Music

Chef and Ramadanman: Dubstep Allstars Vol. 07

The London DJs show you what all the bass-heavy fuss is about.


Chef and Ramadanman

Dubstep Allstars Vol. 07

Label: Tempa
US Release Date: 2009-11-10
UK Release Date: 2009-11-09
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In America, "techno" hasn't meant much to the music world since the Chemical Brothers and Fatboy Slim fell out of the public consciousness a decade ago. Electronic music is, once again, relegated to a small subculture. In the UK, though, they've never stopped coming up with subgenres with funny names. One of the relatively recent ones is dubstep. Though the sound has been developing since the late 1990s, the combination of UK garage/two-step, dub, grime, illbient, and other sundry types has really evolved over the past five years, and is threatening to go overground.

Maybe that's because dubstep is really the first truly fresh electronic-based sound to come out of the club culture in some time. It's the long-awaited, er, logical progression from drum 'n' bass, itself once hailed as electronic music's savior. Also, and not coincidentally, the American hip-hop community has taken a shine, with the likes of Snoop Dogg and Eve collaborating with dubstep producers. Basically, the timing is right for the seventh volume of the London-based Tempa label's popular Dubstep Allstars series. This one's loaded, too. Londoners Chef, aka DJ Chefal, and Ramadanman get one disc apiece, and over two-plus hours and 61 tracks, they leave no nook, cranny, or sub-subgenre of dubstep untouched.

Honestly, I have a hard time keeping track of exactly which tracks fit with which tags. It really doesn't matter in the end, though. The entire collection is a varied, never-dull collection of sounds that take advantage of every last bit of the speakers. Though it would sound good just about everywhere, this set was clearly created with home and headphone listening in mind. There's little of the frantic pacing or build-to-climax sequencing the clubs would demand. Instead, Chef and Ramadanman seem to be letting things flow a little more loosely, sometimes just letting a track fade out instead of segueing. Tempa signees like Benga, Skream, and Headhunter are well-represented, although they hardly dominate. In fact, no one does, which is one of the best aspects of the collection.

Generally speaking, Chef's mix is the most laid-back, chilled-out of the two. Starting off with some pretty straightforward dub, it rumbles to life with Chef's own "Stages". Lady Phe Phe's cooing on two successive versions of Von D's "Show Me" provides an early highlight, before the inevitable Auto-Tune makes an appearance on a pair of hip-hop-flavored tracks. The repetitive "whoo-ooh" howling sound on Mala's "Level 9" paves the way for the spinning-hubcap, "wobbly" bass sounds that are to come. The danger is that wobbly bass is going to become what the whirring "Hoover" synth sound was to early techno. In other words, an innovation that helped define the sound early on, but which soon became an annoying signifier that date-stamped everything on which it appeared. The super-wobbly, skipping-CD assault of late-mix tracks from Kutz and Skream seems to be upping the ante, but is it really moving the genre forward? The stark R&B of Mr Lager's "Four Leaf Clover" and the girl-pop-influenced "Day Dreamin'" from LD, the latter of which could've come from Annie's latest album, provide a much more effective suggestion of where the future may lie.

That future is sure to include Ramadanman. Neither DJ warrants pigeonholing, but if Chef is the "traditionalist", assuming such a term can apply to someone working in a genre that's less than ten years old, Ramadanman is the nonconformist, the experimentalist. Actually, the sound of much of his mix harks back to "dark" drum 'n' bass, with ghostly, minor-key synthesizers setting the atmosphere. A fair amount of this stuff, led by Untold & D. Franklin's "Beacon", is almost drum 'n' bass slowed down to half-tempo, with less busyness. That description is too simple, though. Because you also have the rapid-fire toasting of Mickey Pearce's "Innami" and the haunting voice and piano of Untold's "I Can't Stop This Feeling" to account for. And what about the sub-bass, three-note synth, and sonar bleeps of Headhunter's "OSS", or the synthesized marching band of Ramadanman's own "Revenue"? Where Chef's mix gradually becomes more abstract, Ramadanman's, though more extreme, always brings you back to an emotional grounding. That comes as late as the "I don't know why" refrain on Joe's chilling "Untitled", 25 tracks in.

Throughout both discs, all 61 tracks, there's one constant: Pavement-rattling sub-bass. In the end, that's what this music is all about, and in that sense it's no different from the reggae, dub, hip-hop, and drum 'n' bass that came before it. Is dubstep really going to break big? If Dubstep Allstars Vol. 07 is any indication, it just might.

7

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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