Various Artists: Science Faction: Grime

[13 December 2006]

By Tim O'Neil

There is something to be said for the seemingly infinite capacity of electronic music to change and adapt to a constantly mutating cultural landscape. For every dance music post-mortem I’ve seen in a national magazine or major newspaper, it seems that the medium never really goes away. You might conceivably think it was dead if you went by the health of the artists and genres who were popular, say, ten or fifteen years ago—oh no, Orbital broke up, dance music is just a fad after all! Well, such is life. Electronic music is a way of life and it lives on through such a wide variety of underground sounds as to be downright comical. I mean, seriously, it’s hard to keep track of all this stuff. I do so on a semi-professional level, and it’s pretty hard.

It’s actually not that uncommon for me to go to the mailbox and find some sort of CD boasting a totally new and unheard sound, the likes of which I could never have conceived just five minutes before putting it in the CD player. BBS has done a great service to those of us who care about such things by inaugurating a brand new mix series devoted to the world of underground sound. Based on the evidence of the first three volumes, the Science Faction brand will be a strong one.

The first disc is devoted to grime—admittedly, not exactly the fresh new thing. In fact, I daresay that grime has probably reached its saturation point in terms of hipster cred and appeal. You know that when one of the most prominent artists in your subculture gets signed by Jay-Z to Def Jam, you’ve probably reached a fair level of exposure. In any event, familiarity does not exactly breed contempt in this instance: grime still sounds every bit as energetic and dangerous as it did when you first heard it.

If it has lost anything in terms of sheer novelty value, the music (or at least the examples on display here) seem to have ramped up the stakes in terms of sheer visceral energy. If you’ve purchased either of the sterling Run the Road compilations—and if you haven’t, why the hell not?—you will undoubtedly recognize many of the names here (Wiley, Roll Deep, Doctor) but thankfully there is almost no overlap in terms of the tracks themselves. Even with the lack of marquee names such as the Streets or Dizzee Rascal, the genre still shows a remarkable depth of talent, and the sound begins to seem like less and less of a fluke. The speed with which these tracks operate is enough to practically demolish any qualms over the fact that they can be occasionally a little bit silly—say, the fact that the guy singing the hook on “Duppy” sounds like a frog, or the questionably absurd slang. I mean, some of this stuff is just daft, you know? But that doesn’t mean it isn’t pretty fun. It’s telling that only one song on the entire mix surpasses the three-minute mark. DJ Cheeky knows enough to keep things moving at a brisk pace: before you could get tired of anything, he’s on to the next bit of clattering chaos, falling face-forward into the mix with as much brio as the genre demands.

The second disc spotlights a completely new-to-me underground sound in the form of dubstep. Although the sound may be ostensibly new, the names behind it are not—in particular Planet Mu label chief Mike Paradinas, AKA µ-ziq. It’s been a while since I’ve seen Paradinas’ name on anything in particular, and it’s good to see him again. µ-ziq was always one of the more subtle brand names in electronic music, and dubstep is similarly low-key.

Or rather, more to the point, I seriously suspect dubstep is something you really need to hear at loud volumes in order to appreciate. Basically, take every type of breakbeat-oriented music you can think of, from jungle to acid house to IDM, and drown it in a layer of oppressively thick bass. This is some seriously hardcore bass music. While some of it does seem unfortunately monotonous (like a lot of regular dub), there is a fair amount of variety—tracks like Hatcha & Benga’s “Progression” seem to owe a fair amount to grime, for instance, and Scuba’s “Twista” incorporates some deeply disturbing rock guitar. Still, this is serious music for serious bass-heads only—no others need apply. I don’t know whether a whole disc is overkill—it’s an interesting approach to distinctively night-side music, but maybe a bit much in high doses.

It’s the third disc in the series that really knocked my socks off. I had never heard of Bmore gutter music, nor Aaron LaCrate, but after listening to this disc half-a-dozen times in one sitting, I am convinced that this is, if not the future of dance music, at least a damn funky cul-de-sac. If you’re familiar with Diplo, you might have a clue as to what goes on here: Diplo took a little bit of grime and mixed it with domestic hip-hop and leftfield electronic music to create a fairly big splash—I’m still rocking his Fabric mix. Well, Aaron LaCrate has deep connections with the Hollertronix crew, and his sound is as eclectic as you might expect. Basically, imagine every different kind of electronic sound you can imagine jumbled together into a soup of low-budget crunk.

I can’t believe anything so messy can be so catchy. If you can imagine Lil Jon suddenly becoming an acid house producer, you’re on the right track here. This scene is so fresh that apparently they didn’t even have the tracks to fill a whole CD—every song here is credited to LaCrate, with various vocal duties being filled by local celebrities like Spankrock and Amanda Blank. But even if you don’t know the names, there is no denying the virtuosity on display here. It takes some talent to take twenty years of bass-heavy party music and distill it down to its sugary essence. That’s exactly what this is—you might get a tummy ache afterwards, but damned if you won’t go back for more. Don’t mind the endemic references to drug abuse or the explicit sexual content that would make the Yin Yang Twins blush—par for the course, I guess. This is my new favorite mix CD.

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