After a slowish start to the year, I’m trying to pick up the pace of making and releasing new mixes by getting into a new habit, namely recording in little bursts a few nights a week. Nothing major, just 20 to 30 minutes at a time, as I’ve found this fits in a bit better with my family life and it takes away the excuse of ‘oh, I don’t have time to do a full mix’. Sure, on any given night I don’t have 60-90 minutes, but I can definitely rustle up 20-30, and if you do that four times a week you end up with between 80 and 120 minutes of material, which is plenty for a mix, right?
As I write this, therefore, I have one finished mix (Armand van Helden tribute!) also done, and I’m working on another one (modern jungle techno!), and I plan to do a different one (Berlin techno! Or maybe AKO Beatz!) next week … so the gears are grinding along and stuff is happening.
I guess the younger me would 100% have considered such an approach to be ‘cheating’, but the younger me didn’t have two kids nor a job that was anywhere near as demanding, so fuck that guy and his overinflated purism. 😉
This mix, specifically, has been on the shelf for a little while – I originally recorded it in October for the Begrime radio show and I am only now getting it up on Sonicrampage. The genesis of this mix was, well … not very complicated! I didn’t have much free time and the deadline for submission was looming, so I just got out a stack of records and did it in little bursts over a couple of days and then stitched it together in Soundforge.
Normally I would do a grime mix for Begrime (and in fact this is what I’ve done in the past; see here, here and here), but this time around I decided to do something a bit different: a deeper dubstep mix.
OK, that’s not that different – similar bpm, similar roots, all that.
I wasn’t getting too wild and crazy!
But still, a little bit different.
Why did I do a dubstep mix?
There’s not really a very complex story to it – Begrime did a little party in September at the beach bar at Yaam, a venue by the river in Friedrichshain, and the management asked us not to go too hard too early, so I volunteered to go first and play dubstep, on the assumption that it would be a bit more mellow than straight-up grime.
To be honest, I didn’t think too deeply about it in advance, I just got out some of my older dubstep records, mostly on the deeper side (no mid-range tearouts!), did a little practice, and packed my bag. That’s it!
On the day itself, I was pretty exhausted and was sort of looking for reasons to not do it, but I still made my way there for 7pm and … it was great!
Like obviously 7pm on a windy September evening with a bunch of people sitting around drinking, the first fall chill in the air, is not a prime slot in any way shape or form, but frankly it was just so much fun to play these records and hear them loud (or at least loud-ish). Clearly it’s a different experience to hear music on a proper soundsystem as opposed to on headphones or a home stereo system, and that goes for all genres of music, but, well, dubstep stands out even more so in this regard.
What you never experience with dubstep at home is the sheer physicality of it, the intensity of the bass. You hear it and experience it in a whole new way, and even though I was playing to a bunch of people who, frankly, probably didn’t care too much either way, it was just really really fun. I did my one hour set and walked off absolutely buzzing! It was so cool to hear this music at this volume again, and especially to play so many tunes that I hadn’t really played much for a while.
A great experience!
It was also very nice that my cousin Diana stopped by with some friends – they seemed to have a nice time! She’s from New York City and is studying in Amsterdam this year – it was great to see her.
Afterwards I was feeling very inspired, so I ended up doing this mix a few weeks later to try to recapture that vibe a little bit – I reused quite a few of the tunes, but not all. Everything on this mix was in my bag that day.
Here’s the setlist from the actual party, for those of you who are curious:
01. Matty G – Back to the Bay feat. Ugene [Dub Police] 02. Babylon System – Everyday Hustle [10 Bags] 03. Silkie – Head Butt Da Deck [Deep Medi Musik] 04. Skream – Phatty Drummer [Deep Medi Musik] 05. Coki – Burnin’ [White] 06. Kromestar – Late [Southside] 07. Von D – Coquine [Black Acre] 08. Martyn – Shadowcasting [Revolve:r] 09. 2562 – Kontrol [Tectonic] 10. Skream – Memories of 3rd Base [Digital Soundboy] 11. Matty G – Bass Frequency [Dubplate] 12. Matty G – Summer Solstice [Argon] 13. Landslide vs Slaughter Mob – Splurt (Skream Remix) [Halo Beats] 14. Loefah – Natural Charge [Version] 15. Vybz Kartel – Emergency (Coki Remix) [Greensleeves Dubstep] 16. The Arts of Noise – Moments in Love (Caspa Remix) [White] 17. RSD – Forward Youth [Tectonic] 18. Mala – Maintain Thru Madness [DMZ] 19. Skream – Midnight Request Line [Tempa] 20. Coki – Dry Cry [AWD] 21. King Soly – Wicked King of Persia [Bass Face]
So this mix is a selection of some recent(ish) dubstep bits that I’ve picked up on vinyl over the last couple years – basically it’s pretty similar in spirit to last year’s Lockdown Sounds. While it’s true that my mixes often have some kind of a concept or theme behind them, with this specific one, well, I just pulled out some records I liked and mixed them together … nothing more complex than that.
The story behind this mix, to the extent that there is any kind of story, is that I wanted to make a new mix to take with me when I went to visit my parents in the US in July (having not seen them for eighteen months), and I wanted something that was relaxing. Well, to the extent that any of my mixes can be described as relaxing. This is the result.
So … yeah. Kind of self-explanatory, right?
Still, though, I will write a few words to describe the mix.
As I mentioned before, I often go with some kind of theme when I create a new mix. Not in this case. Something else that I often do, specifically with mixes of four to the floor genres like acid or hard trance, is to gradually (or sometimes rapidly) increase the intensity of the music through the course of the mix, which I usually achieve by ramping up the tempo. This is something that I’ve done probably dozens of times, and I always enjoy it! It’s a system that works, that sounds good (in my opinion, of course), and that other people seem to enjoy as well.
Is it so creative to keep using the same broad framework? Possibly not, but I generally try to infuse creativity in other ways, whether through the theme of the mix or how I approach the programming.
However, I don’t follow this ‘just pitch that shit up!’ strategy when I am working with bass music genres like drum n’ bass, dubstep, breaks, grime or electro. My general feeling is that you don’t get the same payoff by just cranking the tempo – it ends up sounding weird, so I generally avoid it.
This is really apparent with dubstep specifically, at least for me. Honestly, this style of music sounds ridiculous pitched way up. The whole sense of it is gone when you jack the bpms up, therefore I generally try to go no higher than about 144 bpm (which would be about +3 on a normal Technics turntable for a 140 bpm record).
Even so I still want to take the listeners (and myself) on a ‘journey’, to use the dreaded cliche – but how? So since just relentlessly ramping up the bpm’s is out, instead I focus on the sonic textures of my selected tracks and try to organize them in such a way that the outcome is a coherent sonic narrative.
So how did I do that with this mix?
Well, let’s go through it!
The first five tracks are deep and dark and kind of weird, and, honestly, not really all that dance-ey. I mean I suppose you could dance to them, but they aren’t exactly ‘go nuts and pour a can of beer over your head’ danceable.
At track 6, Von D’s ‘Chestlick’ signals a slight switch in emphasis to a short section of sturdy, bass-heavy steppers that briefly segues into a couple of West Coast hip-hop influenced tracks before switching again to a more extended selection of classic dancefloor dubstep, brooding bass underpinning breezeblock beats laced with a heavy dancehall influence.
In the middle of this section I drop two of J:Kenzo’s acid dubstep tracks (you know I love acid!) but then after that I switch things back to the more classic dubstep sound, all halfstep chonk and bass thwomp.
The last section of the mix starts at about track 23 as I shift the intensity up to some tracks that are at first a bit more grime-adjacent and then suddenly noisier, more abrasive, and just simply more aggressive. Well, until the last track, which is all cavernous reverb and rifling tribal drums … I just wanted to end things on a slightly less belligerent note.
I hope you enjoyed the mix – more music and some big news soon!
Vast warm caverns of bass emanating from a dub soundystem in a South London community center. 1980’s.
Half-time depth charges underlying frantically spiraling jungle breakbeats in a crowded room, horns blaring and lighters flaring. Mid 90’s.
The soulful sounds of US house music reconstructed, sped up, toughened up, and underlaid with sticky webs of bass. Late 90’s.
Rough-hewn beats overlaid with frantic lyrics, underpinned with spiky, angular shocks of bass. Beamed from tower block antennas to bedrooms and car radios across London. Mid-00’s.
Twirling, swirling 808 slides riding under mournful chords and raw tales of London life, exploding on to the world stage via YouTube. Today.
And, of course, there was dubstep, which was and is purely about bass. Vast shockwaves of sub-bass. Giant ice sculptures of bass. Jagged cliffs of mid-range noise underpinned by oceans deep bass.
Perhaps the premium exponent of dubstep in its purest form is Loefah (or Peter Livingston to his parents) from Croydon, South London. One of the scene’s original creators, part of the legendary DMZ crew, his sound is simple, but effective.
Massive breezeblock beats
Juddering walls of bass
The odd reggae, dancehall or hip-hop vocal sample
Maybe (maybe!) a melody
It’s minimal, but it is deeply, deeply effective!
Also it makes it tricky to mix at times, because the tunes are so sparse and the rhythms are sometimes a bit off-kilter.
Listening to his music makes me think of giant lumbering robots slowly stomping their way across a landscape, devastating everything in their way with blasts of pure rumbling sub-bass.
This mix, then, is my summary of his sound, pulling together a whole bunch of his original productions, remixes, and collaborations. There are a few pretty obvious tunes that are missing, of course, but overall this should give you a flavor of Loefah’s sound, or at least what he was producing in his early years. More recently he’s been focused on working as a dj and on his label Swamp 81, which has featured a few of his more recent productions.
He also has a huge back catalogue of dubs that have never been released … maybe one day!
Here are a few personal favorites:
Man I would happily shell out for a proper vinyl box set of unreleased Loefah dubs!
Obviously listening on a home stereo system does not give the full effect, but I was pretty excited to finally put together this mix after years of wanting to do it. The trigger was getting (at last!) my hands on a copy of the classic double-sider ‘Mud / Ruffage‘ courtesy of my good friend The Vinyl Pimp.
This mix also completes my series of DMZ tribute mixes, having already done mixes dedicated to Mala (including a second one) and Coki. One thing that I’ve always loved about the DMZ crew is how they each have such a unique personal take on dubstep – Coki’s hyped-up midrange madness, Mala’s throbbing dub energy, and Loefah’s minimalistic steppers. Given how samey so much electronic music production has become in recent decades, carving out a unique niche is quite an achievement!
To round things off, check out this interview with the man himself:
Gonna try to push out a lot of music in December, so keep your ears open …