Tuesday, 27 December 2011

The best of 1991 - 20 records to celebrate in stead of Nevermind

While finishing the poststep-piece, I couldn't help but notice – no matter how much I tried to avoid it – the cringeworthy circle jerk going on in pretty much all music media, the celebration of the twenty year anniversary of Nirvarnas Nevermind, presented like the most revolutionary and important record in recent history. The stupidity of most rock based music media – as well as the music coverage in all other media – have always been embarrassing, but not usually to the degree where I not just feel a bit sick, but get really angry. This, however, did the trick. It's not just a matter of Nevermind being unbelievably overrated as a rock record, or that its “revolutionary” effect of restoring rock to its gritty authentic essence was such a forced media construct, dreamed up by a poisonous cocktail of record industry and ageing rock journalists who wanted something like Nirvana to happen; the ultimate amalgam of the most lame rock authenticity clichés - garage/punk “rock out”-energy and scruffy/maladjusted indie songwriting. And it's not that Nevermind as such is a bad record – though I haven't felt compelled to hear it in more than ten years, I guess it was sort of good actually, with catchy songs and kind-of-convincing-teenage-weltschmerz, and I more or less understand why it had such an impact, because much like the much better Radiohead later on, Nevermind was the perfect product to satisfy the endless demand of a specific teenage segment, filling a hole that only this kind of rock music can fill.
In this way, you could definitely argue that the album had a sociological significance, but why music that successfully, yet uninventively and predictably, pander to the unchanging taste of this teen demographic, is somehow the sociological signifier – the zeitgeist – of an era, is beyond me, and partly why it's so annoying that old school rock critics manage to sell this ridiculous myth – that they themselves totally believe – to the world. It's still not the worst part though, because it wouldn't be so bad if there wasn't anything else around, in that case a slightly-better-than-average teen spleen record that happened to get many more people than usual involved could probably be seen as somewhat zeitgeisty, or at least as good a suggestion as whatever else was happening. The thing is: There indeed was, to put it very mildly, some other stuff around at the time. Nevermind came out during the first year of one of the greatest upheavals in music history, and compared to that it was utterly insignificant, musically conservative, uninventive and regressive. Well, it would be in any case, but compared to this incredibly rich musical year, much much much much more so. And the purely musical aspect is what I'm after here.
It's not that I think rave culture (or for that matter hip hop or metal) was more or less sociologically important than grunge, I don't really care and have nothing invested in whether it was so or not, it's that it came up with such unbelievable riches, such endless innovation and astonishingly new and fresh music, that if you're looking back at 1991 and see Nevermind, you're not just missing out, you're simply missing one of the greatest musical revolutions ever, and that in favour of a triviality that just repeats the past. And you're definitely missing the zeitgeist. And it’s that distortion of history that makes me angry, that the greatness of that year has been written completely out of the mainstream media coverage. Which brings us to the point of this piece: Rather than just believing my gut feeling that “rave culture” (in itself a catchall for a lot of different things) was infinitely superior to grunge, I decided to check what records would actually support this feeling. For a starter, I supposed that it would be pretty easy to find at least ten records that were better and/or more significant than Nevermind, and as the candidates quickly sprung up in my mind I decided to see if it wasn’t perhaps possible to find twenty instead. Well, it wasn't hard, and you could certainly find many more, because I've restricted myself to records from the techno/house/rave/electronic-area, and I'm sure hip hop heads would argue that there was a whole heap of revolutionary hip hop records coming out that year as well. I've never been much into hip hop so I wouldn't know, but there seemed to be a huge excitement about the genre back then. Similarly, the early nineties also seemed to be a kind of golden age for death metal, so there's probably some missing from that area as well. Ditto late shoegaze/early post rock stuff I guess.
A restriction to this list is that I'm sticking with single artist/group albums. Techno/rave has always been driven by 12” singles and EPs, but nevertheless there was plenty of incredible albums being made, several of which certainly deserving the kind of 20-year-anniversary-eulogies so ridiculously heaped upon Nevermind. That it's not just about the many groundbreaking electronic singles, and that there's 20 powerful, amazing albums better and/or more significant than Nevermind from 1991, without resorting to compilations, makes the case even clearer. So, here we go, an astonishing cavalcade of greatness – the amount of stellar records surprises even me.

Front 242: Tyranny >For You<Let's start with what could be called an intermediary in the passage from eighties electronic music and the explosively expanding new world of the nineties; a genre simultaneously pushing ahead into and being eclipsed by techno “proper”, namely EBM. Usually, EBM is seen as a late eighties phenomenon, and those years was indeed the genres highest tide, but it's not like it all just disappeared with the nineties and rave culture. Especially the first three years of the nineties were incredibly rich when it comes to EBM, there was still a massive momentum, a lot of the people involved clearly still believed that they were the future, and a lot of the genres greatest records ever came out during those years. Yet, what is really interesting about this EBM phase is that it was also highly involved with the new dance floor oriented sounds, which, after all, took a lot of both inspiration and audience from the older EBM scene. At least in northern Europe, rave culture was in many ways built on the already existing EBM-network, a bit like it was built on the existing hip hop/reggae-culture in Britain. A good example is Tyranny>For You<, by arguably the greatest EBM act ever, which managed to integrate more rave friendly elements in their unique sound. Tracks like “Moldavia” and “Neurobashing” practically disband all conventional song structures in favour of a driving, stomping energy not all that different from the harder techno forms being made by Front 242s fellow Belgians at the same time. The rest is classic Front 242 at their best, where dizzying clockwork contraptions of spliced and microscopically manipulated samples somehow manage to turn into surprisingly catchy songs. Tyranny >For You< is still an impressive demonstration that in 1991, EBM was still a force to be reckoned with, and certainly much more exiting and revolutionary than grunge ever was.

The Overlords: Organic?Going a step further in the EBM-techno-transformation, this one also takes well constructed and catchy song based EBM, and makes it even more rave friendly. The production is clear and cyber-muscular, with emphasis on a heavy, pumping groove, and the sort of melodic, infective pulse-riffs that EBM eventually handed down to trance. The track “Sundown” was a huge, huge single, and probably the snapshot of EBM turning into techno/trance.

Time to Time: Im Wald der TräumeIf The Overlords went further into rave territory than Front 242, Time To Time went all the way. While you can still clearly hear EBM-elements – those pulsing sequencer riffs again – Im Wald der Träume also embraces rave juvenilia to a degree that would make Smart'Es blush. The vocals have been pitched up to a ridiculous helium smurf squeek, the “lyrics” are at best utterly silly, and the melodies could be taken from a childrens TV show. The contrast is made further clear by the cover, at one hand a splash of colourful cartoon images like Hannah Barbera on acid and ecstasy, but at the same time it depicts a group of three young men that could belong to any late eighties group in the intersection of EBM and dark, Depeche Mode-derived synth pop. All in all not a record that had a big impact anywhere, it's definitely the most obscure on this list, but nevertheless it's a fascinating indicator of the massive changes that was going on in electronic music at the time, and as silly and ridiculous as the music is, it also has a twisted inventiveness – sort of a rave Der Plan – that is irresistibly charming and utterly unique.
Pleasure Game: Le Dormeur
The biggest, most overwhelming rave development of 1991 was of course the Belgian hardcore sound, and that sound was largely based on singles. It never managed a successful transformation into album music, and in 1991 few of the leading artists even tried. The best attempt in this respect was Pleasure Games Le Dormeur, named after their massive hit, and managing to keep the quality relatively high throughout. Some tracks were clearly fillers, mostly designed to be atmospheric and experimental intermezzos among all the rave intensity, and they come off as either pretty uninspired or pretty awful, or both. There's still a majority of good stuff though, including some minor-yet-brilliant follow up hits to “Le Dormeur” (“Mystic House”, “Prepare to Energyse”), as well as some awesome lost gems in the same vein (“Gravity Force”, “Professeur Daktylus”), and it's definitely possible to listen to the album as a fully connected whole. Le Dormeur is not a stellar album by any means, but it's arguably the best and most concise single artist summing up of one of the most exciting developments of 1991, and as such a much more invigorating and relevant example of the zeitgeist than any mopey retro rock.

Twin EQ: The Megablast
The best straightforward rave album of 1991 was this forgotten obscurity, loaded with high energy beats, buzzsaw synths and bleepy riffs keeping just the right balance between functional anonymity and catchy melodiousness. German duo Twin EQ worked under many different names, the most successful being Interactive, who had several verging-on-novelty rave hits later on, but this is arguably their greatest moment. None of the tracks could be called classics or have left any permanent mark on techno history, but all the same none of them are weak or compromised, and every one of them delivers just the kind of hyperactive synthetic blast that good rave music should. The Megablast simply works as a compact, tremendous whole, energetic and buzzing all the way through.

Frankfurt Trax volume 2 – The House of TechnoSome might argue that this violates my restriction to single artist albums, as it's obviously a compilation. Well, since everything on it – or at least on the vinyl version which I'm sticking to here – is done by Marc Acardipane, either on his own or in a few collaborations, it’s certainly also very much a single artist effort, very clearly a singular vision, with the “compilation” aspect most of all being a conceptual packaging. In any case it deserves the benefit of a doubt, because probably being the greatest album of 1991, it couldn’t really be left out here. Not much more to add, really, I think I have already said quite enough.

X-101: X-101A short, concise and generally brilliant little LP that is still one of the best things the Underground Resistance collective ever released. Interesting to notice the similarities with the contemporary Belgian/European rave sound on several tracks, as well as the EBM-ish elements, not just in the sound but even more with the cover, which is as archetypical EBM as it gets. I guess it's partly due to Mills' industrial roots (ie Final Cut), but it's also a great indication that the different pre-histories of techno aren't as disparate as usually assumed.

Air Liquide: Neue Frankfurter Elektronik-SchulePackaged and probably sold as an EP, and with an unclear release date that sometimes places it in 1992 (at discogs at least, but pretty much all other evidence say 1991), this is not the most obvious inclusion, but with a playing time of forty minutes (ten more than X-101) and one of the most ahead-of-its-time sounds of all the records in this list, it really ought to be here. Air Liquide would later be one of the main players on the cologne scene – also including Mike Ink/Wolgang Voigt and eventually one of the definitive building blocks in the current minimal techno sound – but here they've already created their own unique style, a reinvention of acid and cosmic krauttronica as haunting free form machine music, achingly beautiful and foreboding on tracks like “Sun Progress” and “Coffeine”.

Biosphere: MicrogravityThis is usually considered one of the definitive records of the early “ambient techno” boom, though it's not really ambient in the conventional sense, or at least only on a few tracks. Not that it's easy to say what it is then, though. It's clearly a kind of dark and atmospheric techno, but it doesn't sound like any of the other styles around at this time (bleep, rave, proto-hardcore, proto-trance, detroit etc.), and hardly like anything since. There's a connection to the kind of bleak, gloomy and largely industrial/dark ambient derived minimalism that would later sort of run parallel to the actual minimal techno scene (Pan Sonic, Psychick Warriors Ov Gaia, Pressure of Speech etc.), but all the same, Biospheres sense of melody and structure is so unique here that it's probably more appropriate to classify him as a not directly related predecessor rather than as an actual ancestor. Microgravity had a huge impact, but it’s so oblique and subtle in what makes it special, that no one has fully been able to emulate it.

The Orb: Adventures Beyond the UltraworldSome might find this two hour monster opus too much, but it's still one of the most groundbreaking chill out records of all time, still part of the foundation of much music being made today. Personally, I still think most of it is pretty great, there might be early signs of the cheap ironic zaniness that would eventually become an annoying part of the Orb brand, and a lot of the tricks that they would later repeat over and over again are also present, and consequentially a bit damaged by reverse association, but there's also a freshness and a sense of breathless, un-ironic wonder that still makes huge parts of it seem magically unreal and beautiful all these years later.

Ultramarine: Every Man and Woman is a StarIf The Orb's Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld seems a bit too obvious and omnipresent, this have long been the "cool" alternative choice as greatest chill out album of 1991. Actually, it's not all that chilled, the beats are often extremely groovy and energetic, but it's a catchy and enjoyable album that – a bit like Biospheres Microgravity – was probably a bit too unique in its style for others to follow it. If anything, it seems almost like an atmospheric, laid back and new age “spiritual” forbearer of big beat.

Future Sound of London: AcceleratorDespite FSOLs later reputation as abstract ambient experimenters par excellence – something that made them the big bad pseudo proggers in Energy Flash – their first album wasn't all that abstract, and not particular ambient either. Rather, it was a pretty straightforward collection of tracks existing somewhere in between rave viscerality and introverted “softcore” atmospherics, often reminiscent of the 808 State style of electronic exotica. However, it's never quite the one or the other, and Accelerators greatness is exactly that it manages to be both without sounding like a forced or clumsy pairing of opposites. One of the greatest and most convincing examples that electronic dance music can be fully transformed into softer, mood based “album music” without losing its edge one bit. I've never personally thought that the later FSOL efforts were bad, and certainly not as bad as they're said to be in Energy Flash, but Accelerator remains my favourite FSOL album by far; inventive, well-proportioned and endlessly listenable.

808 State: Ex:elIf anyone can be called pioneers of the techno album it's 808 State, but after some of the genres greatest LPs ever – Newbuild and Ninety – by 1991 they were beginning to lose it just slightly. Ex:el was a bit of a mess, trying to be all over the map, while simultaneously going further into the guest vocalist trap that they just managed to keep stomachable on Ninety. Arguably, the vocal styling of Björk is so sound-in-itself oriented that it works brilliantly with atmospheric electronica, but one track would be enough, and Bernard Sumners “Spanish Heart” is pretty lame. Still, what makes Ex:el great, and makes it belong here, is that it manages to be surprisingly listenable despite all these problems. It's too long, slightly messy and uneven, but somehow it all comes together as a coherent – if not exactly seamless – whole, that sort of embody the explosive, unmanageable state of the electronic scene at the time. None of the music on Ex:el is quite the “real thing”, ie proper representatives of the many different genres and fractions spreading at hyperspeed in 1991, but rather artificial simulacra thereof – when not simply artificial creations without any obvious outside inspiration – and deeply fascinating and odd exactly because of it.

Bomb the Bass: Unknown TerritoryThe guest vocals have usually been an even greater problem with Bomb the Bass than with 808 State, though clearly a similar problem: They seem unnecessary, tacked on and overshadowing the real interesting things happening in the track constructions. Unknown Territory, though, is the one time where Tim Simenon makes it all balance, partly because there's not that many guests on it, partly because the used vocalists have so little personality, and are used in such a way, that they mostly seem like anonymous sound sources – they could just as well have been samples, and the production is taking the lead throughout. Preempting both trip hop and big beat, continuously inventive and catchy, and without a single dull track (even the torch songs – something I normally loathe – somehow inexplicably works), Unknown Territory is one of the greatest and most prophetic albums of 1991, and arguably the crowning achievement of the DJ/producer-as-star movement that came out of the late eighties British acid/hip house boom.

Shut Up and Dance: Dance Before the Police Come!The closest we get to hip hop in this list, considering that SUAD saw themselves as fast hip hop rather than techno/rave. That said, I've never cared much for the rap on it, it's the breakbeat-and-samples rave aspect that truly makes it an interesting and in many was groundbreaking record. In a lot of ways it’s patchy and perhaps one of the most dated of the records here, but there's no denying that it represents an important step in the breakbeat development, and definitely a much bigger musical leap – as well as one of much bigger subsequent innovative impact – than anything Nirvarna ever did.

The Ragga Twins: Reggae Owes Me MoneyA step closer to true proto jungle, mostly due to the fusing of ragga vocals and breakbeats in just the way that would eventually become the very definition of the most popular, ragga-dominated end of jungle. As with Shut Up and Dance, I prefer the instrumental side of The Ragga Twins, though I'm sure the charm and character of the vocals is a huge part of why this record is held in such high esteem by most hardcore/breakbeat/jungle scholars. Anyway, that it's some sort of a musical milestone is pretty undeniable.

4 Hero: In Rough TerritoryAs for ahead-of-its-time break beat, no one were probably further ahead in 1991 than 4 Hero. Their cold, sharp and basically ragga-free approach made it proto drum'n'bass rather than proto jungle (if that distinction makes any sense), and you'll be hard pressed to find anyone else working so consequently with the breakbeats-and-bass template this early, even considering 12” releases. In Rough Territory has its weaknesses – it’s definitely too long and samey, and there's still a slightly antiquated quality to some of the tracks, with their basis in – interestingly enough – bleep'n'bass still clearly audible, making it as much a highly alternative take on the bleep aesthetic as the creation of drum'n'bass ex nihilo. Still, the ground breaking inventiveness of the sample splicing and dicing, the sheer propulsive force and the overall quality of the best tracks, gives the whole a future shock impact that still seem powerful today, and which certainly must have been amazing at the time, and more than enough to render its overall problems as an album (which only seem really problematic retrospectively) irrelevant.

LFO: FrequenciesIt's sobering to consider that while 4 Hero were deliberately moving away from bleep and already building a new future, bleep itself was still just about a year old, and and only then reaching its apex. That's how fast things were moving. The definitive bleep album, and as such arguably the crowning achievement of the style, was of course LFOs Frequencies, which is the canonised techno album of 1991 if there is one. The status is well deserved, LFO takes the bleep aesthetic and invents a whole new language with it, using the potential to its fullest and twisting it into all sorts of weird and hitherto unimagined shapes – and much like with Biosphere, the results are mostly so idiosyncratic and self contained that the album seemed to exhaust this specific direction completely, rather than opening up for possible descendants – trying to emulate Frequencies seems both impossible and pointless.

Orbital: OrbitalWith one foot in the bleep camp and one in their very own brilliant future – simultaneously proto trance, chilled “listening techno” and experimental electronica – I'd dare say that Orbitals “green album” is even better than Frequencies at expanding the possibilities of the bleep scene, even if they never fully seemed a part of it. The album is arguably too long – a problem Orbital continued to struggle with on many subsequent albums – but the quality is nevertheless extremely high (if anything, it’s the incredibly coherency of it that sort of makes it a bit exhaustive in the long run), and it's especially fascinating that the greatest tracks are not just the established singles (“Chime”, “Belfast”, “Speed Freak” - great as they might be), but rather less known “fillers” like “The Moebius”, “Macro Head” and “Steel Cube Idolatry”, being just as creative with the bleep formula as anything on Frequencies. Too long or not, except for Frankfurt Trax 2 there's probably no other album of 1991 that still sounds so fresh – and so timelessly original – as Orbitals debut.

Plaid: Mbuki MvukiPredating their albums with The Black Dog, this is the very first long player from anyone belonging to what would eventually be Warp-based British IDM milieu (Aphex, Autechre, µ-ziq, Luke Vibert etc.), and its mythological status have been pumped up by the fact that it was practically unavailable for a long time. With Warps Trainer-compilation of early and/or unreleased Plaid material, it was finally possible to judge it, and it turned out to be... well, not quite as incredible as it had been claimed to be. Well, how could it ever? Basically, Mbuki Mvuki is a bit uneven, with several tracks coming off as too effortless breakbeat+”exotic sample” amalgams (“Slice of Cheese”, “Summit”, “Scoobs in Colombia”), not really going anywhere. However, that doesn't change the fact that it also contained some of the first fully formed examples of what would eventually become Plaids (and to some degree also The Black Dogs) trademark sound, those weirdly angular melodies and rubbery, flexible rhythms that still sounds absolutely unique and futuristic, even today. And even if there's a few fillers, Mbuki Mvuki works convincingly as a whole, and has just the right, refreshing length – something later Plaid and Black Dog albums never quite got right.
Appendix A: Compilations
With so much amazing music being released only as singles, the overwhelming impact being made by the rave scene in 1991 is not really clear from just single artist albums. However, there was simply so much great stuff around that it’s possible to find a bunch of very different compilations that all work as superb albums on their own. This small top five could just as well have been part of any “best of 1991” list.

Techno TraxThe first in a series of compilations that would eventually get more and more dominated by watered down dance hits and cheap novelty tracks, but which nevertheless began pretty great, with the first one especially being a bit of a treasure trove, full of lost gems mostly from the German and Italian part of the continental hardcore/rave scene. The emphasis here is on more electro-tinged tracks (with very clear elements of both EBM and italo disco), rather than the more house /hip hop based sound of the British/Belgian axis, and there's simply so much good stuff to be excavated in this department – no techno collection should be without treasures like Recall IVs “Contrast”, Klangwerks “Die Kybernauten” or Cybex Factors “Die Schöpfung”. Techno Traxis invaluable in any survey of the 1991 techno scene.

XL-recordings: The Second Chapter - Hardcore European Dance MusicProbably the most definitive collection of 1991 rave hits you’ll ever find – I’d say at least 75% is stone cold classics (T99, The Prodigy, Holy Noise, Cubic 22 etc. etc.) while the rest are just ad brilliant if not quite as well known. Absolutely essential starting point to get what this was all about.

Reactivate volume #1 – The Belgian Techno AnthemsThe ideal companion to The Second Chapter, in that except for T99s “Anasthasia” (the only track appearing twice in this list) and Beltrams “Energy Flash”, this is all lesser known, not-quite-hits that brilliantly showcases the slightly more tracky side of the Belgian scene. You’ll not find a better or more concise LP of Belgian techno (even if several of the tracks aren’t really Belgian).

Champion Sound – The best of Kickin Records Volume OneIn 1991 Kickin was one of the most successful labels in the British breakbeat scene, specialising in a both melodic and bombastic sound that fused Belgian brutalism with the prevailing British b-boys-on-hyperspeed sound. This compilation sums it all up in one definitive package, containing practically all their great early singles.

Technozone: Central-EuropeThe best indication of just how out of control the techno/rave scene was by 1991, is the fact that you’ll find compilations like this, full of practically unknown tracks that are clearly pumped out very fast to meet the demand, but rather than being weak and derivative, pretty much everyone is a winner. Substantiates why techno – and not grunge – ruled the world in 1991, and blasted open the gates to the future.
Appendix BA last couple of albums ought to be mentioned. First of all, KLFs White Room certainly had a huge impact in 1991, and was somehow part of dance cultures taking over of the world. Only a shame it was so crappy. Secondly, Kraftwerk released The Mix after five years of silence. Now, consisting entirely of remixed old tracks, it wouldn’t really fit the original top 20 list, after all, that list was meant to represent the future that erupted in 1991, not the past, but there’s definitely a massive significance to The Mix. By 1991, Kraftwerk had finally proven beyond all doubt that they had won. The unfolding future was their spawn. And with The Mix, they sort of acknowledged this. The album should really have been the closing of the doors to the past, but sadly, grunge simultaneously reopened them and insisted that it was better to live with rock regression than with electronic progression.

Monday, 7 November 2011


It's seems that there is still a lot of controversy about whether the electronic dance scene is producing anything really “new”. Outside the scenes own circles, everybody more or less agree that everything is now all about looking back, rediscovering past glories, an endless patchwork of retro styles and pomo recombinations. At best it's “hautological”, deconstructions of the retro-process itself, but nothing actually novel or unheard, nothing so new it’ll shock, just like it have been the last ten, or is that fifteen, years? Or twenty, if you’re brainwashed by rock-based media and think rave music was also a pomo recombination thing (because you see, they were using samples!), and the last time something “new” happened was bloody grunge (is there anything more sad than encountering someone who have lived through one of the greatest moments in music history, the rave golden age, a veritable explosion of innovation, only to hear them talk about how exciting they thought it was when grunge, that pathetic last-grasp-at-authentic-rock, happened, how it was the “new” and “revolutionary” thing of their youth? What a waste of youth.)

Anyway, for those who actually did notice the electronic glory years, there’s still a lot of people who haven't given up, those who still think that not only should (electronic dance) music always renew itself, but who also claim that it is actually still doing exactly that. Well, aren't there always someone who will talk about how much great music is constantly being made, and don't the rest of us know how hopeless that is? Because it’s not just about how there’s a lot of quality stuff around, there more or less always is, and some of it might even sound somewhat novel, perhaps managing to make some small twists of the old formulas. The question is whether that stuff is actually opening up new possibilities, changing our perception of what music means and can be, and basically shapes and challenges the times rather than being shaped by them. Well, I completely agree that this is not really happening where most people tend to suggest it is. As so often before, the front line is supposed to be the british club scene (i.e. “the ‘nuum”, more or less), and certainly, what is being proposed as the current frontier in that respect, namely the intersection of uk funky and post dubstep/“future garage”/whatever it’s being called, is, mostly, just hopelessly dull and regressive. So in a way I’m with the pessimists, led mostly by Simon Reynolds it seems, when it comes to the stuff being championed by this specific post dubstep contingent, on dissensus and associated blogs. However, and this is the point, all sorts of mindbending, shockingly new stuff actually are being made, and can even be classified within the post dubstep area, it’s just something very different from all the tastefully lame pseudo house.

It was actually quite a surprise for me to discover just how much amazing stuff came out last year, suddenly realising that I was, in a way, living in a new golden age, though a golden age that it’s hard to distinguish because it’s the result of all sorts of crazy, strange and uncategorizable ideas going on all over the map simultaneously – even when the map as such is nevertheless very clearly a post dubstep map. In any case I don’t think this kind of momentum have been around since the early nineties, but nobody seem to notice since it’s lacking a coherent movement and a really huge audience, not really being a true “scenius” movement, let alone a part of the ‘nuum proper. But at the same time it’s all happening because there actually is a proper ‘nuum scene happening right now, with probably the hugest audience any rave movement have had since the mid nineties. I’m talking, of course, about wobble dubstep. Which I guess is also why things might feel like a golden age, because this is certainly the wobble heyday. It’s also why so much of the funky/post dubstep being suggested as where thing are happening are actually so uninteresting: Because it's in its conception meant to be anti wobble, which almost automatically makes it tame and regressive, rejecting the most exciting and truly innovative scenius movement to have appeared in ten years.

Wobble is now what most people think of as dubstep, and I can only see this as a good thing. There was a lot of good stuff in the early dubstep movement, but when it was possible to reject the style back then as a kind of forced or willed and far too self consciously scenius scene, it was because it did indeed contain a lot of the very same concepts of depth, taste and righteous history that still seem so archaic in so much of the current “future garage”-stuff. And most, if not all, of the things that made early dubstep so fascinating and promising, despite all the reggae vocal samples, clichéd dub-echoes and even more clichéd brooding spliff-moods, was precisely the things that eventually became parts of wobble: The aggression, the wild start-stop-dynamics, the over-the-top monumentalism, and so on. I remember writing back in 2008 that I hoped wobbles bass-manipulations would eventually develop to the same level of intensity, complexity and rhythmic/dynamic irresistibility as jungle, and the question is now whether this have actually happened? I'm not completely sure, but to some degree, yes, I actually think it has. Not that wobble seems as perplexing or shockingly new to me as jungle once did, but I think this might just as well be because of me, rather than the music itself.

Back then, I hadn't really been following the breakbeat hardcore scene much (I was mostly into gabber, acid and experimental techno), so when it suddenly broke through it seemed to come out of nowhere, and indeed didn't sound like anything I'd ever heard before (even though I could obviously hear that there was some kind of connection to the early Prodigy-ish breakbeat rave that I was aware of). With dubstep, well, I've been following the development in real time, have seen all the mutations as they have been happening, and perhaps most important, I have constantly been wondering whether this could actually be the “new thing”, asking and judging whether it could be said to be as perplexing and shocking as jungle once was. Eventually, this level of attention and historical knowledge will guarantee that I will not feel the same, but if you're as unprepared for wobble as I was for jungle when jungle hit me, I think wobble could very well seem just as mad and revolutionary. The complete redefinition of rhythmic and melodic drive, the constant chopping and deformation of the bass lines, not really being “lines” any more, but rather taking on a melodic and orchestrational aspect, and the completely new two-lane rhythmic structure, where everything is happening in concentrated packages of insanity between two lurching, monumental godzilla-steps, all this is redefining musical parameters and dancefloor dynamics on a scale that inevitably reminds you of jungle.

Now, comparing jungle and wobble, there's obviously also things that are very different. In particular, you can't but notice that there's fewer true “anthems” in wobble, and longer between the tracks that turns everything on the scene upside down. As far as I can tell, this happened on something like a monthly basis during the jungle heyday, and even though I'm not monitoring wobble that closely, it doesn't seem to be the case here. And I think this is because the whole setting is so very different. In the noughties dubstep scene that wobble came out of, and still is a part of in a way, everything just happened so much slower, every new 'nuum development immediately got adopted by the omnivorously eclectic, post historic hipster club scene, rather than being in direct competition with countless other strains of rave, as in the nineties. Dubstep and wobble have certainly mutated constantly and thoroughly, but never in a way that have seemed rushed or uncontrollable. Eventually, it got to the future, but it never seemed as hell bent on getting there as jungle, or gabber, or trance – or pretty much any kind of early nineties rave. And this is more or less still the situation, wobble have been dominant – and generally GREAT – for something like three or four years by now. Compared to jungle, that's a long time to be on top (how long did it take from jungle broke through to it started the jump up/jazzzzzz/techstep-ossification? Was it even two years?), but the reason might simply be that wobble is taking its time, delivering the goods at a much slower rate, and not trying to reach the mutational dead ends as fast as possible. Not that that is necessarily a bad thing, but it certainly means that it doesn't appear as fertile and hectically innovative as the leading rave forms of the previous decade.

In any case, wobble is great, often absolutely insane and utterly exiting, and it have definitely been the final proof that dubstep was indeed the new thing all the early devotees said it was. That the same devotees are now whining about how bad and wrong and stupid wobble is, is only more proof – that's exactly how it should be when the next generation comes along and take all the small innovations that was part of dubstep from the start, and turn them all the way up to eleven, getting rid of all the historical clutter so important to the first generation. Their whining is the strongest sign of health and actual, radical newness that the wobble scene could possibly get, and probably the main reason Simon Reynolds finally, sort of, saw the light. Not that he's really championing wobble, but he clearly got that dubstep now follows the familiar pattern repeating itself again and again throughout rave history (and, consequently, through Energy Flash): The new mutations that actually opens new doors and take things in new directions will always be seen as degenerations by the old guard, and always be described as stupid, unmusical, soulless, unintelligent, primitive, repetitive, monotone, all-the-same, just aggressive noise for losers/students/chavs/whoever you don't like, to go nuts to, and not least: This kind of talk is exactly indicating that something really interesting is happening.

It's actually nice to see Reynolds being consistent and still getting it, even if it took him some time, and even though he doesn't seem to have gotten really into it, as much as it would sort of make sense he did, considering that wobble might simply be just the thing he have been looking for for so long, and that he thought grime was: Rave cultures version of punk. But perhaps he finally gave up all hope that this would ever happen some time ago, and therefore can't really allow it to happen now that the truth is supposed to be that nothing new is happening/can happen, and that everything is retro culture. Strangely, some years ago I really thought that all possibilities of newness was forever exhausted, and certainly that something even remotely resembling punk would be impossible within rave culture, just a wish among those brought up on rock mythology for a magic moment to repeat itself. Nevertheless, here we are. Why anyone would waste their time on retro stuff when so much utterly, shockingly new is happening right nowis beyond me. But so little of it is yet recognised, I guess. Seeing wobble as the trailblazing new thing that it is, is one thing, getting a hold of and recognising the scope of the post-dubstep scene is something quite different.

Post-dubstep is a fitting name, not because it's signifying a post modern everything-goes-mindset of endless combinations and rave-historic excavations, and certainly not because it's “post” like post rock, always so tasteful and humble. No, post dubstep is post like post punk, and not just, as it has been claimed, because it's a collective term for a lot of actually quite different stuff that just shares some roots in dubstep, because that's actually not the case for a substantial part of the stuff that I think it makes sense to describe as post dubstep. Post dubstep is like post punk in that it's a heap of very different artist and sounds thriving in the new fertile musical environment being opened up by dubstep, just like post punk was an expansion into the endless possibilities made possible by punk. That is what's happening now, rather than the coherent and continuous scenius movement that the 'nuum have followed so far, we have all these people coming from all these different places, some actually from dubstep, some from breakcore or drum'n'bass, some from different strains of “club music”, some from experimental hip hop, some even from electro and IDM/electronica, and of course some coming from nowhere really, just getting started doing music at all, inspired to do something by the overall sense of excitement and freedom, and they don't seem to think of themselves as a movement, they all have their own ideas as how to twist things and change the rules, to make stuff that is deliberately strange and dislocated and not necessarily “functional” like proper scenius 'nuum-music. As such it's much the same mindset as the experimental techno of the nineties, except that now it's generally driven by and permeated with the new sense of groove and overall viscerality of dubstep. Even when it's clearly brain/listening-music, it still seems fully aware of the physical impact as the necessary starting point when you want to utilize the force inherent in any kind of rave based music, even if it's for much more cerebral and “arty” ends. Which is pretty much the way most post punk – extremely arty and conceptual – was driven by punk, and what made it different from prog rock.

So yeah, I think post dubstep is sort of the right name, except perhaps that it's not all that snappy. But that's easily solved, just compress it to POSTSTEP and we're home, the perfect umbrella term for what is going on here, not least because there's probably not much that could solely be classified as poststep. Just like with post punk, it's more like a vast area full of things that are sufficiently apart to warrant their own labels. There's already a cornucopia of new terminology waiting to happen, and I'll try to use it as a launch pad to demonstrate my claim about how much truly new and unprecedented music poststep is coming up with:

WONKY HOUSE: I think this is an adequate name for a lot of the “future garage” stuff being discussed in the dissensus/blackdown-circuit, i.e. influenced by/parallel to UK funky, but more strange/twisted (well, “wonky”), and sometimes even good. Generally, though, this is the part of poststep that I find dull, and where it's pretty fair to describe it as tastefully feeble, uninventive and backward-looking. Far too much smooth house-emotionalism and this strange belief that some rather unremarkable “clever” details in the otherwise hopelessly regressive four to the floor drum programming somehow qualifies as innovation. Like the worst kinds of minimal and detroit-techno, the cognoscenti can recognise the ever-so-subtle syncopation that most people wouldn't, and that is supposed to elevate the simplistic main pulse to high art. Well, there still are some good things here, the Egyptrixx album Bible Eyes is surprisingly futuristic despite some obvious elements of newer minimal techno on the more straightforward 4/4 tracks. The Night Slugs label has released other good tracks, but mostly they're highly outnumbered by slightly-more-inventive-than-actual-house pseudo-house.

Some might argue that Zomby belongs in the wonky house department, and while that's certainly not the case for his early stuff, at least from One Foot Ahead of the Other and onwards, it could make some sense. In that case, he's obviously the best in this area, being one of the greatest and most uniquely groundbreaking poststep revolutionaries, though I'd still say he's only a borderline representative of this end of things. Except for some of his very early singles he doesn't seem the least interested in making things that works in the club, and is basically just his own. Also in the borderline area is the Hyperdub label in general, which more or less joined the wonky house camp recently, and have contributed with some of its better offerings, even though they’re in no way as great and groundbreaking as their older releases. The most obvious example is probably Ikonika, whose Contact, Love, Want, Have is certainly too long and one-dimensionally “emotional” for its own good, and nowhere as good as her early singles, but still contain many wonderful and highly original tracks. In small doses (like the ep samplers), it’s some of the best in the housey end of poststep. As for Kode9, I'm not quite sure what to think of the Black Sun-album, it's sort of fascinatingly odd, but not exactly convincing or coherent. But I'm not really sure it belongs here, it could just as well be placed in the next box:

GHOST STEP: This is the hautological part of poststep, and perhaps the first strain to separate itself from the larger dubstep movement. The example par excellence here, looming high above everything else, is of course Burial, and the majority of the stuff going on is more or less descended from him. Which is all fine and dandy and have resulted in some highly enjoyable music – after all Burial made some of the absolutely greatest records of the last ten years, so it's hardly surprising that someone could get absorbed in his particular aesthetic and make something good with it as a template – but often it's not something I've felt especially compelled to follow, just like I've never felt Joy Division – to use that old comparison again – to be so compelling that I've wanted to immerse myself in the scene that was built on their particular vision. That said, there's also lot of potential here outside the completely Burialesque tradition. As mentioned earlier, Distance represent a related and yet completely different aesthetic, drawing on and subverting the “doomstep” elements of proper dubstep, and yet there's not many who have tried to follow that promising route. Strangely, some of the most interesting examples come from the American end of things, with connections to the “downtempo” scene (i.e. “posthop” below): In each their own way Lorn and Nosaj Thing create a kind of doomy-yet-hushed, dubstep-influenced post rave ghost music. Lorn is the most bombastic and cinematically melancholic, while Nosaj Thing, on his amazing debut Drift, manages to be as otherworldly and truly haunting as Burial without sounding even remotely like him. And interestingly, some of the best newer British ghoststep producers seem related to the downtempo aestehetic as well; both Illum Sphere and Ital Tek combine a kind of burial-derived hollow emotionalism with more rounded production structures and sleepy beats, as well as some of the more fractured videogame-elements that are getting increasingly used in the Californian scene as well. In this respect, Ital Teks Midnight Colour album, as the title suggests, seemingly try to tick off as many poststep boxes as possible. It's quite good actually, if perhaps a bit too long for something that polished and uniform.

POST HOP: This is the prime example of how people from a completely different and more or less stuck leftfield area suddenly seem to explode with creativity, seeing all sorts of new possibilities in the space opened up by dubstep. I've always been extremely suspicious of the downtempo/abstract hip hop/illbient scene that I guess is the roots of all this. Dull laid back stoner music made even more dull by an oppressive knowledge of hip hop history. Intellectually righteous pomo mashup, really. Overlapping with the J Dilla end of things, which always left me cold as well. All those things are still, to some degree, present somewhere deep down inside the new poststep version, but all the same they have been eclipsed by a completely new style, drawing on anything from pure dubstep to chip tunes and computer game music to dreampop, sci fi soundtracks and seventies synth prog (Vangelis is being sampled a lot). OK, haven't this style always been drawing on many of those influences, you might ask? Well, it has, but hitherto only in the sample collage sense – as cool styles to drop into the mix, flavours and references to be recognised. Now, on the other hand, they're used as integrated parts of the compositional structures. Rather than just finding some oldschool arcade bleeps or eerie sci fi synth and placing them on top of a stoned beat, new producers like Free the Robots, Mono/Poly and Shlohmo seem to take these elements as the starting points and build a whole new world with them – music that is actually futuristic because its inventing new and strangely contemporary equivalents to the forms where these elements once was used, rather than just combining stuff that signal “futuristic”.

I've never cared much for Flying Lotus, who was arguably one of the first to take things in this direction. Somehow he never fully got free of the aforementioned downtempo trappings (see also Samiyam), and even when he really tries to tear up the rulebook and disrupt all the usual structures, like on last years Cosmogramma, to me it somehow comes off as just aimless. Which is why it was such a surprise to encounter a record like Shlohmos Shlohmoshun Deluxe, technically belonging to the Flying Lotus family, but all the same working on all the levels that traditional down tempo isn't. And then discover that there were many more producers from the same Californian milieu doing things equally new and exciting, yet not necessarily similar. In Shlomos case, the drowsy laidback mood that is always such a turn off in downtempo have turned forebodingly unearthly and worn, sometimes on the brink of disintegration, and with an almost glitchy feel which somehow merges perfectly with the Zomby-like dislocated arpeggios and angular stabs of bass, sometimes clearly drawing on wobble. It's simultaneously reminiscent of the early Octagon Mans rigor mortis-electro and a pixelated version Reqs proto-hauntological meditations on sample based entropy and decay, yet it all comes together as a completely self contained vision, diagnosing the messy world of now just as convincingly as Burial or Zomby. The same holds to some degree for Dibiase, related but also quite different, going all 8bit/Nintendo-crazy on machines Hate Me, probably the clearest example of what could be called bit hop, a small sub genre slowly coalescing within post hop. It's a record that is actually loaded with very obvious “historical” samples, from both video games and old school hip hop, but which nevertheless manages to make it sound disturbingly disoriented and fractured. Rather than a cosy exercise in feel good nostalgia, the album is a treacherous maze of mangled memory fragments and jarring sonic scrap. Closer in spirit to The Residents' Third Reich'n'Roll than any contemporary “mash up”.

The grainy digital entropica of Shlohmo and Dibiase is only one part of post hop, though, and others – most prominently Take and Free the Robots – take things in the opposite direction, while clearly belonging to the same “movement”. Here there's also plenty of 8bit cascades and heavy, at times pseudo-wobbly machine bass, but it's also extremely well produced, not to mention well composed, with tracks unfolding like miniature stories or sonic short films, dazzling sci fi moodscapes that seem like a heir to both cosmic prog and space funk as well as chill out and trip hop, but all done in the new framework that has evolved in the intersection between (post) dubstep and (post) instrumental hip hop. A lot of the same elements that are found all over poststep are also present here: ghostly, futuristic alienation, glittering synthetic colours, “neon” as a metaphor for the luminous-yet-eerily-insubstantial quality of the overall moods. At times this kind of post hop gets too smooth or chilled or laid back funky, which is unfortunately, to some degree, the case with both Takes Only Mountain and Free the Robots Ctrl Alt Delete. Still, at their best – which they fortunately are on big parts of those albums albums –, they're magnificently bewitching, like an endless glide through kaleidoscopic dreamspaces, as succulent and engulfing as they're strangely disturbing and bittersweet.

Post hop is probably one of the largest and most popular fractions of poststep, not least because it’s partly build upon a pretty big and well established scene. However, where this scene seemed stuck and irrelevant just a few years ago, now all of a sudden it's coming up with all sorts of new forms that seem to constitute a small revolution within the dowtempo/chill hop community. There's even a lot of it I don't particularly care for, especially all that going in a indietronica-ish direction (like, say, Tokimonsta), but I can still appreciate that they're making their contribution to the overall sea change. And there's also a lot of stuff outside the Californian stronghold, like the early stuff by Lukid and Rustie, or to some degree Robot Koch, who, like Ital Tek, is pretty much all over the poststep map. Few of those are as consistent as the best of the Californians, but they're all part of the larger picture.

BITSTEP: This is where things get really amazing in my opinion, and probably something like the big, all-connecting hub of poststep: Almost all other kinds of post dubstep intersects with bitstep, mostly sharing some characteristics but not all. Still, there's also a lot of stuff that is exclusively bitstep, even though it's difficult to define it precisely. Something that doesn't belong anywhere else, yet is clearly poststep, usually sounds very much like bitstep, even if it doesn't directly use the defining 8bit sounds, computer game effects or pixelated arpeggio madness. It's a bit like those elements – jerky angular rhythms, jagged scraps of trebly-scratchy guitar, punky dub-funk bass –, that are often a sort of shorthand for post punk, even though a lot of post punk didn't use them. In a similar way, the collapsing dubstep syncopations, stumbling 8bit-patterns and labyrinthine, ever-fracturing dynamics of bitstep will, I hope, eventually be the stylistic summing up of poststep. This is the greatest, most world shattering revolution developed in the wake of dubstep, and it's what ought to be recognised and championed as the essence, so far, of poststep, rather than some inhibited house-mutation.

Some try to dismiss all this by claiming that the 8bit and Nintendo-elements makes it retro music, or at the very least dependent on a historical knowledge, but I suspect that people making this claim haven't heard much bitstep, or have only listened for the elements here or there which can be used to support their dismissal. Bitstep is generally no more retro-chip tune or dependent of Nintendo soundtrack history than, say, The Slits or PiL were retro dub or dependent of historical reggae scholarship. The 8bit elements have been popping up in different kinds of electronic music – techno, rave, electro, hardcore, you name it – practically as long as these styles have existed, sometimes in a specifically melodious way, sometimes as abstract sound effects, sometimes as clear historic references, and sometimes as a hitherto unheard new idea. Bitstep takes this last tendency and runs with it, creating a whole new, completely unprecedented aesthetic fully exploiting the 8bit techniques potential for wild abstraction, yet at the same time inventing an equally new and unheard form of melodiousness out of those very abstractions.

This is where Zomby really ought to be classified. Especially on his early releases he was pretty much the archetypical bitstep producer, along with a substantial part of the Hyperdub roster back when that label had a legitimate claim to the leading edge: Quarta 330, Cardopusher, the early Ikonika, the early Darkstar (“Squeeze My Lime” is perhaps the greatest single of the noughties, while North was an equally great disappointment). Runner up as bitsteps founding label is Ramp, which, in addition to several Zomby-releases (and a lot of other slightly bitstep related stuff of different quality), released the “Gritsalt” 12” by Slugabed, pretty much taking things to the next level after Zomby. Slugabed made a bunch of remixes and contributions to compilations and split records until he released the – so far – definitive bitstep milestone, the Ultra Heat Treated-ep, kind of the crowning achievement of 2010 as the greatest poststep year yet. Pretty much taking all the most wild and colourful elements of 8bit-influenced dubstep and practically inventing a new language with them, breaking them into jagged, unbelievably contorted pieces and then reassembling them in bizarre patterns, abstract cascades of 8bit-splinters somehow coming together with a paradoxical melodiousness, syncopations so bizarrely twisted that they’re practically dysfunctional, yet at the same time almost as forceful and invigorating as full on wobble. Quite simply one of the most revolutionary and radically new records of any period – if anyone could listen to this and not hear the shock of the future, then they could just as well have been listening to "Acid Tracks" in 1987 and dismissed it as a regurgitation of disco, or to Are We Not Men? in 1978 and dismissed it as retro-prog.

Slugabed, and in particular Ultra Heat Treated – his new ep Moonbeam Rider is still pretty great and unique but unfortunately also more polished and smooth – might be the peak of bizarre bitstep so far, but luckily he's far from alone, others have joined and develop the style further: labels like Error Broadcast, Low Riders and Donkey Pitch, artists like Loops Haunt, Ghost Mutt and Coco Bryce. Some of them take things in an even more abstract direction, all dysfunctional beats and kaleidoscopic sound splinters, and others, like Suckafish P. Jones and Eprom, while equally twisted and colourful, somehow manage to be almost wobble-ravey. There's also a more atmospheric direction, spearheaded by Jamie Vex’D/Kuedo – on the In System Travel and Dream Sequence eps – and Dam Mantle, whose incredibly strange and uncanny Purple Arrow ep might be second only to Ultra Heat Treated as the greatest poststep release of 2010. And then there’s of course the many examples of bitstep merging with other poststep trends, as well as more open ended crossover artists: Lazer Sword, Robot Koch, Starkey, SRC etc.

WONKY WOBBLE/(WONKLE?)/RAVE-STEP: The wobbly-ravey end of bitstep blends into a larger trend within straightforward rave dubstep and wobble: a style that is simultaneously meant to be full-on tear out dancefloor-anthems, yet utilises a lot of weird'n'wonky bit/post-step tricks to make things even MORE mental. Some of this is just wobble with added catchy poststep elements – typically 8bit bleeps or quirky detuned bass sweeps –, others make full blown poststep weirdness that just happens to work on a hyped up wobble dancefloor as well, and a lot of it falls in between: dubstep and poststep at the same time. Not much to add to that, actually, except that at its best it's a great example of a truly popular avant garde, in the great rave pulp modernism-tradition – i.e. also quite scenius. I guess labels like Bad Acid and Rwina are the leading exponents here, and some of the best representatives could be artists like Geste, Rachet or Doshy.

HYPERGRIME: In a lot of ways poststep have revitalised the potential for strangeness and newness that was originally present in grime, but which somehow got eclipsed as that genre got to be more and more about MC egos, while the actual music – the instrumental, non-narrative element once so sharp and radical – more or less got reduced to an opportunistic afterthought that could be pretty much anything. A lot of the things that made early grime seem so revolutionary have returned in poststep, and are now being used and further developed as an aesthetic in its own right, rather than as a purely functional means to back up an MC: The ultra synthetic plastic sounds, the bombastic, fanfare-like riff-melodies, the almost preposterously inorganic syncopations. As dubstep became the route that most instrumentalists would take away from grime proper, these elements became sort of forgotten, until the poststep scene created a whole new place for them, practically divorced from the scene actually descendant from the original grime scene, and finally allowed to flourish and evolve.

The key example is of course Terror Danjah, one of the only first generation grime producers that fleshed out the instrumental side of the style and used it as an end in itself, a lab for wild experimentation and invention with sound design, complexity and new compositional structures. From being slightly forgotten, the amazing Gremlinz-retrospective suddenly put him back in the front line as a part of the general poststep landscape, as an inspiration and forerunner for a lot of the prevailing ideas, and demonstrating the huge, still untapped futuristic potential in grime when the pure sonic aspect of the style is being recognised. Afterwards he was immediately embraced by the poststep scene, and a whole bunch of releases flowed from him in 2010, not least on the two most influential poststep labels, Hyperdub and Planet MU. Most of it was pretty good, with the Hyperdub album Undeniable getting most accolades. Personally I'm not completely convinced by that – mostly because of the vocals – while I find the sadly somewhat overlooked mini-album Power Grid on Planet MU much more compelling: Precise, intense, bursting with ideas and innovation, and fitting the overall poststep feel of newness and freshness like a glove.

Of course Danjah is not alone, and fully formed experimental/instrumental grime seem to have a bit of a heyday right now, independent of the MCs and allowed to go its own way, which seem to run parallel to the rest of poststep. Labels like Earth616, No Hats No Hoods and Oil Gang, and artists like Teeza, Swindle and Darq E Freaker, push this new grimestrumental-breed into still more exaggerated, twisted and complex shapes. A really strange part of all this is the Belgian DJ Elephant Power, who started out as one of those mash up DJs who utilised grime as yet another exotic flavour, never really being a part of the scene as such (he also did glichy collage stuff), but ravey dubstep apparently showed him a much more exiting and convincing way to have a mad party, and his Elepha in da Flash-album is one of the best poststep party records out there, at its best giving cartoony-grimy tracks some of the energy of tear out wobble.

SKWEEE: Much like the Californian downtempo-scene, this Scandinavian style developed on its own, but now seem to be an obvious part of the larger poststep-whole. It utilises elements present all over poststep – hyper-syncopated electro funk beats, twisted 8-bit melodies and deliberately synthetic neon synths – yet it all comes together in a way that is all its own, sometimes perhaps a bit too conscious of the eighties electro-aesthetics, sounding more like what used to sound futuristic rather than actually sounding futuristic. Most of the time, though, it's either some of the most strange and unheard, undeniably new and futuristic stuff to have come out in the last five years, or it has the “lost future” feel so central to poststep, sounding like the blurred memory of an unknown future that should have been happening right now. This is the case with records like Daniel Savio's Dirty Bomb and Nekropolis, as well as Rigas den Andre's Guilty Feet, No Rhythm, while artist like Limonious, V.C. and Mesak (on his new stuff) go all the way into the unknown. With his debut lp House of Usher, Limonious is up there with Zomby, Slugabed and Dam Mantle as one of the most revolutionary poststep-producers, twisting beats and melodies into shapes so absurdly angular and unnatural – and yet so paradoxically catchy – that it seems impossible to even start to look for something to compare it with – except perhaps some of his most out-there skweee-colleagues.

At its best, skweee is a bit like what industrial was to post punk: In many ways a quite different aesthetic coming from a different and unique background, yet sharing some central aspects of the overall vision (structural disintegration and hyper-syntheticity with poststep, transgression and starkness/bleakness/coldness with post punk) and thus becoming an integral part of the whole, sometimes sounding unlike anything else, sometimes almost indistinguishable from more “archetypical” poststep-forms, and sometimes clearly influencing artist from other areas. Bitstep-ish producers like Coco Bryce and Nino have already pledged allegiance to skweee, while the French “post funk” maverick Debruit seem to have reached a closely related sound independently.

JUKESTEP: During the last couple of years, juke/footwork have become the club connoisseurs great black hope for the next big scenius thing. Personally I can't say I'm completely convinced by juke, and not just because it's so functional and scene-driven that there's an almost intolerable low hit-to-filler-ratio, though that's definitely also a part of it. Most of all, I just can’t see it as being all that radical and new. The super fast rolling drum machine patterns sound strangely regressive to me, after all we've been through jungle and 2-step and Timbaland-style r'n'b beat-science, and then this kind of busy clutter of 808-sounds seem almost old fashioned, and almost like the sort of thing you'll always come up with when you try to make really complicated and weird high speed beats on a drum machine, but eventually give up on exactly because you think it sounds a bit too forced in it's complicated high speed-weirdness, a bit too obviously held back by the equipments limitations when it comes to exactly this kind of beat science. And then there's the vocal science. Well, what vocal science? It's not like looping one vocal sample throughout an entire track is some sort of revolutionary new concept – really unimaginative producers have certainly done it in other sorts of electronic dance music all since the early nineties, if not earlier. Only, they rarely did it so unimaginatively, and perhaps that's the whole point: the vocal loops in juke are clearly meant to be detached and primitivistic. It just doesn't make them less dull or annoying.

Still, I'm slowly warming a bit to juke, it seems to become better and more innovative, and I seem to be hearing more tracks that are actually pretty good – with ideas and weird, unearthly moods, and beat structures that actually seem as multidimensional as they're said to be. While I thought that the first juke solo-albums on Planet MU – DJ Nate’s Da Track Genious and DJ Roc’s The Crack Capone – was completely absurd (who on earth would ever listen to such endless, one dimensional endurance tests all the way through), I must say the Bangs & Works-compilation is a brilliant introduction with a good selection of (mostly) very good tracks, and the new DJ Diamond album Flight Muzik is actually really good – engaging and fascinating tracks with lots of ideas and personality almost all the way through. Which takes us to the point, namely that juke is also being used as one of the main inspirations in a lot of new poststep. First of all, it's worth noticing that a lot of record shops actually file juke records as dubstep, even though it comes from a completely different scene and context and doesn't sound even remotely like dubstep. This seems pretty weird, but I suppose it's a reflection of the fact that, outside the actual, original core audience in Chicago, for which it's a pretty much isolated sound dictated by its functional context, the international audience for juke is exactly the poststep audience that uses it as a new set of useful ideas in their general search for futuristic beat-abstraction. And I actually think that it often works much better in this way than with “true”, authentic juke. Which is of course the absolute opposite of how it used to be with the scene/lone artist dynamic in electronic dance music. Unlike, say, jungle, where the crossover and electronica outsiders takes on it always seemed a bit tame compared to the real thing, with juke, I often find that it's a fresh angle that just need to be used for something, and that's what the poststep producers are doing.

Sure, it's not always a success, something like Machinedrums Room(s)-album is just the kind of predictable IDM fusion mush you'd expect from an electronica veteran who have utilised different strands of new underground dance sounds as exotic-authentic flavours for ten years. But with many others, it makes much more sense: On the new albums from Kuedo and Sully, as well as Dam Mantles awesome new ep We, the juke beats simply works as a fully integrated aspect of the overall sound, to the degree where you sometimes doesn't even notice them- they're just a part of what makes the music strange and unique. Both Kuedo and Sully certainly have backward looking aspects (Dam Mantle is still sounding like little else), but I can't really hear them sounding “retro” at all – at most perhaps slightly “hautological” – and a reason for that is precisely because they've managed to integrate weird and destabilising elements – like juke beats – so smoothly into the whole.

Still, more interesting is the possible concept of “jukestep”, a more equal combination of juke techniques and poststep aesthetics. You DO hear more and more of this cropping up I think, though so far only Jamie Grinds Footwork-ep – of what I've heard – make it work really convincingly. But I'm sure more is on the way. And you could also ask if it has to be poststep producers approaching juke, couldn't it be the other way round? Some of the more ambitious juke producers might notice the potential of the poststep scene that is giving them so much credit, and eventually try to approach it from their side. Perhaps this is what happened with DJ Diamond, the reason Flight Muzik is so unorthodox and intriguing. I have no way of knowing, but it would certainly be an interesting development. Perhaps juke is playing much the same role as avant garde jazz played in relation to post punk: A beguiling contemporary frontier of far out extremism and abstraction, eventually creating a loosely defined interzone where you can't really say what is what and which practitioners might originally have come from each starting point.

In addition to these more or less major trends, there’s also a lot of other, different poststep-things going on, some being small micro-developments by a single producer or label, others having a potential still waiting to unfold. There’s the 8bit-dub invented by Disrupt and his Jahtari-label; it’s often regressing into lame digi-reggae, but at its best – basically meaning Tapes and Disrupt himself – it’s truly unique and innovative, somehow tuning into the same vision as many other poststep producers, yet not sounding like them at all. There’s Anti-G and his incredible Presents Kentje'sz Beatsz-album, apparently a kind of bizarre experimental version of the duch “bubbling” sound, and definitely some of the most mental and jaw-droppingly strange music I’ve heard this year. There’s Debruit, who might have a lot in common with skweee, but who is also his very own twisted thing. There’s the dream-step of the Tri Angle-label (Balam Acab, Clams Casino etc.), often a bit too indie-friendly for my taste, but clearly creating their own path. And then there’s this concept of “post bassline” which I’ve seen mentioned somewhere (dissensus?) recently – bassline producers going eccentric/experimental – which I haven’t investigated further, but it’s obviously something that could happen, and could be very fascinating. You could perhaps also suggest something like post wobble – not the kind of experimental rave dubstep discussed earlier, but rather the harsh, industrial textures of the most brutal wobble forms turned into experimental mood music. Former Vex’D member Roly Porter goes all the way into dark ambient on Aftertime, but it seems obvious that some might eventually create an in between sound.

As it should be clear by now, I think we’re living in an incredibly exciting time, musically, with enough innovation, originality, quality, variation and utter strangeness/newness around to make a comparison with the post punk years. Not that it should be taken as a one-to-one analogy, though, because there’s obviously also some very important differences, in particular with respect to the relationship between all the incredible music and the rest of society as a whole. Post punk seemed to reflect the times in a two way process – the music was generally seen as analysis, comment or parody of its time, and was often also created as such. This gave it another sense of importance and urgency, it was the quintessential expression of those years in artistic terms, as well as an active part of the opposition to the way things were. Post punk was taken seriously as more than “just music”, and nevertheless it managed to produce a surprising amount of artists that actually had a huge commercial impact, names that were public knowledge and not just cult esoterica for the converted. With poststep, there’s no big success-stories (closest: Burial and Zomby, but they’re a long way from being a part of public consciousness in the way that, say, Talking Heads and Joy Division were). Very little of it seem to have any conscious ambition to be seen as more than “just music”, and even less is judged as such. The reason for this is obviously that the times – despite certainly just as desperate – are so very different.

Today, nobody’s encouraged to think of the music they make as a factor of actual social/political/philosophical impact or consequence, and nobody seems interested in hearing those things in it. Music is music and even though you might have big and ambitious aspirations for it, whether as artist or listener, they’re always purely aesthetic aspirations. Music is now a part of the endless flickering landscape of choices and distractions – youtube hits and briefly exiting micro trends –, and neither listeners nor producers are able to focus entirely on one clear vision and use it to build an ongoing dialogue with or response to these troubling times. However, you could argue that poststep is a brilliant expression of the zeitgeist exactly because of this, because the vision it is creating – more or less subconsciously I guess – is a sense of flickering, dislocated unreality, caught somewhere between a perpetually disintegrating mosaic of bizarre shapes and colours, and a ghostly yearning for something unknown or half forgotten that ought to be here. And if that isn’t how right now feels, I don’t know what is.