Dubstep is a London ting: so goes the genre’s origin myth detailing how Croydon beatsmiths stripped Garage of its champagne and coke sheen, transforming it into something altogether darker. Though the genre still remains rooted in the metropolis, it didn’t take long for the virus to spread to neighboring cities with southwestern Bristol making the biggest impact and declaring itself dubstep’s second city. Alternately adding elements of jungle, trip-hop and even Berlin techno into the London matrix, Bristolian dubstep’s original incarnation accentuated the genre’s most intriguing elements: deep, stoned bass that’s alternately serene and menacing, along with a gnostic darkness devoid of kitsch, and traditional dance music elements.
Punch Drunk Records founder and Worth the Weight compiler Peverelist has been there since the beginning, operating out of the city’s now-sole EDM record shop, Rooted Records. His selection criteria for Worth the Weight is clearly defined: Dubstep Classics from Bristol. Whereas Dark Matter, another double CD compilation of contemporary Bristol Tunes (and a dope one in its own right) spreads its reach to house and techno, Worth the Weight does one thing incredibly well, with almost every track looming as a stoned cold classic in the dubstep scene. Flawlessly sequenced and perfectly mastered, it’s the perfect introduction for those who aren’t familiar with the sound.
Disc one opens with Pinch’s “Midnight Oil,” a tune fairly representative of the platter’s style: deep sub-frequencies, a deceptively complex rhythm, a quasi-spiritual atmosphere and skittering sounds lurking in the shadows. By the time the chorus kicks in, you’re either utterly repulsed, skanking your face off or totally bewildered at this terrible mutant music. It’s this from this blend of euphoria and dread that the music draws its life force: this is dance music for those that live in the shadows, happy music for those with permanent screwfaces. Though this darkness remains at the music’s core, there’s room for variation as well. Peverelist’s “The Grind” and Appleblim’s “Vansan” steal techno’s stern rigueur, and apply it to a looser context. While “Qawwali” from Pinch’s classic Underwater Dancehall album is downright inviting, evoking a club night 20 000 leagues beneath the sea. While these songs work within a relatively limited color palette (one often off-putting to outsiders,) the creativity and restless innovation on display resulted in some of the aughts’ best music. The album’s peak, “Roll with the Punches” transcends dance music entirely, looping a minimal flute loop into an anthem for the anthemless: the kind of stuff that doesn’t get played at iPod parties in cool bars (and the kind of tune that sadly probably wouldn’t last 2 seconds in your typical, aggy North-American dubstep night circa 2010).
Disc two opens things up, simultaneously reaching further back to the past and pointing towards the future. Opening tune “B line fi Blo” is a genuine party tune from 2-step’s salad days, but reinforced with junglist bass and a dub sensibility, hinting at further things to come. Its follow up “Tigerflower” adopts UK Funky’s soca percussion to the same ends, with results too roughneck for house sets. From there, the disc dives into the synth-driven “Purple” sound popularized by youngsters, Joker, Guido and Gemmy. Borrowing Grime’s off-kilter melodies and marrying them to a dark core, the results are hard to listen to without imagining neon lasers piercing the night sky. Though every tune is a banger, it’s hard to overstate the massiveness of “Holly Brook Park” and “Pixel Rainbow Sequence” and “Mad Sax”, tremendous game-changers proving there’s life in 140BPM music yet, call it Dubstep or not.
Peverelist and Punch Drunk have compiled an essential collection here, neatly summing up Bristol’s past and future in a nice tidy package. Though DJ’s may harp on a favorite or two’s absence, chances are, they already have everything here– while newcomers can immediately dive into some of the best this city, nay, this genre has to offer. At a time when the cool kids are furiously peddling away from dubstep in order to distance themselves from the wobble-hungry teen crowd that’s appropriated it, it’s important to take a step back and appreciate its finer contributions and just how singular they were and are. Contemporary House music is fine to dance to and UK rapping will probably never catch on over the pond, but to me, like Hip-Hop in 88 and 94, punk in 77 to 82, soul throughout the early 70’s and psychedelia in its late 60’s peak, this is era-defining music, material that truly speaks to the times and redefines what it means to be a listener or a participant within a culture. In Worth the Weight, Punch Drunk has done as good a job as anyone of documenting and capturing that feeling on disc.
MP3: Joker-“Holly Brook Park” (128 kbp/s)