If you have never before been exposed to the fact, you might be surprised to hear that Jamaican dub is really, really popular in certain parts of Europe. So popular, in fact, that it has spawned a number of labels who specialize almost exclusively in home-brewed variants. Which is not to say that Vienna’s Klein records traffics exclusively in dub—they’ve got some house and some rather anomalously-placed pop, too. But on the whole, the label follows the trip-hop template established in the early 90s by artists such as Massive Attack and Smith & Mighty in England almost to a “T”.
Which is, all things considered, hardly a bad thing, and this compilation of mostly rare and as-yet-unreleased cuts does a wonderful job of spotlighting the label’s strengths.
The compilation opens with Stratus’ “Uplink”, featuring vocals by Howie Beck. This could have appeared anywhere on the first UNKLE album, with its ominous dub beat and heavy rumbling bass laid under a delicate shoegazer-rock vocal and a melancholy guitar line. It builds to a climax that manages to evoke DJ Shadow and the aforementioned Massive Attack at their most dense and hypnotic.
The Joakim Dub version of Seelenuft’s “I Come Along” sounds like a long-lost New Order dubplate, with heavy, echoing drums and a brooding post-punk bassline offset against primitive synthesizer lines. All it needs is a willowy vocal and a jagged guitar line—it could easily have been a B-side to “Confusion”. Albin Janoska’s “Baheax Dub” sounds like another lost artifact, a remnant of a night at Studio 54, sans vocals but with some fat Hammond organ added.
Seelenuft’s “Baby Baby” is the poppiest tune on the album, with vocals by Silvercity-Bob and Olivera Stanimirov set above a snappy beat that sounds like something the Neptunes would have cooked up back before they blew up. MUM have become a favorite of Europhiles everywhere in the last few years, and “Venus On The Forehead”, from their first album, is an easy slice of dubby jazz-pop in the vein of a slightly more upbeat Thievery Corporation.
It’s here that we finally enter the heavy dub portion of the program: Stereotyp meets Al’Haca step up with “Blaze n Cook”. If it weren’t for a few telltale signs of a subliminal allegiance to minimalist German techno (such as the crisp synthesizer stabs), you could easily mistake this track for an authentic slab of Caribbean Soca, with its minimal snare shuffle and hard bass kick. Next, The Bug comes in with Ras B. and Zeebee, providing a crossover between dancehall and Digital Hardcore. The rhythms and the bassline could only come from the islands, but the drum sounds are harsh and full of angry static—which makes for a fascinating stylistic collision.
I-Wolf offers “Positivity”, which features Cesar’s fragile falsetto and hazy, driving percussion that wouldn’t have been out of place on a Primal Scream album circa about 1997. Stratus returns with the Padded Cell Remix of “Vapour”, a deep and dubby exercise in claustrophobic percussion. Mika and Princess Him present two pieces of sophisticated Europop, “Interesting Times” and “Again”, with strong dub backbones and equally muscular female vocals—imagine Black Box Recorder produced by the Mad Professor.
Stereotyp meets Al’Haca return with “Watch Me Flip”, featuring rapper RQM. This track falls strangely flat, perhaps because the deep bassy dub doesn’t fully succeed at the slow hip-hop tempo they adopt here. Terranova’s dub of the Sofa Surfer’s “See The Light” is a strong bit of housey dub, but hardly stands as a good example of the Surfers’ stellar career. Considering the importance of the Sofa Surfers to Klein (the first Klein record was a Sofa Surfers 12”), the inclusion of this single unrepresentative track is slightly odd. The album finishes with I-Wolf’s “Tear It All Down”, which sounds for the life of me like a Fatboy Slim remix of a Lee “Scratch” Perry track—with all the crunchy goodness that such a comparison implies.
Klein may not actually have something for everyone, but for those who enjoy dub they have as many conceivable variations as possible. Listening to the variety of sounds on this disc, its easy to forget that the vast majority of these producers are pasty white European guys—about as honky as they come.
// Notes from the Road
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