101 of the 303: Dubstep
In the early part of the millenium a new sound emerged from Croydon and took over the world. That sound was...dubstep. Here's an Apple playlist and a brief overview of the scene that made dancefloors wobble again.
Remember when you'd make mixes for your friends to show how cool you were? 101 of 303 is our glimpse into the fundamentals of electronic movements. This time round, we're taking you down to the depths of deepest South London for an education session in the early days of dubstep and beyond. Rising from the ashes of garage in the infant years of the 00s, with Croydon at its heart, dubstep was a revelation — and a revolution. It's lurch and churn was indebted to the cultural relationship between the UK and the West Indies, rooted as it was in a combination of dub's low end pressure and the clubby rhythm of prime 2step. It was serious, sincere, comical and OTT, maximal and minimal. It changed UK club culture forever.
Listen to our Apple Music dubstep playlist here, and check out our brief history lesson below.
Horsepower Productions - Gorgon Sound
Horsepower Productions In Fine is one of those albums that come around every so often and subtly, if not quietly, change everything around it. There'd be no dubstep without this killer blend of 2-step shuffle and dub's seriously deep bass weight.
Burial - South London Boroughs
The crown prince of the nightbus crew, mysterious South Londoner Will Bevan, AKA Burial, was dubstep's most overtly emotional producer — if you could even call his impressionist paintings of deserted city streets, empty cul-de-sacs devoid of metropolitan buzz, "dubstep". We are, and "South London Boroughs" is as good as it gets. The saddest, heaviest thing to exist in music. After Rik Waller.
Plastician - Intensive Snare ft. Skepta
Skepta's now the biggest UK export since we invented the internet and wind up radios, but a few years back he was just another punchline MC popping up on Channel U and propping up mixtape after mixtape. This collaboration with Plastician is a seriously aggro bit of vocal dubstep that turns the "dread" settings to 11.
Distance - Night Vision
One of our writers once got beaten up by his then girlfriend at a Distance gig. ANYWAY, "Night Vision" is a prime example of the nocturnal side of the dubstep coin, all pitch black crackle and wallop. Seriously uneasy listening.
Skream - Rutten
Skream doesn't do dubstep now but when he did, back in the day, he was dubstep. Yeah, yeah "Midnight Request Line" was the Skream tune — if you were a dilettante, right? — but we've plumped for the corrosive yet (somehow) airy "Rutten" as our prime slab of Skream. Basically, it's the sound of every stoner you've ever known rolled into one thick six minute spliff.
Pinch - Swish
Dubstep wasn't confined to the London, and yep, it did stretch beyond the dismal outer limits of Croydon. Tectonic, run out of Bristol by Pinch, was as pivotal to the scene as Tempa and the other big city boys. "Swish", released on Deep Medi Musik, is a bulging, hulking monster of a tune — it swaggers through the club with the malevolence of a juiced up roid-head necking jaegers seven at a time.
Caspa - For the Kids
After his basketball career was cut short due to injury, West Londoner Gary McCann turned to music, going on to become one of the biggest stars in the world of dubstep, recording a mix for fabric and getting a tune on the Halo 4 remix album. "For the Kids" is anything but that, unless your children are really into skeletal, crushingly weighty, abstract dubstep with shlocky horror movie samples thrown over the top. If they are, seek help. Or Jeremy Kyle. One of the two.
Coki - Boomba
Best known for his seminal collaboration with Benga, "Night" (aka the dubstep song your dad likes), Coki was, and still is, one half of Digital Mystikz alongside Mala. Here's a solo tune of his that demonstrates dubstep at its most floorfillingly avant-garde. Nothing about this record makes sense. Apart from all of it.
Loefah - Truly Dread
This deep, dark, dank roller really does live up to it's title.
Kode9 and The Spaceape - Sine
That voice. Of all the MCs associated with dubstep The Spaceape is surely the waviest, weirdest, and most widely celebrated. His turned on the Hyperdub released "Sine" showcases exactly why. His guttural doomsday poetry is as cosmic and it is rain-soaked and bleary-eyed. Pair that with Kode9's circling bass, and you've got an untouchable expression of late night landscapes.
Zomby - Spliff Dub
Possibly the most apparently dubstep track on the list, but that doesn't make this offering from the masked producer any less on point. With the clarion call refrain, "one spliff a day keeps the evil away" the track has the appeal to fall neatly into the arms of both Hyperdub devotees and the sort of people who first heard dubstep through watching Skins.
Appleblim and Peverelist - Circling
Released on Shackleton's Skull Disco, "Circling" is a washed-out atmospheric staple, the flow of the track swirling round and round in exactly the sort of the circular motion you'd expect from the title. Further proof of Bristol's lynchpin role in dubstep, as both Appleblim and Peverelist were — and still are — key figures in South West's subby scene.
Shackleton - Blood on my Hands
This intricate, rhythmic roller from Shackleton is perhaps better known for the remix that followed it. When Ricardo Villalobos put his spin on the track, the already burgeoning connections between dubstep and techno were given their most vivid example. But, for all its goodness, it still didn't touch the lightly lapping waves of the original. Pure, brooding bliss.
Rusko - Cockney Thug
There's a temptation to level a lot of the blame for dubstep's popular deterioration on Rusko, in fact, he even blames himself, but tracks like "Cockney Thug" showcase the sweet spot before this point. Dubstep pushed to its most popular incarnation but still carrying enough character to keeps things interesting. Plus there's an Armando Iannucci Show sample on it, a claim very few dubstep tracks can boast.
Untold - Anaconda
A wild and blindingly unusual track, that when released on Hessle in 2011 signified just how much life there was left in the genre. Contains more strange chirps, buzzes, and whistles than a midnight raid on a toy shop, yet retains an effervescent groove throughout.
Omen - Rebellion
Heavy duty Tectonic fare. This release sums up much of what the Bristol label did, and still do, best. Thick, rolling, space-facing bass that churns and churns, all the while percussive rumbles and shattering claps fall down from on high. Devastating work from the Random Trio affiliate.
L-Wiz - Girl From Codeine City
A timeless charmer this one. Splattered with ripping bass, muffled fleeting vocals, and then that sax. It's dripping with a swagger and sexiness missing from the spookier side of dubstep. Also proof that dubstep isn't just restricted to the UK, with L-Wiz bringing the low-slung vibes from Sweden.
Digital Mystikz - Give Jah Glory
Mala and Coki here on an under-appreciated track that appeared on the Tempa Allstars Vol.2 release. It's the best of what early dubstep had to offer. The energy of a soundsystem submerged under an ominous, inimitable, rumbling bass; while that sporadic beat clatters on and on. Pioneer produced perfection.