Sach O has been charged with disturbing the peace.
Say what you want about the current state of Dubstep but the genre and its variants have certainly captured the public imagination and caused a whole lot of bandwagon jumping by artists who otherwise would have no interest in the stuff. From Korn employing an army of American aggbros to produce their sad attempt at a comeback record, to Radiohead hand picking a tasteful, restrained selection of Bass music auteurs for their remix collection, the results have mostly been the kind of awkward, ignorable failures that future generations of music bloggers will take great pleasure in dissecting.
The problem is that despite Dubstep’s origins as mongrel music assembled from the ashes of Garage, Dub, Jungle, Techno, Hip-Hop, Reggae, Metal and more, it’s all too easy to lose sight of what made it special when reintegrating it within those genres. Korn with wobble basically sounds like…Korn with wobble. And while I admire Thom Yorke’s broad taste in music, I’m not convinced Radiohead sounds any better with Ramadanman drums.
Thankfully, sometimes a remix project actually makes sense, finding common ground between the original source material and the producers reinterpreting it. Jamaican super-label Greensleeves’ Dubstep volume 1 compilation is one of those rare successes and it’s easy to see why. Dubstep and Dancehall share a near infinite amount of common DNA, even as the former’s shadowy moodiness couldn’t be further from the latter’s party-starting commercialism. Ignoring both Dubstep’s ridiculous heavy-metal massive and its increasingly gentrified second wave, Greensleeves wisely went to the source, building the project around mixes by scene originators DMZ and their various associates and disciples. It’s a no brainer: Afro-Caribbean Londoners who grew up on Jamaican music, reimagining it on their own terms.
What’s perhaps more surprising is the sheer variety of approaches that the producers took when tackling the source material. Coki DMZ, the man who practically invented this whole concept half a decade ago, remixes three tracks – removing every trace of pop shine from JA superstars’ Mavado and Vybz Kartel’s originals before replacing it with deep dread. The resulting versions still retain a sense of melody and song craft but completely displace the context from Kingston yard parties to grimey London tenements.
On the other hand, fellow Digital Mystik, Mala, takes a completely different approach – reducing a Sizzla vocal down to a few choice phrases and looping them around one of his trademark skeletal constructions to create a completely new track around the sample. It’s both awe-inspiring and a little worrying that going on six years since Dubstep’s original 2006 tipping point, there hasn’t been a single producer who comes close to the sheer power and force of Mala’s music.
As such, other producers are more faithful to the originals: Anti-Social’s V.I.V.E.K’s take on Johnny Osbourne’s Fally Ranking is a downright reverent dub in the King Tubby tradition and TMSV’s remix of Gappy Ranks’ Stinkin’ Rich actually tones down the original’s dancehall futurism. Nonetheless, the most exciting versions are the ones that have no qualms with reinventing the wheel. Horsepower Productions’ hyped-up UKG spin on Yellowman’s classic Zungguzungguguzungguzeng transforms a laidback digi-roots tune into an altogether different beast and Terror Danjah saves Admiral Bailey’s sort-of-corny classicism with a brilliant slice a junglist voodoo.
My two favorite mixes though? The Bug and MC Flowdan’s brilliant reinvention of Badman Forward and LD’s ultra-percussive flip on Gyptian’s otherwise mushy “Nah let Go.” By isolating and emphasizing the original’s strengths without hewing too close or too far from the original song structures, these tracks make a strong case that Dubstep could benefit from a return to it’s Jamaican roots just as Jamaican music could use a little London grit.