Sunday, 24 May 2009

Tectonic Plates Vol 2

If dubstep was Croydon's gift to the musically obsessive, it soon found a home 130 miles west. Commercial indifference and bass culture are deeply ingrained in Bristol. As the movement spreads and splinters, this second volume from Pinch's label couldn’t be more timely. It’s as good an answer to the question, "What is dubstep?", as you’ll hear in 2009.

Tectonic defines Bristol’s role in two ways. As well as pushing local talent, it reaches out to dubstep's South London homeland and international frontier. Volume 2 kicks off with two Dutch masters known for fusing UK bass music with the emotional pull of European techno. The skippy breaks and washed out synths of Martyn's Yet are followed by the darkly atmospheric halfstep of 2562's Kontrol. 2562 also gets a welcome second showing with the minimal Greyscale from last year's superb Aeriel.

Founding father Skream is one of dubstep's most prolific producers but his output has varied in quality of late. On Trapped In A Dark Bubble, with its questing strings and frothing bassline, he's back on form but it's techno-influenced Precression that's the real departure - its mechanical ribcage and ricocheting organic snares closing in on the tightly wound style of Bristol's own Peverelist. His best mate and sparring partner Benga shows up with Technocal, which mines similar influences less reverently (and slightly less successfully). You can take the boy out of Croydon...

Closer to home, Joker's sleazily melodic grime manoeuvres have made him Bristol's hottest property in years. If Untitled_rsn sees him coasting slightly that’s only in comparison with shockers like Stuck In A System, Gully Brook Lane and the recent Digidesign. It’s still the work of an outrageous talent. Before long every scene jumper in the business will be beating down his door. Meanwhile, Pinch himself contributes two of the strongest tracks - the dancefloor dynamite of Joyride and creeping dread-noise of Moving Ninja collaboration False Flag.

Now operating as RSD, Rob Smith’s contribution is more a return to form than a change of direction. With Smith & Mighty and More Rockers he did as much as anyone to define the 90s Bristol sound. A driving, hypnotic dub workout, the way 'Forward Youth' sits comfortably amid the work of a new generation is testament both to dubstep’s fluidity and the timelessness of Smith’s vision.

Perhaps the most interesting track of all is Glendale Galleria from Flying Lotus, mainly because the Californian is the one producer here you wouldn't strongly associate with dubstep. It's a peach of a tune, though, substituting an exquisitely programmed garage break for the queasy Hip Hop beats he's known for. Likewise, Shed's remix of Peverelist's Junktion - essentially Thomas Fehlmann-style ambient techno with a cheekily placed kick and snare. The inclusion of tracks like these is fuel for an argument running through Tectonic's DNA: that the music we call dubstep is defined more by feel than any set of rules.

Blood Red Sounds rating: 8/10

Tectonic Plates Vol 2 - out now on Tectonic Recordings. The CD version comes packaged with bonus mix from Pinch including a killer track from Loefah and the RSD remix of Pinch's Get Up (HIGHLY recommended).

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