Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Bring back the bendy bus (you bastard)



We know that the election of Boris was essentially the revenge of the 4x4-owning suburbs against those of us who live in yer actual London postcodes, retribution for us bringing back Ken, bringing in the congestion charge and having the gall to focus on improving public transport instead. The usual words of wisdom on this are spoken here, but if you've ever tried to get a pram on to a double-decker you may just begin to understand the pointlessness of scrapping a huge fleet of buses that you could actually get on and off, and replacing them at cost with ones that will do essentially the same job, except not nearly as well should you be selfish enough to be infirm or burdened with family or heavy shopping. All in order to meet a wholly unnecessary promise only really made to keep the Evening Standard sweet in their unstinting cheerleading campaign for you (for which your main attribute was not being Ken Livingstone), ironic really given that even they've subsequently realised, too late, that as a mayor you aren't at the races. So thanks again, Bexley and Bromley. (And Boris, if you're really keen on fulfilling your pledges...)

In the aftermath we went to see Ken, you know, live @ Highbury Grove. A freezing evening, the archetypal draughty school hall. Ken on a charity tip, unguarded, unscripted, convincing, honest and borderline cocky, but never ducking a single question, subtly reminding us why every single one of the 640 electoral wards in London polled him personally above the Labour party, whose nosedive ultimately did for him. And yet those muppets in Millbank want to replace him with a droid like Big Al Sugar in '012 for some horrific kind of pro-celebrity idiot-mayor face-off. Gah.

More positive London stuff now. King Midas Sound's "Dub Heavy - Hearts and Ghosts" EP, on the most aptly-named label possible (Hyperdub), unfurls as if labelmate Burial had decided to meld his modern 'urbantech' sonics with the in-day sensibilities of old masters like King T. On palpably heavy-gauge 12" vinyl (180mg, like "Frosty Cat Songs") and oozing with predatory sub-bass, the soooooothing lead track "I Dub" is maybe the most magical, even if the cut-up vocals and distant klaxons that intrude more obviously on "Ting Dub" on the other side provide a little more light and shade, echoing the progression that Burial himself made between "Burial" and "Untrue". "Long Dub" completes the EP, a shimmering haze of elfin, late-evening vibes, this time hung around a deconstruction of a fuller Roger Robinson vocal. Hyperdub have even rolled out a picture sleeve for this one, a suitably blurry night-time vision of a small corner of our inner city. (It turns out from our subsequent, ever-diligent research that KMS is actually an alias for a formal collaboration between Mr Robinson and our old friend Kevin "The Bug" Martin, but do not be deceived: the crystalline caress of this King of the mild frontier sounds nothing like the grizzly proto-grime of "Jah War" & c). Word.

Meanwhile, in Bristol, Pinch has been priming "Attack Of The Giant Robot Spiders!", now unleashed by Planet Mu on 12" vinyl and with a nice bright green spider crawling across the lo-res motif on the centre label. "Attack" is a biiig plate from Rob Ellis, but still lowkey rather than in-yer-face 'step in which the march of the oversized arachnids (a kind of lurching metallic clanking, bringing to mind robot spiders with a collective limp), is broken up by a battalion of bass that rolls in around 2 mins 45. Selecta.

Then there's Tectonic Plates 2.4, a three-tracker twelve in the series from Pinch's own label Tectonic (er, obviously) which starts with Joker's intriguingly-titled (or should that be untitled) "Untitled-rsn". A little less disposable than the Sino stylings of his "Digidesign" 12" (a split on Hyperdub with 2000F's acquired-taste "You Don't Know What Love Is"), it buzzes neatly with pitch-bend and rattling glitch (ooh, new genre alert: viva "glitch-bend"). Moving Ninja and the label honch's joint venture "False Flag" is a different kettle altogether: its charms are virtually imperceptible until about three minutes in, but then a switch is THROWN: Mr Ellis seems to have some left-over robot spiders clinking around in the mix, and there's also space for a nice woodpecker-like rat-a-tat-tat sound as it grinds to conclusion. Finally, as we always said, Peverelist's "Junktion" was the true star of his "Infinity Is Now" 12", and here it gets a pretty comprehensive "Shed" refix, evolving into a chiming, neoclassical workout (whatever speed you play it at). Believe.

Back on Planet Mu, Jamie out of Vex'd takes on "Miracles", from Philly resident Starkey's "Ephemeral Exhibits" LP last year, and with a remix burning with the same cinematic vigour that informed his own "In System Transit" 12", he helps bring the original out into the open, all spooked-out edits curling up to cuddle fabulously warm, disembodied vocals. More justified Mu comes with "Massive Error", an elegant, warped 5-track 'step EP from Brighton's Ital Tek, of which it's the title track's slender burbles, draped in bite-size wraps of laser synth, which slay us most completely. Realise.

And we're checking plenty of Starkey at the mo, because here comes "Gutter Music", a twelve on Keysound - trailed heavily by Jamie Vex'd amongst others - which sees more doubletime showboating from the unstoppable Durrty Goodz over some unhealthily frantic riddims, even if DG's quickfire riffing on how all great music comes from the gutter doesn't touch the storytelling highs of Goodz's solo "Ultrasound" set (as usual in grime, alleged album proper still awaited). And over at Senseless Records, there's a 500 vinyl press of Starkey's remix of (or more accurately, grenade-lob into) Sarantis and Warrior Queen's "More Than Money". It's a welcome revival, even if it can't quite decide whether it's glitch-oriented dubstep, shuffling electronica or (like WQ's single last year with Secret Agent Gel) simply dancefloor-friendly soft-porn. It's taken, along with its B-sides, from the first volume of "Vocals & Versions", which we shall have to get round to checking out sometime this century. Innit.

Cooly G drops pure PHYSIC on the monster instrumental "Narst", a 12" on Hyperdub and incidentally the kind of beat that a wasted talent like Skepta could really do with at the mo ("Microphone Champion" again failing to provide music to meet his lyrical talents, only peaking with last track "Dark" and still, like "Greatest Hits", offering nothing remotely as essential as "Fuckin' Widda Team" or even "King Of Grime" BUT all is not lost chez Boy Better Know because if you check out Frisco's "Back To Da Lab Volume 3", his best outing yet, it will set yr head right once more). Anyway, "Narst", for its part, plays out as the soundtrack to a scrolling urban underworld of shanks and steel, a tune that's sinister yet still pregnant with suggestion (and not, as it happens, too far from the worlds that Skepta and JME were trying to create on that instrumental EP on Adamantium we've still got lying around somewhere). "Narst" doesn't actually go anywhere in the end, mind - its clipped, grime-like pulses sound like a crescendo that never comes to fruition - but as they say, sometimes it's better to travel hopefully than to arrive. Peace.

Raffertie's "Antisocial" next, a single on Seclusiasis. Planet Mu outing "Wobble Horror!" gained a few broadsheet plaudits, but "Antisocial" is much more interesting: two enormous bouts of big-city wobble from Birmingham's up-and-coming earl of crunk-step which surround a subdued, ambient halfstep middle while themselves being bookended by busy, vocal sample cuts that sound not unlike that "Miracles" remix again. The flip comes correct with B.Rich and Dev 79 remixes, which will please their mothers. Safe.

Still rolling with the wobble, Rusko returns with a second portion of "Babylon" (that place the Cockney Rejects could never find on a map), although the fact you'll pay ten or eleven quid in town for the four tracks on vinyl might merit Amelia bringing her OFT mates in to have a butcher's. Still, what's neat about volume 2 is that not only are lead tracks "Mr. Muscle" and "Go Go Gadget" especially the bouncing epitome of all that is good about wobble (an unerringly mindless subgenre that seems to us thus to be dubstep's loose equivalent of jump-up), but that track three on the EP, "Soundguy Is My Target" (we think this may have previewed on a Skream mix CD recently, but have not the energy to research further) is on another level altogether, being a mighty righteous to-date skeng reggae number (Jah wobble, anyone ?) on which Lutan Fyah lays down imperious vibes. More fire.

Caspa's earlier single can't quite match up to his sparring partner's summer "Soundguy" belter, with Dynamite MC-collabo "The Takeover" on the 'A', like all the non-instrumental tracks on "Everybody's Talking, Nobody's Listening", being so much pallid bluster compared to "Marmite" on the other side which, if not up to the quality of "The Terminator" or "I Beat My Robot", is still a spluttering, bewildering slab of wobble anchored by huge drum SLAPS while a token fake Cockney (trust us, Clerkenwell's full of them) occasionally chimes in with a "all the people here to have a farkin' good time / say yeah": a contrast with the LP's similarly insistent "Low Blow", which is urged along rather more cutely by a three-year old intermittently urging "Come on, Caspa" with a faux-cuteness that reminds us a little of Altern-8 (we appreciate we are showing our age here). Or, even more disturbingly, of the intro to Strawberry Story's "Gone Like Summer". Sho' nuff.

An all-star double header (on Brizzle's Tectonic imprint again) sees Croydon's Skream finally reunited with Benga. On "his" side, S manufactures a very deliberate, layered halfstep number, "Trapped In A Dark Bubble", all twinkle save for the slapped beats, with a melody of parcelled-up synth chimes emerging minutes in. Benga's "Technocal" on the other side of the 12" is a little feistier, a rash of swung dubtech and eerie syncopation that effervesces with a sweet kind of menace, like a bottle of home-made ginger pop that's about to explode. There's also this Benga single on Tempa, too. Aldrin tribute "Buzzin'" on one side gives the twelve a thumping start as Benga picks up where "Technocal" left off with a combo of street 'step and autumnal, almost pastoral clicks. Things harden when you turn the record over, a "what the fuck" sample running through the unforgiving "One In A Million" like a stick of rock. It's about now you realise, with a sigh, that the reason "Diary Of An Afro-Warrior" didn't really work wasn't just down to the coffee-table bits: it was because somehow whole albums of dubstep are just harder to sustain. Singles ? Well, as you can see, now you're talking. Smooth.

But let's leave maybe the best 'til last. Geiom's "Reminissin'" technically came out in 2008 (a 12" on Berkane Sol), but all that meant in practice s that if you were a true disciple of dubstep you could have hung out in BlackMarket Records in Soho back then in your puffa, put on some uber-expensive headphony over your immaculately-shellaced hair and nodded your head to this on vinyl. But if like us you're too scared to go in BM or Uptown because every time you do you're immediately exposed as a chancer who doesn't know all there is to know about sublow and made to feel like you should turn your heel and scarper back to Rough Trade for your beardy folktronica or bands with "Collective" in their name or worse, then you never track this kind of stuff down within the first few months of release. So it would defeat the point of us trying to acquaint you with brilliant new(ish) records if we didn't give it a shout-out now, particularly as we think it only got its 1st electronic release this summer. And anyway, what are you going to do ? Sue ? Report us to the International Foundation for Blog Accuracy and Uptodateness?

Moving to the tune, then, it's a beauty. Kind of made us sit up and start, just like all those years ago when we first heard Shara Nelson on "Unfinished Sympathy" and got completely sucked in to a song that was so demonstrably *the finished product*. On this, guest vocalist Marita Robinson delivers a sweet, smoky vocal line while fellow Nottingham res Geiom underpins it with uncluttered, no-frills beat discombobulation. You can even forgive their joint butchery of the English language. There's a typically, achingly cool Kode9 refix on the other side, and another 12" floating around with Skream and Shackleton takes which has seemingly excited the dubstep chatterers more, but in our view this is one of those records where the original is completely definitive, a master work in its own right. And had we actually been aware of it when it first came out, it would have been threatening the top three, at least. Heavenly.

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