Largely credited with inventing the genre, after seven years in the wilderness Horsepower Productions have returned at a crucial time for dubstep. With ‘purple’ wobble-step heading pop-wards into sluggish, slurred rave-pop, and the ‘artistic’ factions dividing and sub-dividing into a multitude of sounds—both sides of the spectrum being equally unrecognizable from Horsepower Production’s incipient garage noir—there’s a risk the long awaited (and hugely anticipated) Quest for the Sonic Bounty could find the Londoners left behind.
The outcome is an eclectic production, working in sequence through the post-punk feel of Untold’s percussive techno on “Rain”, shamanistic house on “Poison Wine”, abrasive digi-dub on “Damn It” and several innovations within their own patent territory. The much-maligned wobble bass modulator is re-appropriated elegantly, distorting the cinematic half-step of “Water” and “Kingstep”. The effect, as was the device’s original purpose, is mesmeric submergence, with garish drill ‘n’ blam drops of the ‘bro-step’ variety few and far between.
A traditionalist’s dubstep record, Quest for the Sonic Bounty is meticulously and at times audaciously constructed. It’s tight and airless with ill intent, all pressure in the urban sub-terrain, with a premium set on atmosphere and dub techniques. In spite of the post-dubstep era, it sticks resolutely to Horsepower Production’s own terms—headphones music with a commitment to the LP format. At its most formidable it’s a blow for intelligent bass music. Seen less flatteringly, Quest for the Sonic Bounty is a throwback. The film sampling, most of all, seems dated, and the second side benefits hugely from the inclusion of current dubstep muse Katy B on “Open Up You Eyes”. Nonetheless, it’s a seductive and enchanting outing, which even two years ago would have been right on the money.