Self-made cultural curator Diplo attempts to explain dubstep to the nation, though its compilation feel causes the collection to mostly elude what makes a live dubstep mix appealing.
I had completely forgotten I drew Diplo's latest compilation for review until I attended an impromptu dubstep session at a hookah bar last night. And after experiencing the explosive new dance style in person, it quickly became clear to me why that happened. I'm as guilty as anyone of falling into dubstep's trance in a post-Burial universe. Especially after William Bevan's second masterpiece, Untrue, I started unconsciously devouring just about any semi-notable single that floated through the blogosphere. And there were tons, with seemingly each artist garnering claims of noteworthy stature and forward-thinking mindbending. Starkey, Caspa, Rusko, Zomby, Benga, Kode9, Shackleton, Skream, Chrispy, the names just keep stumbling out of the digital deluge into the ether of Serato and stoner hard drives alike.
But like a lot of dance genres, it seems that only the strong-willed listeners survive past the initial rush, and I was no exception. At some point, possibly around the time Wu-Tang tracks started getting the dubstep treatment, it all became too much. Save a select few like Burial, Caspa, Zomby, and Benga, the genre became diluted by the dozens of wonky tunes unloading onto the web each day. Dubstep became apparent to me as a club-goers refuge, a scene that I could peek in on from time to time but never find myself a comfortable home within.
Diplo's Blow Your Head compilation, which collects many of the names mentioned above as well as some fringe newcomers such as James Blake, Jessica Mauboy, and Diplo himself, reminds me immediately of my experience at that dubstep show last night. The compilation moves fluidly from overlong aggressive bangers like the Lil' Jon assisted "U Don't Like Me" to more atmospheric stuff like Blake's "Sparing the Horse" and Benga's "26 Basslines". It features cuts like Doctor P's "Sweet Shop" that surprise with old-school big beat introductions that abruptly drop into that all-too-familiar wonky dub halfway through. There are iconic tracks like Rusko's "Cockney Thug" and DZ's "Down" reeling the listener in before the more faceless tunes of Little Jinder, Mauboy, or Rudi Zygaldo come in to play.
All in all, it's a set that effortlessly displays the many different cultures that have thrown their hat into the dubstep ring, but all too often succeeds on atmosphere rather than actually capturing the listener. In a haze of flavored hookah tobacco and flashing multi-colored strobelights, a set like this can be quite comforting with its many twists, turns, and the undeniably primal satisfaction one derives from those signature dubstep wonks. But without the assistant of legal -- or illegal -- intoxicants, much of the music falls flat, too similar to all the other tunes that could have been picked for a mix like this. Blow Your Head, then, is your basic pedestrian DJ mix of old and new tunes, though it is merely collected rather than mixed or interpreted by Diplo himself. As a result, there's really not much to get excited about here: some songs stink, some songs sound neat for a minute or two, and it all goes by without provoking much attention from the listener.