Two extraordinary and long-awaited albums landed at around the same time a couple of weeks ago, both from long-standing heroes of the UK bass scene. While the two albums are sonically very different from one another, there are interesting parallels and playing them in tandem with judicious use of a cross-fader makes for a compelling listening experience if perhaps not the one that was intended. Both men are stalwards of the dubstep scene: Mala undoubtedly one of its godfathers, Blackdown serving more as its gatekeeper, his blog keeping heads in the know for the best part of a decade. Thus their names have been linked for a long while, and it’s Martin Clarke (Blackdown) who provides the sleeve-notes for Mala in Cuba. Yet both find themselves in 2012 presiding over a scene that has long since reached a point of implosion. Embraced by the mainstream in America and divorced from its sound-system roots, the dubstep that rocked sweaty festival arenas this summer has little in common with Mala’s heavy dread roots or the instrumental cousin of grime that Blackdown was documenting back in the day. Not that this is by any means a new observation. Clarke was saying as much back in 2010, but it does place both albums in an interesting context. Dusk and Blackdown in the main eschew any of the sounds of mainstream dubstep, opting instead for a collage of garage, grime and UK funky. Mala in Cuba in contrast does take those key ingredients that made dubstep such a compelling sound all those years ago – heavy sub, 140 tempos, half time beats draped in percussion – and fuses them with the sounds of Cuban music to make one of the most arresting albums this side of 2000.
Both albums essentially put the sounds of electronic music in 2012 through a sieve, sifting out the unnecessary distractions and leaving the few powerful elements that remain in the blend. Dusk & Blackdown have created a moody, sparse yet infinitely danceable record. Unlike certain elements of current UK bass music that have taken Burial’s ghostly pads and disembodied vocal samples as inspiration, but have somehow made it sound so soporific it’s the electronic equivalent of easy listening, Dusk & Blackdown have made a record which is menacing and brooding in places, as in High Road and Apoptosis, but haven’t forgotten the groove. Other than the ambient and beautiful opener Lonely Moon it’s an energetic dancefloor record throughout and any of the tunes could be dropped in the middle of a 2am set and keep minds and bodies moving. Tunes like Dasaflex and Hypergrime recall the most scintillating moments of the UK funky scene, a sound which seems to have been overlooked over the last few years. Don’t Stop is irresistibly cheeky, its samples recalling early 90s hardcore; Fraction closes the album with a nod to jungle and drags the listener into a kind of blissful purgatory somewhere between frenetic footwork and hypnotized head-nodding.
By taking the heartbeat of Cuban music, the piano and percussion, and adding them to some of the most astonishing sub bass in living memory, Mala has redefined the sound of dub in 2012. It still sounds like a dubstep album in the best possible way. Early dubstep always played well against driving percussion filling in the spaces in the half-time beat and mournful minor-key piano (no better example of this then Mala’s own Forgive from 2004 – described by none other than Blackdown as “like the first time you heard Strings of Life, except more LDN”) and this album won’t disappoint bass-head purists. It’s unbelievably heavy on the sub-bass frequencies but offset by the intricate musicality of its guest musicians. Mala hasn’t done a Darkstar and turned his back on the genre for his first LP, he’s simply embellished it immeasurably. It’s an astonishing album; one that you play through and just want to hear all over again – melodic, heavy, uplifting and utterly original.
Hard to pick out 2 tracks but here goes …
This has been floating around for a while; I first heard it on a mix that D + B did a couple of years back and it instantly stood out. For some reason forums have been full of people saying how good the music is but dissing the album title. Why? The word Dasaflex for me encapsulates the funky euphoria of this tune and makes for a wicked album title.
Have you ever been in a club when a tune turns a corner and hits a vibe that is so overpowering the only possible reaction is to start laughing? That’s what happens here when the trumpets kick in. I pray to God that Channel One Sound System get a copy of this and drop it at carnival in the middle of a sunny afternoon; it would tear the fucking sky out (love the way brass does that – see also Roots and Culture by Mikey Dread)