When UK garage first started generating headlines in the late-Nineties, it was widely viewed as the natural successor to drum’n’bass, a scene which then seemed on the brink of implosion.
A decade on, drum’n’bass has actually proved surprisingly resilient, while garage has splintered into a wealth of subgenres, including grime and dubstep, a fusion of razor edged breakbeats and dub reggae that, at its best, sounds like a cybernetic version of Massive Attack, only without Tracey Thorn.
Dubstep, though, remains oddly insular, populated by mysterious producers who skulk behind names like Digital Mystikz and Pinch – both of whom appear on the new Box Of Dub 2 compilation (Soul Jazz). This is the label’s second collection of dubstep exclusives in less than 12 months, which might seem optimistic for a scene still rooted in London and Manchester. But much of the music is remarkable, loaded with sonic detail and ideal for microscopic examination on headphones, from the atonal harmonics of Kode 9 to Skream’s narcoleptic dub.
It turns out that Skream – one of dubstep’s originators – also has a mix compilation of his own out, Rinse02 (Ammunition). More upbeat than Box Of Dub, it’s the second in a series masterminded by long-running London pirate station, Rinse FM, and features a string of great tracks by Skream himself, including a blistering VIP mix of the febrile “Lightning”, and Coki’s bizarre “Road Rage” – a slow-motion reworking of Grace’s trance anthem “Not Over Yet”, as also covered by Klaxons.
If dubstep can tend towards gloomy introspection, its Northern cousin “bassline” is positively bursting with energy. A parallel evolution of UK garage, bassline is currently making waves in Nottingham and Yorkshire, where producers like Leeds-based T2 fuse rolling bass effects, old school arcade game effects and honeyed vocals to often euphoric effect – as on the rave- R&Bcollision of his new single “Heartbroken” (2NV).
Shimmering with pop promise, “Heartbroken” could slip easily from club underground to daytime radio. It’s a different story out on electronica’s farthest reaches, where Baltimore laptop extremist Dan Deacon is building his audience the hard way, having played over 300 gigs in the past two years. He even carries his own lighting rig in a suitcase.
Spiderman Of The Rings (Carpark), though, shows he’s more than just a geek showman in funny glasses – especially on the inspired “Wham City”, an 11-minute electrotechno fantasy which comes on like Arcade Fire made over by Daft Punk, complete with chanted nursery rhyme vocal about castles, fountains and “a sick band of goats and cats and pigs and bats”.
As the frontman for Welsh psychedelic mavericks Super Furry Animals, Gruff Rhys has also crafted his fair share of musical oddities. “Raquel” (LEX), his latest collaboration with Los Angeles electronica/hip-hop wizard Boom Bip under the name Neon Neon, doesn’t break with tradition, being a homage to B-movie pin-up Raquel Welch (and Eighties car maker John De Lorean), spiced up with exuberant Latin percussion and a Giorgio Moroder-like synth melody.
Michal Ho’s album ScrewThe Coffeemaker (Tuning Spork) has similarly eccentric leanings – the title alone gives that away. But the Swissborn producer also has the good sense to inject some low frequency funk into his minimal Euro-techno, as on the title track’s ping-ponging echo effects and meticulous percussion. Thecoffee-related samples (hissing steam, bubbling liquids), on the other hand, quickly lose their flavour.
Also lacking flavour is the return of awkwardly named New York collective!!! (most often pronounced “chk chk chk”) whose underwhelming Yadnus EP (Warp) strings together wiry punk-funk basslines and muscular drumming, like mathrock labelmates Battles jamming with LCD Soundsystem – only not as compelling as either. Skip instead to the EP’s one vivid moment: Scottie B’s fizzing breakbeat take on “Heart Of Heart”.
Or better still, try out Bionik (Cocoon), the new album by Dominik Eulberg, rising star of German techno, keen birdwatcher and sometime ranger in Germany’s national park service. Previous albums have chirped and rustled with noises discovered on his forest walks; this exquisitely machined product is pure robotics – and sounds even more fascinating as a result.
Where Eulberg exudes purpose, David Gilmour Girls – actually allmale Amsterdam duo Robin Van Der Kaa and Jasper Uhl – sort of sprawl. Generally, it’s in a good way, their album Vultures (Relish) quoting from Eighties synth-rock, postpunk and Pink Floyd (obviously) as they contrive to sound both modern and retro at the same time.
Now, if they’d just do something about that name. “We chose it as a bad joke when we first started,” they admit. “So we’re stuck with it. Well, at least until we get sued by Mr Gilmour, I guess.”