Caspa & Rusko: Fabriclive 37

Is Fabric's first all-dubstep mix a "landmark" release, or the beginning of the end of the underground scene? Either way, it's a gas.

Caspa & Rusko

Fabriclive 37

Label: Fabric
US Release Date: 2008-02-05
UK Release Date: 2007-12-10

Is there a group of fans more passionate, and potentially precious, than one surrounding a facet of electronica? Values, opinions, and terminology can get very specific and very personal. Just using the word "electronica", for example, has undoubtedly already put me in hot water with some folks. But other folks would argue that compartmentalizing, guarding, and insulating these scenes can be counterproductive. Basically, it comes down to that old fanboy/girl paradox. You desperately want your favorite bands and types of music to be appreciated and to share them with others…until they actually find the masses, after which point you desperately want to defend them against corruption and misappropriation by those masses.

The London-based scene surrounding the facet of electronic music known as dubstep seems to be reaching such a tipping point. Dubstep originated around the turn of the millennium, putting a darker, brooding, drum'n'bass and dub-influenced twist on UK "garage" electronica. Now, the sound is picking up steam and working its way into a variety of DJ sets. The release of an all-dubstep volume of the famed Fabric label's highly-respected Fabriclive series represents the subgenre's peak exposure to date. Accordingly, Fabriclive 37 is already a controversial topic on the worldwide dubstep forum.

Dedicated fans take their dubstep seriously. The forum has a lengthy thread called "Dubstep Ethics". And, while Fabriclive 37 has been hailed as a "landmark" release and championed for its hot-off-the-presses tracklist, it's also taken its share of criticism. It's not representative of the depth and breadth of the dubstep scene, some claim. Its compilers, Caspa & Rusko, are young whippersnappers, relative novices who focus exclusively on the more trendy, club-friendly aspects of dubstep. In other words, it's too populist, too gimmicky, the detractors argue. So will Fabriclive 37 be retrospectively viewed as the moment dubstep met the masses and slay them with subbass? Or will it be lamented as the beginning of a long, slow slide into creative fermentation and artistic irrelevance, much as has happened to drum'n'bass?

I'm not here to take sides. All the arguments have legitimate points to them. Honestly, I'm not too immersed in the dubstep scene. A fan of electronica and dub in general, I'm probably exactly whom this release is intended for. And, from my relatively casual perspective, Fabriclive 37 is a great time.

One matter to keep in perspective is this mix is really about Caspa and Rusko. Over half of the 29 tracks featured here are performed by either one or both of them. Furthermore, the tracklist goes heavy on London-based labels Sub Soldiers and Dub Police, for whom both have recorded. The mix starts off with a couple of decidedly dubby tracks in Caspa's "Born to Do It" and L-Wiz's "Girl From Codeine City". This is a wise and sly move, as the uninitiated will settle pretty easily into the drowsy reggae rhythms. Tes La Rok's remix of Uncle Sam's "Round the World Girls" loads up on subbass and echo, but still adheres to the original's reggae sound. It's easily Fabriclive 37's most accessible, wide-appeal track.

But then, beginning with Rusko's "Jahova", the mix embarks on a throbbing, head-spinning odyssey through Caspa's and Rusko's mixing consoles. Rhythms shudder and chatter, sound bites from UK gangster films are sprinkled in liberally, and low frequency oscillators and Roland 303s are given thorough workouts. The sound is heavily "wobbly", and as it passes through a dozen or more tracks, it becomes increasingly challenging. Or, if you're not in the mood, annoying. Imagine a half dozen lippy analog synthesizers, bitching each other out in an echo chamber.

Amidst this onslaught, Caspa's "Louder" manages the focus to maintain one long, harrowing aural tailspin, employing a sustained didgeridoo-like sound to truly mind-altering effect. On the gimmicky side, Unitz's "The Drop" goes so far as to sample MC Hammer's "U Can't Touch This". Despite the bite of familiarity, the sample sounds terribly out of place. 22 tracks in, Rusko lays down two versions of his crossover smash, "Cockney Thug". The original is relentless, but you have to wonder if at least some of its club appeal lies in the repeated sample of said tug saying "Faaack!". Buraka Som Sistema's remix omits the obscenity and turns the track into a sort of demented, frenzied samba.

Eventually, Caspa & Rusko let you up for air, but not before they've held you down, thrilled you, and quite possibly blown out your speakers. Fabriclive 37 may not be the most comprehensive overview of the dubstep world. It may not be the most masterfully mixed. But as a cannily charismatic introduction that keeps you coming back for more, it's tough to imagine a better job.


In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Editor's Note: Originally published 30 July 2014.

10. “Bedlam in Belgium”
(Flick of the Switch, 1983)

This is a massively underrated barnstormer from the boys off the much-maligned (unfairly, I think) Flick of the Switch. The album was missing Mutt Lange, but the Youngs did have his very capable engineer, Tony Platt, as co-producer in the studio at Compass Point in the Bahamas. Tony’s a real pro. I think he did a perfectly fine job on this album, which also features the slamming “Nervous Shakedown”.

But what I find most interesting about “Bedlam in Belgium” is that it’s based on a fracas that broke out on stage in Kontich, Belgium, in 1977, involving Bon Scott, the rest of the band, and the local authorities. AC/DC had violated a noise curfew and things got hairy.

Yet Brian Johnson, more than half a decade later, wrote the lyrics with such insight; almost as if he was the one getting walloped by the Belgian police: He gave me a crack in the back with his gun / Hurt me so bad I could feel the blood run. Cracking lyrics, Bon-esque. Unfortunately for Brian, he was removed from lyric-writing duties from The Razors Edge (1990) onwards. All songs up to and including 2008’s Black Ice are Young/Young compositions.

Who’ll be writing the songs on the new album AC/DC has been working on in Vancouver? AC/DC fans can’t wait to hear them. Nor can I.

9. “Spellbound”
(For Those About to Rock We Salute You, 1981)

"Spellbound" really stands as a lasting monument to the genius of Mutt Lange, a man whose finely tuned ear and attention to detail filed the rough edges of Vanda & Young–era AC/DC and turned this commercially underperforming band for Atlantic Records into one of the biggest in the world. On “Spellbound” AC/DC sounds truly majestic. Lange just amplifies their natural power an extra notch. It’s crisp sounding, laden with dynamics and just awesome when Angus launches into his solo.

“Spellbound” is the closer on For Those About to Rock We Salute You, the last album Lange did with AC/DC, so chronologically it’s a significant song; it marks the end of an important era. For Those About to Rock was an unhappy experience for a lot of people. There was a lot of blood being spilled behind the scenes. It went to number one in the US but commercially was a massive disappointment after the performance of Back in Black. Much of the blame lies at the feet of Atlantic Records, then under Doug Morris, who made the decision to exhume an album they’d shelved in 1976, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and release it in-between Back in Black and For Those About to Rock.

In the book Phil Carson, who signed AC/DC to Atlantic, calls it “one of the most crass decisions ever made by a record-company executive” and believes it undermined sales of For Those About to Rock.

8. “Down Payment Blues”
(Powerage, 1978)

This is one of the best songs off Powerage -- perhaps the high point of Bon Scott as a lyricist -- but also significant for its connection to “Back in Black”. There are key lines in it: Sitting in my Cadillac / Listening to my radio / Suzy baby get on in / Tell me where she wanna go / I'm living in a nightmare / She's looking like a wet dream / I got myself a Cadillac / But I can't afford the gasoline.

Bon loved writing about Cadillacs. He mentions them in “Rocker” off the Australian version of TNT and the international release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap: Got slicked black hair / Skin tight jeans / Cadillac car and a teenage dream.

Then you get to “Back in Black”. Bon’s dead but the lyrics have this spooky connection to “Down Payment Blues”: Back in the back / Of a Cadillac / Number one with a bullet, I’m a power pack.

Why was Brian singing about riding around in Cadillacs? He’d just joined AC/DC, wasn’t earning a lot and was on his best behavior. Bon had a reason to be singing about money. He was writing all the songs and just had a breakthrough album with Highway to Hell. Which begs the question: Could Bon also have written or part written the lyrics to “Back in Black”?

Bon’s late mother Isa said in 2006: “The last time we saw him was Christmas ’79, two months before he died. [Bon] told me he was working on the Back in Black album and that that was going to be it; that he was going to be a millionaire.”

7. “You Shook Me All Night Long”
(Back in Black, 1980)

Everyone knows and loves this song; it’s played everywhere. Shania Twain and Celine Dion have covered it. It’s one of AC/DC’s standbys. But who wrote it?

Former Mötley Crüe manager Doug Thaler is convinced Bon Scott, who’d passed away before the album was recorded, being replaced by Brian Johnson, wrote the lyrics. In fact he told me, “You can bet your life that Bon Scott wrote the lyrics to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.” That’s a pretty strong statement from a guy who used to be AC/DC’s American booking agent and knew the band intimately. I look into this claim in some depth in the book and draw my own conclusions.

I’m convinced Bon wrote it. In my opinion only Bon would have written a line like “She told me to come but I was already there.” Brian never matched the verve or wit of Bon in his lyrics and it’s why I think so much of AC/DC’s mid-'80s output suffers even when the guitar work of the Youngs was as good as it ever was.

But what’s also really interesting about this song in light of the recent hullabaloo over Taurus and Led Zeppelin is how much the opening guitar riff sounds similar to Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason”. I didn’t know a hell of a lot about Head East before I started working on this book, but came across “Never Been Any Reason” in the process of doing my research and was blown away when I heard it for the first time. AC/DC opened for Head East in Milwaukee in 1977. So the two bands crossed paths.

6. “Rock ’N’ Roll Damnation”
(Powerage, 1978)

It’s hard to get my head around the fact Mick Wall, the British rock writer and author of AC/DC: Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, called this “a two-bit piece of head-bopping guff.” Not sure what track he was listening to when he wrote that -- maybe he was having a bad day -- but for me it’s one of the last of AC/DC’s classic boogie tracks and probably the best.

Mark Evans loves it almost as much as he loves “Highway to Hell". It has everything you want in an AC/DC song plus shakers, tambourines and handclaps, a real Motown touch that George Young and Harry Vanda brought to bear on the recording. They did something similar with the John Paul Young hit “Love Is in the Air”. Percussion was an underlying feature of many early AC/DC songs. This one really grooves. I never get tired of hearing it.

“Rock ’n’ Roll Damnation” was AC/DC’s first hit in the UK charts and a lot of the credit has to go to Michael Klenfner, best known as the fat guy with the moustache who stops Jake and Elwood backstage in the final reel of The Blues Brothers and offers them a recording contract. He was senior vice-president at Atlantic at the time, and insisted the band go back and record a radio-worthy single after they delivered the first cut of Powerage to New York.

Michael was a real champion of AC/DC behind the scenes at Atlantic, and never got the recognition he was due while he was still alive (he passed away in 2009). He ended up having a falling out with Atlantic president Jerry Greenberg over the choice of producer for Highway to Hell and got fired. But it was Klenfner who arguably did more for the band than anyone else while they were at Atlantic. His story deserves to be known by the fans.

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