Gift, Wiley, Scratchy, Trim, and Roachee ) and No Lay had previously tread. Sticky, a UK garage veteran who brought the world Ms. Dynamite and Tubby T before seeing grime success with SLK's "Hype Hype", has been turning his hand to dancehall. Why he chose to sample the Charlston is unknown, but Gappy Ranks and another ex-UKG now-dancehall artist, Sweetie Irie have vocaled it.
Dexplicit, formerly an ignored producer on Sticky's label, now hot after producing Lethal B's Forward Riddim, has recorded a bashment all-star riddim featuring Jamakabi, JD, Knowledge, Mr. Midas, Miss Teajah, Suncycle, Fader, and Sinister. He's also put a mix together with ex-Roll Deep MC and star of the Forward Riddim, Jamakabi, called "Versatile Styles" which is a double CD of garage and bashment tracks. It should feature over 30 artists from both scenes, with both grime and dancehall productions from Dexplicit. Given dancehall's fan base in London, grime seems a natural bedfellow, but the overlap hasn't been as natural as you might think. With dancehall's success with turning comparatively aggressive Jamaican MC into global stars, this link-up could prove fruitful if nourished.
On a mellow mellow tip, a cluster of gyal-fixated grime dubs have proved essential listening this month. Bashy, a northwest London MC who made his name by clashing with Wiley, has a big tune on his hands with "Pryin." In essence a call and response between a paranoid girlfriend and an defiant but perhaps cheating boy, it's both catchy underground pop and a testament to how mobile phones, with a whole raft of new terminology and unforeseen uses, are a defining feature of '00s culture.
Talking of catchy tunes and clashing Wiley, the Eskiboy is on fire again. Check this amazing Roll Deep set for tunes like "Together" with Ruff Sqwad or "I Need Space". Like Roll Deep's "Heartbreak Avenue", they reach for samples that bring out the emotional or sentimental sides of the MCs. Perhaps it's overstretching the point, but you can't help notice the correlation between the MCs' sentimental sides and samples from music released when they were kids.
With grime MCs inspiring ever younger and more aggressive new recruits, "youngers" talking about "shanks" and "boring" in their very early teens, perhaps their own childhoods are the only places older grime MCs can retreat to find softer, more emotive sentiments? Perhaps, or maybe they just like sampling Sade-a-likes.
Martin Clark has just launched a label Keysound Recordings
More of his writing can be found at www.blackdownsoundboy.blogspot.com
Email Martin on email@example.com
Next week: Dave Steflox on the month in dancehall.
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