Dub Phizix works within an interesting grey area in the larger drum and bass scene. On one hand, his work is firmly grounded in the more traditional, percussive regions of the style. The first part of his recent FABRICLIVE mix, the 84th instalment in the series, whirls through the kind of drum and bass that’s been blowing up the niche corners of the internet dedicated to the style — squelching, stuttering half-time poised for the subwoofer. It’s the kind of music which can be described most easily with the throwaway terms “forward-thinking” and “hefty”, which is to say it’s bass-centric, minimally obtrusive so that all elements can shine through individually. It accomplishes its assumed goal of dancefloor destruction with its cryptic combinations of thudding, syncopated kicks and rowdy bounce, off-center bursts of large low end shoving around with the force of a mosh pit.
As much as this style is brutally effective, though, it’s one that has drawn criticism for its insularity. This form of drum and bass is one that, for most, works best either in small doses or as a soundtrack of varying importance to other activities, from raving to homework. It’s calculatingly cold, designed largely for maximum impact with minimal weaponry, and its relentless aural assault can be unwelcoming for all but the hardiest of listeners. As such, it’s hard to break into artists like Ulterior Motive or Subtension, both of whom are highlighted at the beginning of FABRICLIVE.84, without the years of exposure that many of DnB’s most ardent supporters have undergone.
Drum and bass’s Eurocentricity provides a further barrier for most Americans looking to enter the style’s brilliant savagery. It’s one that’s designed to be experienced live, over long periods of time, and the relative scarcity of United States drum and bass events makes it hard to experience a mix like FABRICLIVE.84 in the environment in which it’s meant to be enjoyed. Listening to an hour-plus of drum and bass alone through headphones can be underwhelming, and the difficulty of attending a live drum and bass event in the States means that this slightly disappointing experience is often the norm for US-bound listeners.
Of course, the impossibility of experiencing FABRICLIVE.84 in a live context — it is a recorded work, after all — renders most of the above paragraph moot. Dub Phizix knows this, and the mix is an exercise in treading the line between staying faithful to the live spirit that makes drum and bass so special and creating an album that isn’t onerous for those unable to experience it in a club setting. As such, it quickly veers away from straight-laced drum and bass, immediately (and perhaps unintentionally) making the mix that much more accessible to non-Brits. It skids from grime to UK hip-hop to bangin’ half-time, capturing a certain fluidity and bounce that hasn’t been present in many of the previous drum and bass iterations of the FABRICLIVE series. The quick slide from the functional jungle of “Sueno” into the smooth, off-kilter “Atlanta” is representative of the mix as a whole: it’s one that doesn’t take itself too seriously, eschewing much of drum and bass’s respectfully stoic behavior in favor of a certain rudeness. It’s loud, it’s rowdy, and it’s not afraid to push at the boundaries delineating sober distinctions between various bass-laden facets of the UK underground.
This attitude is precisely what makes FABRICLIVE.84 such an enjoyable experience: it’s one that feels live, even if it’s piping through a home stereo system. The mix captures all that’s exciting about new-school drum & bass, melting colorfully into a puddle of ragga and jungle, miles away from the style’s spartan cleanliness. Dub Phizix switches perfectly from mid-range nattering to low-end brutality and back again, beautifully capturing the rowdiness that so many mixes have trouble translating without a packed dancefloor. It’s a mix that, regardless of previous genre exposure or access to live events, approximates the feel of a show’s ebb and flow of energy. FABRICLIVE.84 is one of the finest mixes in recent memory, and Dub Phizix’s admirable work bridging genres and playing to any level of experience makes for one of the most enjoyable hour-plus of drum and bass this year.