Monoculture

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I was a bit surprised, a couple of weeks back, to be offered a review copy of Caspa and Rusko’s forthcoming mix CD from Fabric, the offshoot label of the trendy London nightclub. Surprised because I’ve made no bones about my distaste for the brand of dubstep that the disc seemed to be showcasing. Still, I kept an open mind and gave it a go. Maybe it would reveal some new energy bubbling in the mainstream of the genre that I’d been missing since my retreat to the fringe.

Now up to #37, the FabricLive series has been churning out high profile mixes from the likes of Diplo, High Contrast, Andy C, Ricardo Villalobos and Herbaliser since 2001. This is their first dip into the D, which I suppose makes it some sort of 00’s answer to 1995’s A.W.O.L. Live at the Ministry of Sound. Caspa and Rusko might seem a bit of a surprise choice for the job, especially when someone like Skream is only just putting out his first commercial mix and other early innovators haven’t yet had the chance. But maybe that’s the point: take two heads who sum up the sound of dubstep’s new popularity and let them mark their territory. Visionaries they’re not though, and what we get here is a profoundly unidimensional display of tweakhead bass churn and little else. Unfortunately, Dissensus’ Noel Emits hit the nail on the head when suggested it’s “like a concentration camp for all the big wobblas. Just get it out of your system so you don’t have to worry about it again.” If only they’d go away.

Who stole the soul?

Titles like Big Headed Slags, Well ‘Ard and Cockney Thug seem to sum up what Caspa and Rusko are all about when then get behind a mixing desk. And in case you forget that they lace it all with some well ‘ard cockney vocal samples, distilling the technique to minimalist perfection in Thug’s fack! hook. Brilliant. Their combined 15 track contribution to the mix sets the tone with L-Wiz, Cotti, Matty G, The Others, and a few more, mostly drawn from the Dub Police and Sub Soldiers catalogues, filling in the rest.

Early on we get some well-worn dubstep-isms: Caspa’s Cockney Violin does the Hero-esque ‘Eastern’ thing to the hilt and the Tes La Rock remix of Uncle Sam’s Round the Way Girls is one of those dull exercises in fitting a reggae tune into a dubstep template. L-Wiz’s Girl from Codeine City is inoffensive enough but the saxophone bits are a little too 80s soft rock a la Jerry Rafferty, for my tastes. We also get Matty G’s 50 000 Watts VIP, the original of which seemed to become a hit largely on the basis of it being the first instance of someone copying Loefah really well. From the sixth track on we’re treated to a parade of harder-than-though metallic wobbles. It’s the march of the funkless farting robots. And that’s fine if you like that sort of thing, but I really don’t understand this sound’s tenacity. Some have called this a collection of ‘dancefloor bangers’ or ‘crowd pleasers’ which supposedly reaches its pinnacle in the can opener wobbles of Coki’s Spongebob. But what exactly is the appeal of being in that crowd, on that floor? Granted, I haven’t heard Spongebob at full wattage but I can’t see that helping. All it brings to mind is bad nights out in a crowd of over-macho young guys, and that state of dissociative numbness that floods in when it seems as though the sound system has turned against you, personally. Coki, like Loefah, has taken maybe more than his fair share of criticism for stubbornly pushing a singular sound up to and beyond its best before date. But credit to both of them for developing something unique and working to perfect it. This disc reminds us that it’s the acolytes who’ve taken over the man’s sonic territory, kicked it down a notch, and expanded it into a stifling monoculture.

One of the few bright lights here is utterly out of place D1 track I’m Loving from his forthcoming Tempa release. I’ve often found D1 too cold and clinical but less so lately. I’m Loving is outright garage-y – and I mean overtones of New York – but by this point it’s a bit like waiting until injury time to trot out your star player. The one Skream track is barely distinguishable from the rest of the disc, though it does have that extra bit of rhythmic panache that sets even his lesser work a little apart from the pack. The Buraka Som Sistema remix of Cockney Thug provides some brief flashes of joyous energy, though the buzzing dnb-syle synths are grating, at least after an hour of wobbles. The last few tracks are aimed at smoothing things out and, while they veer into New Age synth washes, they at least provide a bit of variation. The most successful of this lot is ConQuest’s Forever which, despite its Lonely Planet tinge, also pares itself down to a nice conga-driven pulse that’s reminiscent of Loefah’s Truly Dread.

What this CD needs from the outset is more of the rhythmic, sonic and emotional breadth that’s kept in reserve until the end. And that doesn’t seem like too much to ask from Caspa and Rusko who, according to the press release, both grew up surrounded by diverse musical influences, including classical training, punk collecting dads, tips from Iration Steppas and a mom who sang in a “weird kind of country/folk” band. Bring all of that together and you could have something that really turns the D on its head rather than a summary of the stagnating trends that have turned mainstream dubstep into an emotional cripple.

That said, this will undoubtedly sell well because, in late-2007, it pushes all the right buttons with the dnb-affiliated demographic that Fabric is openly be courting. If you think ‘cold wobbla’ when you think dubstep, then this is the one for you. If you’re like me lately, you might have found yourself qualifying the term ‘dubstep’ when people ask about your tastes.

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Tomorrow: Forward Sound Part 1

8 Responses to “Monoculture”

  1. Kuma Says:

    you’re bouncing email, I’m going to have something for you to review…

  2. Siah Alan Says:

    From the first second I heard Caspa I knew this strand of stuff was going to be trouble.

    It was those early tunes of his that first shook me out of my lovesick haze regarding dubstep.

    Isn’t he half of Search and Destroy, the one that isn’t Lohan?

    Rusko’s had his moments but there’s been definite quality control issues.

    Don’t think I’ll ever forgive the people running Storming for unleashing this shit on us.

  3. stenchman Says:

    bit harsh on it i think, show us one of your mixes if you have something better to offer

  4. paul Says:

    Gladly…

    http://www.deeptime.net/blog/?cat=8

    Check Moving South and Autonomic Computing

  5. chis green Says:

    moan fukin winge……………………..its music to dance to you… wanker !you go on like your the authority on dubstep ! who the fuck arrrya !!!!

  6. dubstep fan Says:

    spotless review.

  7. paul meme Says:

    Nah, I really like this! Goes off a bit towards the end – after the 4×4 version of cockney thug – but there’s loads of devestatingly funky heavy shit in there. Think of it as the inheritance of the prodigy and you’ll not go far wrong.