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Last summer, I went to Outlook, a bass festival in Croatia. At some point during the blur of the weekend, I picked up a 'No bass, no fun' sticker, which managed to permeate into my heat-bass-booze addled mind and resonated with me deeply. I plastered it to myself; delighted to parade my new-found life philosophy before everyone I met (thankfully there wasn’t a tattoo parlour to hand).
Though the sticker is long disintegrated, were it still in possession, Dobie’s debut full-length would force me to shred it. This is not fun bass. This is not even Marks & Spencer’s bass. This is relentless, filthy bass – the kind that throbs through your head when you’re horrifically hungover on a bus and you accidentally lean it against the shuddering, vibrating window. It’s not the whirring and wobbing of dial-up modem mainstream dubstep but rather the ominous, water-shakes-in-the-glass boom of a particularly rhythmic Tyrannosaurus Rex approaching.
Anthony Campbell, aka Dobie, has loomed large on the UK production scene since the late Eighties, working with everyone from Soul II Soul and Massive Attack to London Posse and Björk. Since allied with bass label Big Dada, he last year released two appetite-whetting EPs, and has now returned with a full-length, as well as an accompanying exhibition of his skate/hip-hop based photography and an essay on his music and life by cultural commentator Jason Jules. Topped off with album art from Turner prize winner, and friend, Chris Ofili, this is the measured, thought-out return from an evidently respected artist.
The first half of We Will Not Harm You is an uppercut in bass-form. Opening track, ‘The Beginning’, plunges straight in with jarring synths and pounding sub-bass intercut, like a B-grade sci-fi soundtrack, with cries of “We will not harm you!” – Dobie is in fact so keen to reassure his listeners that this later repeats in a track of its own, ‘Skit’. Next up, the slightly less intense ‘Blip 124’ brings throbbing house over a thundering undercurrent of four-to-the-floor, yep, you guessed it, shuddering bass. It only gets darker, with ‘Then I Woke Up’ kicking off with nightmarish squeals, ominous synths and the faint ringing of alarms before smacking the listener with a chuntering bass break before introducing 'Space Oddity'-style ascending, washed out synths. Best of all is first single, ‘She Moans’, essentially a wall-of-bass topped with tropical, drum-n-bass percussion – the sound of dubstep being deconstructed.
Thankfully, as one’s ears, eyes, and jaw muscles need a break by this point, Dobie relents with ‘Somewhere Over There’, a bass-free airy interlude of dream-pop synths and soulful piano. Instrumental hip-hop tracks ‘Crunch Factor No. 5’ and ‘The Chant’ also allow the listener to catch their breath – definitely necessary breaks in the record but equally slightly below the standard of the rest of it. Like the soundtrack of a night, the record becomes ever more intense before peaking, pausing, and eventually taking it down a notch. The end of the album is much less bass-centric, instead sliding into spacey electronica (though, naturally, there’s still some sub-bass in evidence). Closing track ‘She Wiggles When She Walks’ is particularly successful, combining disjointed breaks with light-handed synths and experimental bleeping; perfect 7am after-party music.
By its very nature, electronic music is often at its best when repetitive; but it’s a fine line to tread between satisfying and dull. We Will Not Harm You is well-crafted enough that the looping repetition is pleasing, with the dominant bass thwacking out grooves which just play on and on.