[28 July 2008]
Tempa’s Dubstep Allstars series sounds in name alone like a cash-in. Grab a bunch of hot producers, have them spin a bunch of even hotter records previously available on extremely limited edition vinyl, and then skirt town when the trend dies out. I’d imagine there have been Big Beat Allstars comps, and Jungle Allstars comps, and so on for all the corresponding trends of the past 15 years or so.
To its potential surface detriment, the Dubstep Allstars discs have broken all of the formulaic rules of mix CDs by not only regularly employing the same artist more than once on a single mix, but often having the same artist’s tracks appear in succession of one another. Bristol DJ Appleblim’s installation, the sixth in the series, is no different. Peverelist is featured on three of the tracks, Komonazmuk and 2562 are on two, and Bucharest’s TRG has four songs, three of which appear in a row.
Truth be told, though, it was Tempa’s original Dubstep Allstars disc, curated by DJ Hatcha, that practically coronated a movement on the experimental margins of grime with a name back in the early Aughts. During that time, Laurie “Appleblim” Osborne was still playing math-rock with the Monsoon Bassoon, but also starting to explore the FWD nights in Bath, UK. Now, he’s one half of the sui generis Skull Disco label (along with Shackleton), whose double A-Sides have ignited the late-era phoenix corpus of dubstep’s diminishing gains (a natural byproduct of its massive public exposure in the past two years). Appleblim thereby seems a natural choice for designation as the scene’s newest unofficial “allstar” and the go-to guy to carry the flag of “Dubstep’s not dead”.
Well, luckily for him, dubstep’s not dead.
Appleblim’s mix moves in a natural dynamic direction. It avoids any attempts to be inclusive, because it is beholden to the master narrative of the disc as a whole. This may come at the expense of the artists, who are represented with mysteriously absent context at times, but never in impairment of the piece as a whole or its general eclecticism (from the warped dub of Glaswegian Mungo’s Hi Fi’s “Babylon” to the minimalist chirping of the spacious “Morvern Dub” by 2562). After all, Appleblim is the all-star at hand.
Peverelist’s “Gather”, which leads the album, is all dub and no step. Though there’s a bit of Basic Channel-style danceability permeating through the album’s first half, it follows along an explicit pathway from lighter to heavier terrain, with a few dramatic peaks inbetween (Pinch and Yolanda’s “Get Up”, Peverelist’s “Infinity Is Now”). Even still, by album’s end it never gathers much of the mud and traction that are characteristic of Appleblim’s own distorted and processed recordings. Of the Skull Disco boys, Appleblim has always been the more machinal partner, highlighting twists, tweaks, and guttural bass that drills to the center of the earth in search of some kind of electrical grid to refry the circuitry. Shackleton focuses on more crisp, aerating, lapidary geology, often digging as deep into cultural terrain (incorporating African rhythms and ethnographic samples) as the body-moving corporeal terrene. Yet, it’s Appleblim who excises the clear and often more diaphanous passages from dubstep’s recent history, like Martyn’s textural “Suburbia”. I’d add that for a genre that’s practically all gradiated in raincloud tints, creating a song entitled “Suburbia” that doesn’t feel the least bit cynical might be dubstep’s most radical act all year.
He also plays pretty sparse with the melodies on Dubstep Allstars Vol.06‘s first half, preferring to focus on paint-peeling textures, insistent sub-bass, and a polymorphically progressive shuffle-beat. What’s interesting, and what this mixture makes especially clear, is how when you strip away all but those defining traits of this ever-growing style, you’re left with remains that oddly resemble electronic dance music’s history. The echo-plasm and double-time bass of Peverelist & Appleblim’s “Circling” could have emerged from Autechre’s Tri Repetae or one of Pole’s early records. Then there’s the abundance of Seefeel-style looping and low-end grooves. Komonazmuk’s excellent “Bad Apple” even adopts a four-on-the-floor ambient house mode, and Martyn’s remix of TRG’s “Broken Hearts” has overtly grimey tendencies. You’re left with the impression that electronic music on the whole, once so obsessively focused on innovation, has moved on to the point of refinement.
Yet, like he and Shackleton have showcased on their Skull Disco singles, Appleblim is singularly motivated to move the music forward, whether with a sewing kit or a flamethrower. Dubstep Allstars Vol.06 is a mostly wonderful late-era petition for dubstep’s expansion, emphasizing that connection need not stem from sameness, even amongst the same artists.