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Step Outside: Spring Dubstep Reviews

Forthcoming tunes from Punch Drunk, Scuba, Hessle Audio, and Hotflush.

RSD
Corner Dub (Red and Blue Mix) / Pretty Bright Light
Punch Drunk 003

Landing the mighty Rob Smith for Punch Drunk 003 is a real coup for the nebulous Punch Drunk imprint run out of Bristol’s Rooted Records. The label’s first release played it safe with sure bets from established names Pinch and Atki2. The second, from Peverelist, took a risk and became the focus of dubstep/minimal speculations early in the year. Number three pulls it all together with an artist whose biography reads like a history of Bristol bass culture. Rob Smith started out in the late-80s, as the first hybrids of hip hop and UK reggae were emerging. As half of More Rockers and one third of Smith & Mighty, he’s helped define Jungle, Trip Hop and UK Dub, while doing just as much to blur each into the other. With this release we get another example of dubstep by another route. Jah Shaka-descended steppers and early-AWOL era jungle seem like obvious reference points. There’s hardly a hint of garage here but, bright and light on their feet, these tunes have a panache that puts most DnB derivatives and quasi-dub efforts to shame. No time for half stepping, the Red and Blue mix of ‘Corner Dub’ runs a double time pulse under slow-filtering bass that recalls moments on Sandoz’ ‘Chant to Jah.’ Off beat pianos sparkle and fade as the track pares itself down to a dubbed-out roller, the apt phrase ‘just be humble’ occasionally ringing around the space. ‘Pretty Bright Light’ is equally strong – wah-bass to bend and shape you, and a sub so clean you might not see it until it’s too late. They hold down a brilliant tension with clusters of ever-deferring snares that break from dubstep’s tweakhead obsessions (‘the snare that smacks you across the room’), clattering along as though lifted from a DJ Randall set circa 1993.      Pure science aimed squarely at your waistline. Punch Drunk continues to surprise and impress.
– Paul Jasen

Vaccine
Signal to Noise / Wishful Thinking
Scuba 006

Signal to Noise has a dark, cavernous sound that evokes images of angry machines relentlessly exploring stark, alien soundscapes, stopping only to punctuate and penetrate the mix like robotic surveyors drilling for mineral samples. At the cut-out, the distorted and crushed beats descend into a dubbed out spiral while the sawing synthlines march in time to the straight-laced half step pattern. There is no huge drop, no massive bassline. This tune doesn’t need either. It’s much more subtle than that. More extroverted than the A side, Wishful Thinking brings light to the darkness. Computer glitches create ever-changing sonic textures over which the arpeggiated pad is layered to give movement to the entire piece. The melodic elements add beauty and lushness to the harsh rhythmical parts. This is the type of song you want to hear first thing in the morning and last thing at night.Strong first release from Vaccine, who has both songs breathing like a living organism.
-Sen-Foong Lim

TRG
Put You Down / Broken Hearts
Hessle Audio 001

TRG and a dreary train ride on the verge of a late spring: hour after hour of grey sky, swamp, leafless trees, mud and decay. Huddled cattle chewing, chewing, chewing… Seven stomachs and only one flavour. But also flashes of colour and signs of movement: the evergreens, bits of sun, a heron, a llama, crocuses breaking through the dead weight of matted vegetation. If dubstep had a winter it was the self-imposed chill of 2004/5, experiments at the edge of cryostasis cooling the organism to within inches of its life. Then it dragged on, leaving the patient in limbo. In early 2007 though, there’s increasing evidence of a wide-scale thaw and even a few new species to fill in the gaps between the perennials. Romania’s TRG is ‘at the forefront,’ says Martin Clark ‘of a new swing in dubstep; a return to the more overtly musical garage that preceded it.’ His forthcoming 12′, ‘Put You Down’ b/w ‘Broken Hearts’ is the first release from Hessle Audio, the new Leeds-based label run by scene mainstays Ben UFO and Ramadanman. Like a lot of relatively new dubstep adepts, he has a background in recent Drum and Bass – a natural link but one that too often translates into abrasive torpor. TRG sets himself apart from the field with a bass driven, vocal-centred slink rarely heard since the early Tempa era. ‘Broken Hearts’ rolls in with shades of El-B and Horsepower, but filtered through the latter day influence of Burial-haze and DMZ weight. It’s a proper 2-step tear out with stuttering kicks and heavily shuffled hats set to a pummelling two note bassline. The smokey hook smooths it out in a lovers rock style that’s a nice break from all-too-common badman/Rasta samples. ‘Put You Down’ is almost as effective, this time with an RnB tinge to the vocal. The riddim is a play of propulsive kicks, woodblock and precision hi-hats, punctuated by the blunted harmonics of distant piano chord (it could almost be a train whistle). This time the bassline is more drawn out and shapely – a little shove, a gentle tug. Infectious and propulsive, this pair of melancholic steppers manages to move FWD via a return to the root, reminding us that 2step still has many untapped veins. A welcome and successful first outing for TRG and Hessle Audio.
– Paul Jasen

Benga & Walsh / Gravious / Marlow
Bingo / Temple Bell / Road Kill
HotFlush 015i

Bingo highlights the disparity between the squonky bassline and the sustained pads – never shall the two meet. There are sections with only bass and drums, and others with only melodic elements and drums. The drum pattern is interesting in itself. The heavy emphasis on the 1 as well as the 3 is uncharacteristic of the genre and gives a very deliberate, paced feel to song. A great follow-up to this team’s recent releases on Immerse and HotFlush. As the title says, Gravious’ latest relies heavily on metallic bell sounds to resonate through the tune, providing an off-key melody that is immaculately accompanied by well-tuned percussive elements, Asian drones and mandolin sounds. The swell of the strings give Temple Bell an operatic and cinematic quality that would not be out of place in a Yimou Zhang film. An even dubbier version of this tune would be killer – the shimmering delays and cuts used at the very end of the song will sadly never get heard in a mix. Road Kill takes this 3-tracker from Asia to Jamaica in one skank-filled swoop. The lead synth sweeps through the song with dub delays filling voids you only thought were there while the single hit bass warps in to give the necessary bottom end weight. Well-treated echo effects give some grit and perfectly timed cut outs add to the anticipation of something good to come. With realistic drumming, Road Kill is more dub than dubstep, but it’s still a pure lighter lifter.
– Sen-Foong Lim

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Riddim.ca was founded by DJ/writer paul autonomic (aka Mr. Bump) in February 2005 as a hub for North America's nascent grime and dubstep scenes. Since then we've helped promote events across the continent and made friends around the world. Mostly dormant now, we're host to one of the web's largest collections of writing on the late-Garage dis/continuum as well as a growing collection of rare audio and scans (coming eventually).