Paul Rose, aka Scuba, is one of the most progressive, most respected DJs currently trading in the type of electronic music known as dubstep. Loosely described as a combination of dub, techno, UK garage, and drum’n'bass, dubstep has for many become synonymous with a wailing, whirring, wobbly sonic onslaught that is energetic but wears out its welcome quickly. But Rose operates beyond those parameters.
A native of London, the birthplace of dubstep, Scuba lives in Berlin, a city synonymous with dark, brooding, electronics-heavy music of all sorts. He champions dubstep that is informed by techno, minimal house, and experimental electronica, as much a mood as a readily-identifiable sound. He releases it on his Hotflush label, and spins it at his Sub:Stance nights at the influential, trendy Berlin disco Berghain. As the marquee act, Scuba spins last. His sets are long and last deep into the night. He has said this gives him more flexibility and freedom to offer a broader, mind-expanding range of sounds. Indeed, Scuba’s addition to the redoubtable DJ Kicks series is both diverse and mind-expanding.
It’s really tough to get a handle or bearing on this one. That’s not a bad thing. Rather, it’s a testament to just how unique and seamless a sonic environment Scuba has created. The mix covers 32 tracks over a single disc, tracks bleeding and melting into each other in a way that precludes the points of departure that usually define even continuous DJ mixes like this one.
What does it sound like? Well, if your concept of dubstep is in line with the one mentioned above, you will be surprised and quite possibly disappointed. Aside from Roska’s dizzy “Leapfrog”, there’s precious little whirring and wobbling here. Instead, you’ll get a mix of stern and funky sounds that bear influences from the past just as they forage into the future. Beaumont’s “CPX 11”, for example, blends a chattering, hissing Roland 808 with a soft, plangent synthesizer pad. Until Silence’s “The Affair” features a harsh, motorik rhythm, while Sigha’s “Let Me In” is stripped-down house.
Jichael Mackson’s “Gedons” and Scuba’s own “M.A.R.S.” bring back the staccato synths of vintage Detroit techno, while Quest’s “Everybody in the Place” lays down the acid squelch, and so on. The subtle segues and overlapping effects are a reflection of Scuba’s deft mixing skills, and his ear for maintaining a consistent sonic experience. There is, however, a definite upswing in tempo in the middle of Function vs. Jerome Sydenham’s “Two Ninety One”, about a third of the way through the mix, though most everything hovers in the 130-140 bpm range.
And at intervals throughout are those lush synth pads that wash over you and let you catch your breath just long enough for the next round of tension. You can almost feel Locked Groove’s “Drowning” trying to escape from the speakers, surging as if it’s been straight-jacketed, and Sex Worker’s “Rhythm of the Night” is an echo-drenched mind-warp. Good thing, then, that Scuba comes to the rescue a few tracks later with his own “Adrenalin”. With its spliced-up vocals and massive synth filter-sweep, it’s as close as Scuba’s DJ Kicks comes to an all-out anthem.
However, as with everything here, you get the impression it’s not so much calculated as it just felt right at the time. You could say the same for Scuba’s DJ Kicks in general. Scuba has said he wanted to translate that woozy, late-night, let-it-happen feeling into this mix. He’s succeeded.