When you have the likes of Skream declaring that they’re moving wholeheartedly away from dubstep to focus on disco and house productions, it is clear that a genre’s peak of popularity has passed and the sound du jour is something else entirely. Make of such statements what you will, but at least in these transitional periods there is a sense of cleansing, when the less pure-hearted of producers have hopped on to the next buzz.
Pinch will document his “non-label” musical endeavours – in other words the music that’s been released on labels other than his own Tectonic imprint – on a forthcoming compilation album entitled MIA 2006-2010, due out in November.
Pinch, otherwise known as Rob Ellis, occupies a position within the history of dubstep that has been oft recounted. After watching Kode9 DJing at FWD>> at London’s Plastic People in 2003, he returned to his hometown of Bristol with the desire to start a night that would capture some of the essence of FWD>>, resulting in the inception of Subloaded, the dubstep night that arguably made his name as a DJ and made a mark on Bristol’s musical psyche that still resonates today.
For all the hype over the various Joy Orbison & Boddika tracks which have yet to see light on Swamp81, it’s easy to forget that when they’re not breaking the internet with their indomitable hype machine, Swamp81 have been quietly releasing some of the best dubstep records of the last few years, and this new release from genre pioneer Pinch is a case in point.
At 128bpm, “Retribution” is perhaps a little slow for most dubstep DJs, but is no less powerful for it. The hallmarks of the genre are all there; booming subs, ethereal vocals, rolling kicks, but as a track it perhaps fits more with the slightly straighter take on the genre coming from Instra:mental and their solo identities as Boddika and Jon Convex. It’s prescient that this track has arrived within weeks of Clone’s Drexciya reissues; the searing synth lead that gives “Retribution” its uniquely heavy texture could easily be described as positively Drexciyan, and it’s very much a Drexciyan school of thinking that has influenced Boddika’s releases for Swamp81 this year. But while Boddika’s “Electron” and his collaboration with Joy Orbison, the as yet unreleased “Swims” delivers a frenzied, ADD take on that style of production, Pinch’s “Retribution” couldn’t be more different, delivering a much more measured take on abrasion, damaging the track’s fragile surface by rubbing it with sandpaper.
“Get Out Of Here” on the flip is a much more traditional take on the genre, providing a masterclass in looming threat, which, free of the cosmetic scratches of “Retribution”, allows Pinch’s unadulterated bass to seep through the gaps. It’s over in a mere four minutes, but it’s testament to Pinch’s ability to create such sheer scale in his productions like nobody else that leaves you feeling more than satisfied.
We’ll save you the usual rhetoric that surrounds these lists – that of it being hard to translate electronic music into the traditional long player format – and we won’t bother dissecting the argument that the modern consumption of music lessens the importance of albums; for our money there’s still nothing more rewarding that settling in and listening to an LP in its glorious entirety.
What we have done, however, is hand pick our 20 favourite albums from the past 12 months. Those of you who traverse these pages on a regular basis will see a liberal sprinkling of the artists and labels we’ve supported all year (and hopefully a couple of surprises too).
We have endeavored only to select albums that have truly moved us, ones that we find ourselves returning to again and again. In our minds 2011 was a vintage year for albums – the wondrous breadth of style and substance in our top 20 testifies to that – and we’ve included detailed descriptions of each release in our list for your reading pleasure.
Bristol based dubstep pioneer and Tectonic label boss Rob Ellis (aka Pinch) is a producer whose long-standing reputation and prestige within the scene is consistently reaffirmed by each release. Pinch sits alongside the likes of DMZ’s Mala, Coki and Loefah, promoting a more cerebral, dubbed out sound which will undoubtedly continue to lead the way forward in bass music for years to come. His inaugural 12” “War Dub/Alien Tongue” was released on Tectonic back in 2005 and led on to a series of high profile releases on Mike Paradinas’ Planet Mu imprint as well as his debut artist album Underwater Dancehall in 2007 – an opus of work that remains one of the defining long players of the genre to date. Yet despite all this, Pinch is not a prolific producer. A graduate of the “quality, not quantity” school of production, Rob Ellis makes a welcome return to the airwaves with the exceptional and superlative heavyweight dancefloor driven cut, “The Boxer”.
Kicking off with a restrained whir of rumbling and murmured squeaking, pattering bongos pace a well trodden, taunting pattern around hissing percussion in the intro. A punishing kick drum lays down the law with a firm and threatening gravitas, which is sustained for the duration. Stepping intricately around the ring with adept footwork and poised balance, “The Boxer” dances tentatively before metamorphosing into the main tune with a smooth and sustained progression. Thunderous subs and crackling bass build with mounting intensity. An epic choral passage, like Handel’s “Messiah” steeped in melancholia, sits beneath the frenetic, tribal drums as the tune rises and falls before reaching an awe-inspiring finale. Oris Jay, under his Darqwan alias, provides a remix over on the flip. Taking things on a tougher, rougher tip, with raw, metallic SFX, driving aggression and mounting suspense, Darqwan certainly doesn’t eclipse the original in style and panache, but he does provide a satisfying alternative version in which the addition of a growling, glitchy vocal snippet “boxerrr” intensifies the leering grimaced confrontation. Outstanding and essential.
Following on from one of dubstep’s hardest hitting releases, Pinch’s seminal “Punisher”, here are two reissued remixes courtesy of Planet Mu. South Londoner Loefah floods the mix with razor-sharp drums and a snare that could shatter windows, keeping the bass low and subby, with vocal samples that bounce around the mix every 16 bars. More sparse and bleak than the original, it’s still a killer cut.
Everyone and their cat knows what Skream’s about by now, and his heavy duty mix of “Punisher” doesn’t dent his rep one bit. Bringing in a bit more funk after building the intro with a classic vocal sample, the percussion sounds similar to a baile funk tune – plenty of hand drums spicing up the half-step. With tons of “wamp-wamp” bass and his trademark lilting keyboard breaks, it complements the original perfectly by giving it a whole new lease of life. These are both 5-star mixes, and easily the building blocks of any great dubstep set.
Review: Oliver Keens
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