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Focal points are very important in dubstep. In its early days physical locations like Croydon’s Big Apple Records and the FWD>> club nights played an important role in the genre finding its feet. Over the years the networks of musician that developed around these and subsequent gravitational centres have provided a sort of ready-made who’s who guide for those discovering the music. In many ways locations, record labels, club nights and studios have become more important than individual records or artists in terms of mapping the genre.
As it goes Multiverse, the Bristol-based studio and publishing company, provides a pretty fantastic focal point from which to approach dubstep. South London may lay claim to the genre’s birth but Bristol can match the capital for the role it has played in its development over the last six or seven years. Much of that influence can be traced back to the roster of record labels that have been born under the Multiverse umbrella; labels such as Kapsize, Caravan and Subtext along with their flagship imprint Tectonic. Meanwhile their network of associated artists - focused around, but not exclusively confined to, Bristol – reaches right from dubstep’s straight-forward centre to its perplexing outer reaches. As a result a double-disc record based around this network’s first five years of history has a lot to offer.
Vex’d lead the compilation off with ‘Lion.’ It’s an apt choice, not only because its 2004 release marked one of the first breakout tracks from the Multiverse collective, but also as it’s still one of the finest examples of an all-guns-blazing, industrial dubstep banger. It also provides a sort of median point for the rest of the record; an example of dark, heavy, breakout era Bristolian dubstep acting as a base template from the genre-bending artists that appear across the rest of the record’s length.
The 23 tracks that follow chart an eclectic mix of underground hits and key tracks from Multiverse’s history. Tectonic boss Pinch plays a similar role to that of Vex’d. The moody ‘Qawwali/Brighter Day’ and his heavier, wobbly collaboration with P Dutty ‘War Dub’ provide solid evidence as to why he has emerged as important to both the Multiverse stable and the genre as a whole.
Yet the best of Dark Matter is provided by some of the more recent, genre hopping artists within the Multiverse ranks. Colourful producer Joker, who is emerging as one of the key names in Bristol’s music scene, is well represented across the two discs. Both ‘Stuck In The System’ and ‘Psychedelic Runway’ demonstrate his best traits; using analogue synth sounds to inject flavours of Eighties electro-pop and Nineties hip-hop into the bass-heavy template.
At the other end of the spectrum, emptyset’s ‘Demain’ and Moving Ninja’s ‘Uranium’ show bass music at its most ambient and minimal, focused more on subtle texture than 2-step beats and aggressive bass riffs. Several tracks by Caravan label owner October provide examples of the rather wonderful point where the line between dubstep and techno blurs, while Boaobinga injects a welcome bit of funk into proceedings.
As such it’s fairly difficult to categorise the content of Dark Matter; 'dubstep' is the easiest tag to apply to this collection of tunes but as the record goes on that word comes to be used very loosely. Neither can the compilation be called entirely ‘experimental’ – The Body Snatchers’ ‘Big Ass Mini Skirt’ is about as close as dubstep gets to proper mainstream club music (and unfortunately it also sticks out like a misogynistic dud of a sore thumb in the midst of an otherwise interesting selection of tracks.)
Although the appearance of Bristolian underground hero Rob Smith (in remixer capacity) does add a nice nod to pre-dubstep days there’s little in the way of rare or unreleased material here. That’s of little significance though, as the best of, curriculum vitae approach taken to Dark Matter’s track list provides very pleasing results. For the uninitiated Dark Matter is a great entry point into a diverse network of artists well worth exploration. Otherwise it simply stands as a very nice testament to a great half-decade of electronic music.