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Dubstep: a few key compilation and mix albums April 6, 2009

Posted by sjroby in Music.

Various artists: Skull Disco Soundboy Punishments

Okay, it’s all about the clubs and the singles and the radio shows, it’s not about albums. That’s fine if you’re 21 and living in south London and are already a DJ or producer. If, instead, you’re a few years older, not so keen on clubbing until dawn, and just want to listen to the music without trying to track down white labels at Chemical or 320s from Beatport… albums are a good way to go. Some may argue they aren’t representative of the experience, but personally, I think if the music has any real quality or depth, it isn’t dependent on being heard in a particular environment. (If it’s not clear by now that this is aimed at relative newcomers as opposed to people who are already into dubstep, well, it is.)

So. There are single artist albums and there are mix and compilation albums by multiple artists. Let’s start with the latter.

There are by now several dozen mix and compilation CDs. Some focus on releases from one label, others on a particular local scene (from San Francisco to Estonia), some on defining the genre, others on finding connections with other sounds.

The Roots of Dubstep is a solid compilation that collects a number of key tracks by prototype dubstep creators. It’s more accessible and catchy than some of the end products, and is worth getting as one of the starting points.

Tempa’s Dubstep Allstars is a genre-defining compilation series. Each one is something of a snapshot of the dubstep scene at a particular moment. The earlier volumes catch the metamorphosis from predecessor styles to dubstep; the latest, Appleblim’s Dubstep Allstars Volume 6, draws on newer artists who are bringing minimal techno influences to the sound. They’re a good starting point, though because they’re DJ mixes you’re not getting complete tracks, you’re getting a flow of music. The Rinse series of DJ Mixes started with dubstep, but various volumes have ventured into the related territories of grime, funky, and wonky; they tend to get a lot of attention.

Soul Jazz Records and ~scape have released comps putting dubstep into particular contexts. The former’s two Box of Dub comps include dubstep tracks alongside other varieties of what it calls “future dub.” The latter’s Round Black Ghosts volumes connect dubstep with the minimal techno continuum.

There’s a growing number of releases aimed at introducing dubstep to new listeners. I liked Breakbeat Science’s Science Faction: Dubstep mix CD from 2006 for its focus on labels that don’t show up much on the Dubstep Allstars compilations. Soul Jazz’s 2008 two-disc Steppas’ Delight: Dubstep Present to Future is a solid collection of canonical dubstep tracks with newer tracks by some of the producers who are keeping things interesting. Caspa and Rusko’s FabricLive 37 isn’t entirely to my taste (though it’s not bad as a soundtrack when you’re blowing stuff up in some Xbox game), but it represents a popular strand in the dubstep fabric (sorry), namely, the banging party tunes as opposed to the darker and more cerebral stuff I generally prefer.

Another trend is compilations that look like they might fit in this area, with titles like Definition Series: Dubstep, that actually feature tracks by relative unknowns. You can find some really good tracks, but if you use compilations to find the artists you like so you can explore them in greater depth, you may be frustrated; some of the artists on these comps have very few releases out there.

As far as label comps go, one unmissable pick is Skull Disco’s Soundboy Punishments. It’s more consistent than some compilations, because most of the tracks are by two artists, Appleblim and Shackleton. Shackleton in particular avoids most of the dubstep cliches by incorporating ethnic percussion influences, creating a sound that reminds me of the late prolific rhythm and noise producer Muslimgauze at times. The set also moves beyond the boundaries of the genre by including the hypnotic, epic 18 minute minimal techno remix of “Blood on My Hands” by Ricardo Villalobos.

The best regional compilation I’ve heard so far (not that I’ve heard all of them yet) is B.A.D. (Bay Area Dubstep) Volume One. Though there’s a lot of wobble (the distinctive bass sound in a lot of dubstep that has become a cliche), there’s also a lot of inventiveness and some dub influence.

All of the above should be available on CD and many are available through the usual download stores.



1. Teleskopik Recordings - August 24, 2009

I’m with you on the albums – great article.

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