In recent times, dubstep has become known as something of a creative playground for producers, its only real constraint being its 140bpm speed. Its once-signature sound of half-step beats and wobble bass has subsided to make way for an 'anything goes' approach. One only has to listen to Burial’s elegiac two-step beats, the 'thug-step' party music of the likes of Caspa and Rusko and James Blake’s weird and soulful 'post-dubstep' mood pieces to see how diverse the scene has become.
No surprise then that many old school producers like DJ Zinc and Zed Bias have turned to dubstep as genres like drum and bass and garage have become less relevant. However, the news that drum and bass legend Rupert Parkes, better known as Photek, had dropped his speed to 140 for a new EP was a slightly more interesting proposition. Parkes, despite shaping the path of drum and bass with his genre-defining 2007 work Modus Operandi, was never really part of the bass culture lineage that has now arrived at dubstep. Despite his expertly crafted jungle-influenced breakbeats, Parkes began his career making ambient music and his albums like Modus Operandi, and 2000’s Solaris were as much influenced by IDM as the sub-low basslines of jungle and drum and bass.
So what does a Photek dubstep EP sound like? Well the answer, rather predictably is that half of it isn’t really even dubstep. ‘This City’ and ‘101’ are more straightforward four to the floor tracks, with pounding beats and mangled vocal samples. ‘101’ is the superior track, with its late night bass stabs building to some epic four-in-the-morning Faithless-style synth chords.
The real treat however are the two more dubstep influenced songs, the title track and ‘Slowburn’, which work as companion pieces in their related approach. And what does dubstep sound like, when it’s done Photek style? The answer, as ever with Parks’ work, is that it’s all in the beats. ‘Avalanche’ is based around an arpeggiated mid-range synth figure that somewhat recalls Santogold and Freq Nasty’s ‘Creator’. The synth changes tone to create an subtly intense build, much like the track’s namesake, but the beauty is in the carefully constructed breakbeats that fit so casually into the half-step rhythms pioneered by the likes of Skream. It feels like Parks has sweated over every little drum sound and fill resulting in a complex and subtle sound that is a million miles away from the nasty 'dog-barking' sound of commercial dancefloor dubstep, while still being distinct from the ethereal soundscapes of Burial and the other Hyperdub artists. Slowburn does a similar trick, although it doesn’t quite capture the gentle menace of Avalanche. Does 'Breakbeat Dubstep' already exist as a genre? If not, Photek has just invented it.
At the end of the last decade Photek revolutionised drum and bass with his intelligent approach, without compromising on the sheer thrill of his beats. Could he do the same for dubstep? Probably not, but the beauty of the 140 speed is that there’s room for everyone, and if it stays that way then we’ve got a lot more to look forward to.
7Rob Harris's Score