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Dubstep's new wave, deep techno, US hip-hop, and leftfield oddities: March’s music columns

In DJ Mag's March music columns, Ben Murphy, Richard Brophy, Phillip Mlynar and Tristan Bath spotlight topical sounds from around the world

Dubstep's new wave

Ben Murphy spotlights the new wave of artists and labels pushing the boundaries of 140bpm beats

The dubstep underground is thriving in 2021, with a network of original artists, new labels, young-blood producers and DJs working to push the genre forward. Mala’s long-running DEEP MEDi MUSIK remains a tireless champion of the style. With a highly prolific output, the label releases everything from the bass-driven funk of seasoned producer Silkie’s new album ‘Panorama’ to new French artist Quasar’s EP of hazy soundscapes, ‘Walk’.

Meanwhile, Artikal Music, launched in 2012 by J:Kenzo and Mosaix, has ramped up its schedule of late, putting out nine new EPs in 2020, ranging from the darkside vibe of Russian newcomer Oddkut’s ‘The Ghastly Grinner’ to Dublin-based Sabab’s bass wave speaker-crusher ‘System Skank’. Shoring up the scene is a plethora of upcoming beatsmiths, a few of whom have had considerable success. 

Though some associate American dubstep with its more commercial, EDM-driven side, Stateside group Ternion Sound are bucking the trend with a deeper, murkier style that harks back to the genre’s roots. Based in Minneapolis, the trio have put out a string of EPs since 2018 on labels like Distance’s Chestplate, Artikal and many more. Fresh labels pushing the form are numerous.

Set up by Zha in 2011,but highly prolific recently, White Peach focuses on the best new artists in dubstep, grime and adjacent genres. “White Peach has grown into a larger entity, providing services in record manufacturing, distribution, mastering and as a specialist online record store,” Zha says. “I’d like to think we’re still leading the charge and consistently merging the boundaries of dubstep and grime through innovative music.”Regarding new artists, Zha tips “Ourman for one. He’s incredibly versatile, with a heavy preference on strong melodies. He has several forthcoming White Peach releases, which are unbelievably good. Another artist is Yoofee, a percussive genius in my eyes.”

In Brighton, DNO has recently become a go-to for bass-heavy 140bpm sounds. Lately, it released the ‘Fulminating’ EP from Russian producer Kercha, blurring the lines between trip-hop and dubstep. Belgium, meanwhile, has DUPLOC, a label that has released music by original artists like Distance as well as newcomersSurreal and Hella.

FKOF (FatKidOnFire) is another key label. Run by Wil Benton, it started as a music blog, then morphed into a label proper in 2013. Now counting 50 digital releases, five vinyl EPs and a sub-label to its name, FKOF is a potent force in the genre, putting out massive EPslike Japanese producer Møndaigai’s ‘Undefined’ recently. Benton reckons that right now, dubstep could be the best it’s ever been. “If you avoid the snobbiness, or UK vs. US dubstep fight, this community of producers, fans, DJs, labels and everyone else has been grinding away since the forefathers built the first few tunes in the early 2000s, and it’s almost more exciting now than it was then. There’s a huge amount of experimentation, with the latest production technologies, and a vibrant audience of consumers who are buying this stuff.”

Though key dubstep club-nights like HVYWGHT may be on hiatus at the moment, it feels like dubstep is still thriving in the shadows and studios of a dedicated movement. “With the current pandemic, it has taken away a lot of the joy from experiencing dubstep [in a club], but I don’t think this has hindered artists’ production quantity,” Zha says. “Everyone is quietly making music, preparing for when we have normality once again.”

Deep-dive techno

Richard Brophy reports on the enduring influence of deep, emotive Detroit techno and how it’s found an online hub in the Facebook group We’re Going Deep

Decades after benchmark releases from Carl Craig, Model 500 and UR inspired European producers like Terrace, Aril Brikha and B12 to tease emotive sounds from their machines, the influence of deep Detroit techno continues to loom large. There’s a steady stream of new electronic music that draws on these sources, and this past month alone has seen EPs that deliver reflective melodies, atmospheric sounds and warm, soulful grooves. 

John Shima’s ‘Paris’ on Distrikt resounds to niggling, sleek grooves, intertwined with subtle, sweet melodies — the introspective ‘Pressure’ is a particular highlight — while Casey Tucker’s ‘Deep Soul Calm’ is a more lively affair, teeming with acid and string-soaked wiry rhythms. 

Meanwhile, UK techno producer Steve Pickton has reissued tracks from ‘Disco 4000’, his hard-to-find debut as Stasis. The aptly named ‘Time Is Right’ serves as a reminder that the appetite for Pickton’s woozy synths and twitchy, offbeat rhythms is greater than ever.

The influence of deep Detroit techno isn’t confined to music-makers, and the We’re Going Deep Facebook group is testament to the strong global interest in this timeless sound. Established in late 2015 by Paul Wise, aka Placid, and named after the Deep 6 record, We’re Going Deep was initially intended as a platform to promote a new radio show where Paul would showcase ‘deep house, techno, acid, some disco and ambient’. However, WGD’s membership grew quickly and it morphed into a community where members post about music, or as Paul puts it: ‘Digging deep to find the under-played gems and the b-sides which rarely get a look in and some stuff that is just, plain hard to find’.

We’re Going Deep now has almost 15,000 members and is a particularly active group, with the latest release on contemporary labels like Innate, Emotec and Furthur Electronix as likely to feature in the timeline as posts about obscure, brilliant ‘90s producers like Kirk Smith and Scopex. 

“There has always been a following for real deep, underground sounds and since the very early days of WGD, there has been a passion for sharing tracks, imparting knowledge and sharing history. People are attracted to good music and it’s really helpful to have it in one place where the posts are of a really high quality,” Paul says, adding that he feels that new artists are at the heart of what WGD is about. 

“There’s lots of great labels and artists coming through and so much amazing music being produced, and I want it to be a hub for new releases as well as the older stuff,” he continues. 

It’s no idle claim, and the community inspired Paul to set up a label with the same name. The second split WGD release features mesmerising deepness from new school artists like Arme and Jared Wilson, who deliver the ominous ‘Celestial Machines’ and ‘Leave Your World Behind’, and Gilbert and Cignol’s evocative ‘Signs Of Hope’ and ‘Late Night Traverse’ contributions. 

“I’ve met so many brilliant artists through the group that it would be a really good idea to showcase them,” Paul says. With the third and fourth WGD releases already lined up, expect the deep dive to continue.

Bonded beats

Phillip Mlynar looks at how the classic setup of one rapper, one producer albums is making a come back in US hip-hop

Back in hip-hop’s fabled golden era of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, the formula of a single MC using a sole producer to craft the beats for an entire album resulted in a run of certified classic projects. Over the years, the template was gradually eroded in favour of packing albums with a roll call of big name producers to chase commercial riches — but there’s been a refreshing resurgence of the vintage setup lately, with artists benefitting from the sonic synergy that comes from committing to an exclusive creative relationship.

Typifying the trend, late last year Brooklyn-based MC and Armand Hammer member ELUCID teamed with Michigan producer The Lasso to craft the essential ‘Don’t Play It Straight’. The latter’s electro-influenced backdrops and minimalist tendencies boost the impact of ELUCID’s politically-charged verses, while smart repeated use of the guest R&B vocalists KAYANA and Fielded across half of the tracks further enhance the album’s cohesive feel.

Venturing deeper into the underground, one-time MF DOOM confidant MF Grimm calls on the off-kilter production ear of Philadelphia-based Darko The Super to soundtrack his upcoming ‘The Hunt For The Gingerbread Man 2: Get The Dough’. Key cut ‘Crumbs’ showcases Grimm’s confectionary-themed verbals over contrails of psych-rock-style guitars and a coy sped-up sample of an ‘80s UK pop anthem.

Over in Virginia, members of the vibrant Mutant Academy clique have been successfully embracing the formula. The collective’s Koncept Jack$on teams with beatmaker Ohbliv for ‘JET MagaZINE ‘21 Reissue’, where the rapper’s nimble flow is cushioned by mellow repurposed soul loops. The Mutant Academy’s in-house producer ewonee also delivers a complete set of similarly soul-centric beats for blunted Los Angeles rapper YUNGMORPHEUS’ ‘Thumbing Thru Foliage’ full-length.

Pledging to such a close studio bond makes it easier for artists to trade personal tastes and influences. Case in point: New Jersey’s JWords melds metallic techno and electro textures into herbeats for ‘Ve·Loc·i·Ty’, which in turn charges New York City spitter Maassai to adapt her cadences to match the escalating tempos. 

The trend is also making an impact in more mainstream territory. Benny The Butcher’s ‘The Plugs I Met 2’ ditches the idea of uneasily cobbling together an all-star cast of producers in favour of pairing the Buffalo-based Griselda Records dope slanger with exclusive beats by hitmaker Harry Fraud — and it’s hopefully an indicator of more tight-knit one rapper and one producer projects to come.

Must-have oddities

Tristan Bath rounds up a handful of the most essential new leftfield releases 

‘When the vaccine hits’ memes notwithstanding, this awkward global stumble into the latter stages of the pandemic is occurring around the time that underground electronic sound artists and the like would be dropping their respective new records to match up with the European festival circuit. Even though it looks like we’ll be staying online in the meantime, this generation of artists at the edge of noise are throwing out pandemic recordings, showing a fresh wave of exceptional creativity. 

Produced in a locked down Cairo, ZULI’s ‘All Caps’ had to be created from the ground up after his gear was stolen, record lost, and sound library razed. The result is anything but sorry for itself, refocusing on the dancefloor with six compositions dropping chaabi, footwork, and breakbeat tropes into a heady and frenetic challenge to dancers. 

Operating at the opposite end of the spectrum, New York composer Lea Bertucci met the limbo of lockdown by deeply reflecting on the very nature of her home country. Surrounded by the disarming quiet of pandemic city streets, Bertucci’s breathtaking ‘A Visible Length Of Light’ adds to the tradition of American minimalism with poignant reflections on the landscape, improvising with bass clarinet, chord organ, and alto sax atop a range of field recordings.

A fascinating new compilation by Barcelonan label Modern Obscure Music engages with our shortened digital attention-spans, allowing only 32 seconds for each of its 12 compositions. Featuring new music from Ryuichi Sakamoto, Visible Cloaks, Barcelona legend Pascal Comelade and several more, these dense electronic pieces carry a focused sense of intrigue that makes an album lasting six minutes 34 seconds a conceptual triumph worth re-examining.

Under his Serpente alias, Lisbon-based producer Bruno Silva expands his rhythmic explorations into a pair of 17-minute workouts for percussion on a new record for Alien Jams: ‘Irmãs’. Thudding sampled drums propel along in mind-boggling (and ass-shaking) tessellations, busying your body long enough to thoroughly hypnotise your head. While created in blessed isolation, no record from 2021 seems to yearn for the live music experience as much as this.

Finally, few musicians embody our troubles like Chicago rapper Sharkula. A local legend known to sell his albums in handmade packaging on sidewalks and in bars, the MC meets up with fellow Chicagoan and eternally prolific sample-exploder, Mukqs — the former spewing waves of freeform (and miraculous) positivity and humour, while the latter bounces a psychedelic menagerie of randomness over crunchy beats.