Friday, 4 May 2012

10 WOBBLE RECORDS

So, the wobble end of dubstep have won, at least in terms of popularity and overall influence, and despite all the right knowing people saying that it’ll be over and forgotten in a few years. Now, it can obviously not go on being “the new thing”, but game changing new styles never can. Jungle, as the all commanding new order, was also over in 1999, but that didn’t mean it was forgotten, or its influence gone, and I see no reason why dubstep should be - hell, its developmental curve have been so much slower compared to nineties rave styles that it already seems like the current peak have lasted longer - isn’t it already something like five years now? - than jungles peak did (was that even four years?). Not that that’s necessarily a good thing, rather it makes dubstep look slightly less vibrant and uncontrollable, but it certainly makes it even more unlikely that it’ll be forgotten - soon it’ll have been a dominant electronic style (or family of styles, rather) - in one way or another - for ten years, that’s not something that’ll just disappear.

Anyway, it feels good that it went the way it did, wobble almost lived up to all the hopes I had for it, I love the way it pisses of all sort of old guards (within dupstep or otherwise), and the fact that its bloody everywhere, with tons of crap being pumped out. That’s how it should be, a sign that it truly have made an impact. I can’t say the current dubstep mainstream (“brostep”, or “EDM”, apparently) does that much for me, but then, I haven’t expected it to do so. Rather than bandwagon jumping drum’n’bass producers, the wobble aesthetic now seem to be fusing with electro house, to form a new all purpose rave music, much like punk rawness/intensity eventually ended up as a part of a wider “real rock” sensibility in the eighties. It’s all about the Skrillex/ Deadmau5-axis, of course, and while Deadmau5 doesn’t seem all that exiting to me, Skrillex is actually pretty good. Sure, he might not have that many tricks up his sleeve so far, and the electro house part of the equation is a bit of a drawback, but he’s nevertheless really good at using wobbles potential for catchiness and dynamics, redefining it to meet his own ends. It would be tempting to go all the way and see him as some sort of, I dunno, dubsteps Sex Pistols, but that would be taking it too far. Perhaps something like Metallica is probably a better comparison, if a historical comparison have to be made.

While Skrillex have made several great tracks, and while he certainly is ten times as exhilarating as venerable “dubstep legends” like Mala or Scuba, the best of the pioneering wobble tracks that paved the way for his current success are much greater, and deserve some exposure. And interestingly, even though a few of critics are waking up to wobble (still a minority compared to those mocking it as a degenerate fad), I have so far not seen anyone trying to create a guide to some of the best tracks around. So, I guess I should do it then, given that I’ve believed in it right from the start. Of course, given the scenius nature it will only be some of the best ones, I’m sure there’s a lot that I’ve missed. Also, it might seem a bit regressive to do it in terms of ten records, after all only a minority of wobble ever made it to vinyl. But I guess it’s showing the dedication of this supposedly short lived throwaway-music: Vinyl was probably absolutely unnecessary for the development of wobble, but it was still being made, the people involved in the scene had a strong enough sense of connection and belief in this music to want physical, enduring objects of it, no matter how inconsistent and functional it was conceived. So here you are, some of the greatest rave music of the last five years, ten immortal wobble objects for posterity:


Stenchman: 2MuchKet! (True Tiger, 2008)
The True Tiger-label was a significant player in the transition from early proto-wobble to the real thing, a transition that is almost complete here, with Stenchman being one of the first big names in the “filth” end of dubstep, complete with stoopid/”wacky” juvenile humour and a recognisable “sick” image – performing in a gimp mask and having a bit of a cow-obsession. All the things, in other words, that the old, right-thinking dubstep guard hated. “2MuchKet!” is still not quite as hyperactive and pompously extravagant as wobble would eventually be, but it’s a blast nevertheless, and the b-side is also looking ahead with “Dubnet”, an early example of the later fad of wobble cover versions (basically – taking a well known theme and playing it with tear out wobble bass, a joke that got pretty thin really fast), and “Cut in Half”, which takes the development of pure wobble-centric madness a couple of steps further than the title track. It would be the absolute standout track of the ep if it wasn’t for the lame and far too long joke-sample in the middle.

It’s interesting to compare
2MuchKet! with Sukh Khights equally awesome Born Invincible, a slightly earlier True Tiger release, which is arguably just exactly on the other side of the border between the minimally brooding early wobble and the real rave deal: it’s staunch and punishing, but not really letting loose with the unhinged derangement that makes later wobble so thrilling. In between them, the two eps creates a perfect snapshot of this crucial dubstep transformation.


Nevamis: Nevamis EP (Down South Dub, 2008)
Pure rave-step of the kind that uses wobble-bass as a massive, underlying propulsion throughout, but never as actual rhythmic or melodic focus. The wobble is there, deliciously heavy and rubbery, but the infectious, sky-soaring, almost hands-in-the-air-trancey rave riffs are the most obvious hooks. Not an example of the wobble aesthetic being cultivated on its own terms, in other words, but a brilliant demonstration that it can just as well be used as a catalyst for creating exhilarating new kinds of straightforward rave music.


Akira Kiteshi: Pinball (Black Acre, 2009)
With his fake japanese name and colourful sound, scottish producer Akira Kiteshi was one of the most promising of the early wobble producers, yet after a couple of minor anthems  (this being the best of them) he seemed to change strategy and went into more experimental poststep territory as A.K.Kids. Not a completely surprising development, given that “Pinball”, in all its freaked out rave madness, was almost dysfunctionally twisted, and had a sharp 8bit-edge not a million miles from the rave/poststep/bitstep-intersection (Eprom, Taz, Suckafish P. Jones), while the b-side, “Noglitch part 1&2”, pretty much went all the way into woozy, wonky territory. Eventually, perhaps stimulated by the Skrillex' succes, he have now returned more or less to the wobble fold with the Industrial Avenue-album, which contains some good tracks (both full on wobble and some more poststep-leaning ones), but nevertheless is a bit... well... uneven overall. The irresistible insanity of “Pinball” is still the best he's ever done.


Ebola + Face 2 Face: Galash (Lo Dubs, 2010)
An odd but really excellent EP where former breakcore producer Ebola remixes “Galash” by Face 2 Face – sort of a french afro-grime vibe combined with heavy wobble-sludge, and delivers three more tracks with an awesome combination of grumbling, grunting zombie rhythms and borderline-melodic bass-riffs, embellished with samples, rave-effects and 8 bit bleeps for good measure. It's not exactly your “archetypical” wobble, even though it's not that easy to put your finger on what gives it its unusual edge, but on the other hand, wobble is definitely what is. As such it's a brilliant example of the degrees of invention actually possible within the wobble aesthetic, at least at the time.


Downlink/Vaski: Biohazard/Zombie Apocalypse (Rottun, 2010)
Usually I'm not a big fan of the Rottun-end of the wobble scene, it always seemed to be the part of it most clearly just being contemporary drum'n'bass-producers joining the bandwagon, complete with painfully clich├ęd techstep-meets-heavy-metal graphics. Nevertheless, this split 12” is surprisingly good, with inventive, constantly morphing riffs and ridiculous, almost playfully pompous fanfare-melodies. As brilliant a mastery of rave dynamics as any.


Doctor P: Big Boss/ Black Books (Circus, 2010)
There has to be some Doctor P in this list, but I guess by now “Sweet Shop” is so ubiquitous that it doesn’t make much sense to choose that - it’s pretty much the wobble anthem. You’d think Doctor P would use his success to produce a heap of “Sweet Shop”-clones, but his output is actually pretty slim, with just two proper 12”s and a bunch of split records/collaborations/compilation tracks. Perhaps because of this, the quality is really high, the “Sweet Shop” b-side “Gargoyles” is pretty much just as good as the hit itself, as is both tracks here. All remnants of “proper”, brooding half step-dubstep are completely gone, and instead we’re treated to a rollercoaster ride of catchy melody shrapnel, constantly interchanged with hysteric midrange-noise and bleep cascades, and driven by an almost rock-like beat that is so straightforward that it’s practically unnoticed. As rave, and as now, as it gets.


Borgore: Borgore Ruined Dubstep part 2 (Buygore, 2010)
I’ve always wanted to like Borgore, I love how he goes out to deliberately annoy the old guard of “real dubstep” defenders and even takes pride in having “ruined” the sound (all in the punk/“it’s just not music”-tradition), and it would be great if this guy, so universally hated by all the right thinking people, was actually great. Sadly, as a wobble producer, he is often a bit mediocre, his riffs not really different from any other run-of-the-mill-wobble-producer, and what have mostly made him noticed is his overall funny/“provocative” image, which, except for the dubstep ruining part, is actually pretty lame. The predictably ironic gangster/misogyny-image have never really been that funny, and by now it’s such an old and tired trick that it’s utterly embarrassing. Still, Borgore at least made one really great EP, so he can be included here, as he really ought to. 

Interestingly, what makes Borgore Ruined Dubstep part 2 great is not in the full on wobble department that most people associate with the guy. The A side, “Kinder Surprise” - a collaboration with Tomba - is a nice enough metallic wobble attack, but not exactly exceptional. Instead, it’s the two, slightly poststep-ish b side tracks, “Afro Blue” and “Money”, that really makes the difference. They’re still using typical wobble-tricks (mostly melodies being played with those tearing mid range sounds), but at the same time they’re doing completely new and unexpected things with them. “Afro Blue” is a really unique track, almost a sort of wobble torch song, but not in the usual pop sampling sense: Instead it uses an odd, dragging melancholic melody (not completely unlike those amazing early Darkstar-singles), oscillating between introverted sadness and explosive mid range aggression. “Money”, on the other hand, is almost a sort of circus-wobble, combining a cartoon-silly (and irresistibly catchy) 8 bit melody with metallic grunts and ramshackle beats (plus annoying ironic rap at the beginning, but that’s easily ignored). Intriguing to ponder what would have happened if Borgore had dedicated himself to this style instead, seems a bit like a lost potential.

Tomba: Brace for Impact EP (Buygore, 2011)
Interestingly, Borgores much less know co-conspirator Tomba did the pure, full-on wobble-horror much better, at least on this little gem of an EP, a tour de force of hyperkinetic riffs and all sorts of thrilling rave tricks. The title track is overflowing with almost trance-like euphoria, “The Goblin” is all metal-gothic gloomcore-pomp, while “Seven” is the greatest example I’ve heard so far of the weird pairing of smarmy pop vocals and punishing power-wobble - something that have become increasingly popular all over the scene the last couple of years (and which is, of course, a big part of Skrillex’ sound). In particular, the ep excels at the “grunt-step” wobble variety, like a horde of towering, Godzilla-sized pig-robots marching through a nocturnal megapolis, crushing everything in their way while puking out cascades of green ooze through writhing hydraulic cyber-snouts. I guess people who look down upon this stuff - which is ridiculous to be sure, but also so far out and exaggerated that it’s absolutely exhilarating - deserve their boring retro garage.  
    
Silent Frequencies/Document One: Game Over EP (Neostep, 2011)
A split sitting somewhere between the overly melodic style of the Circus-camp and a more straightforward wobble architecture, and the result is just incredibly great. Especially the two Document One tracks are arguably some of the best, most thorough rave I’ve ever heard, in any genre, as relentlessly inventive and explosive as anything by Hyper-on Experience or the early Prodigy.


Tim Ismag & Ibenji: Shock Out/ Choose Your Destiny (Wicky Lindows, 2011)
I could fill half of this list with Wicky Lindows-records, the label have put out an impressive series of releases which combine the most catchy and hard hitting wobble-tricks with some of the most ridiculously bombastic and complex arrangements out there. 'Nuum-purists would sniff and dismiss it as busy, inauthentic pseudo-rave, as “fake” as IDM-drill'n'bass, unlike the “true” and “real” sound of the “streets”. Even the label name, referencing Aphex Twins “Windowlicker”, seems to make this point. But I've never bought the idea that 'nuum music should be “real” and “true”, that's the kind of rhetoric used around the most mind numbingly dull legacy detroit techno, and whenever I hear it used I know there's a good chance that the stuff being defended (“real dubstep”, retro garage) will be hopelessly boring and tasteful, while the stuff being attacked could very well be fun and exciting, which is just the case here. 

The Windowlicker-reference makes sense in a completely different way: That track came out in 1999, and for a lot of the current wobble-step producers, it might simply be one of their first exposures to far out electronic madness. Sure, it was sort of a parody, but if you didn't know the context and history, and just was exposed to it out of the blue, it might very well have seemed world shattering (and the “real stuff” would perhaps seem a bit pedestrian if you only came around to it afterwards). As always, it's a sign of health that new generations doesn't have a submissively humble relationship to the great (real or imagined) ancestors, it's moving things forwards that they don't know the “right” classics and don't try to pay homage to them. And in any case, the element of insane, unhinged bombast and complexity have always been a part of rave music: With machines you don't have to be a prog virtuoso to make that kind of over-the-top stuff, anything can be done, so why not go all the way. In this way, the best Wicky Lindows-tracks remind me (again) of Hyper-on Experience, not by sounding like them, but by having the same sort of mad, exhilarating inner logic, a paradoxical combination of locked-on-target-linearity and constantly morphing, ridiculously baroque structures. This one is a great example.