Review Summary: Subterranean Dancehall
There are few producers in the UK bass scene of comparable stature to Rob Ellis and Sam Shackleton; both have been instrumental in the formation and mutation of the various strands of bass music into the mongrel bastard child that became known as dubstep. Skull Disco was the
label people went to in order to find tunes that didn’t fit into what was in itself still an oddball genre. Tunes like Appleblim and Peverelist’s leviathan Circling
and Shack’s ubiquitous Blood on Your Hands
explored the outer reaches of dubstep before the term itself gained any credibility outside of the confines of FWD and Plastic People. The sprawling Villalobos remix of the latter in particular transcended limitations and spawned a sound that still sounds fresh today, at a time when the genre is shedding stereotypes and perpetually reinventing itself.
Tectonic founder Pinch’s resume is nearly as impressive; striking initial singles were followed by his full length debut which featured sparse, insistent beats, prominent vocals and melodies just made to stick in your head. Along with the early Hyperdub classics, Underwater Dancehall was a landmark release that sounded anything but watered down in a scene that by the end of the decade was to be filled to the brim with copycat and bass heavy releases from everyman and his pig. So in retrospect, a collaboration between these two heavyweights shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise. Both forerunners and prodigies, their signature tunes Qawwali
are built on the same aesthetic core; murky beats, cavorting basslines, sparse disturbing melodies, and above all a critical characteristic minimalism that lets the music breathe and (crucially) evolve
Indeed, the first thing that strikes the listener here is the constant mutation of the sounds leaking through the speakers; a caustic venom radiates from the heart of the music and flows through the veins of the bodies of sound, causing them to convulse and transmute in disconcerting and often jaw dropping ways. On the stunning Levitation
millennia of evolution are compressed into minutes, spawning agonizing moments that are at times almost excruciatingly irresistible. Tempests of haunting synths swirl through pitch black tunnels dug under the throbbing mountains of bass, whilst occasional yet critical glimmers of light in the form of chimes or bells flash by so fast as to be almost imperceptible; they exist solely to provide fragmented and fleeting moments of clarity in the otherwise boundless and impenetrable void.
Besides the monsoons of menacing bass, by far the most impressive element of the music is the exquisite use of percussion. Shackleton is renowned as a programming perfectionist; the beats on his chilling Death is Not Final
took almost two months to program. Somehow he maintains the same level of quality here, and his efforts are nothing short of astounding. Trademark tribal rhythms are filtered through the Perlon influence of his new hometown; dubby kicks propel the tracks in several directions at once whilst a whole plethora of toms and snares rattle ominously, blind fingers of sound groping for a way out of the labyrinthine darkness. Indeed, one can picture Pinch acting as an all important restraining arbiter, ensuring that things never spiral out of hand, slowly increasing the pressure on the mixture without ever letting it detonate.
The two kindred spirits complement each other perfectly; paradoxically, they act simultaneously as catalyst and restraint on the sound of their respective partner in grime. This results in a final product that astounds with its ability to move bodies and minds, yet is executed with the precision and a subtlety of touch that is characteristic of Raster Noton’s finest.
Post this or future that? Who cares? Simply put, this is music extracted straight from the heart of darkness. Far away in the numinous jungles of Africa, deep in the bowels of the trembling earth, Pinch and Shackleton have been digging. And my oh my, have they struck gold