Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Betraying bass music

Just out to rave reviews  is Cosmin TRG’s new album “Simulat” on Modeselector’s in vogue 50 Weapons imprint. There are many defining features of the album, most notably its shorter duration, both as a whole and by track, its lighter, ethereal feel compared to other more austere and menacing techno albums from this year and of course, that it is a techno album, and not, for example, dubstep as per the origins of Cosmin Nicolae.

For those who joined just now, Nicolae started out as a dubstep producer, opening with his own, and Hessle Audio’s, account with “Put you down” back in 2007 under his TRG moniker.

Subsequent releases on dubstep labels like Subway, [Naked Lunch], Hot Flush and Immerse saw him maintain more or less the same bass trajectory until 2009. In between, the 2008 edition of Tempa’s land mark mix series Dubstep Allstars even had TRG hold up the late centre of Appleblim’s mix.

But everything seemed to change suddenly in 2010 with the release of “See other people” on Amsterdam’s Rush Hour. While still wearing some of dubstep's clothes (sped up vocals and flustered rhythms) the beat had clearly smoothed out its step into four-four terrain and added a velvety sheen more typical of deep house than grime-descendant tunes.

The follow up “Liebe Sunday” was even more on the other side, leaving dubstep well behind in the dust.

From there it has been all forward and although “Simulat” bears some subtle, but undeniable hall marks of dubstep production, it is essentially all techno. But Cosmin Nicolae is not the first or the only artist to essentially betray bass music by switching genres. We have mentioned already  how Hot Flush label boss Paul Rose aka Scuba has been playing both sides, but largely operates as a techno/house DJ these days. But the first man to step across was undoubtedly Martijn Deykers aka Martyn who went from drum n bass producer on Marcus Intalex’s Revolve:r imprint

To releasing the first defining single of the first wave of dubstep-techno crossover on the same label back in 2007, the legendary “Broken/Shadow Casting”

However, it was only a short time later with the release of his first full-length “Great Lengths” that the last signs of dubstep were disappearing. Now on the eve of the release of his second album “Ghost people” due out soon on Flying Lotus’s Brainfeeder label, it seems that there is no turning back. The first single “Masks/Viper” at least would suggest so

But it is not just the artists who are betraying bass music. To a certain point, the media must take some responsibility for this also. Two recent dubstep mix CDs, Youngsta’s Rinse 14 mix  and Distance’s Dubstep Allstars mix (featuring mostly his own tracks) have been criticised on Resident Advisor for essentially sounding like dubstep, albeit old pre-cross over dubstep. This is a fair criticism to a point, as who wants to get caught bogged down in the past (better not mention Chicago house revivalism then)?

However, given the high rate of mutation within bass music, moving rapidly from grime, to dubstep, to UK funky, wonky and now foot work in a matter of years, holding fast to a style might also be a way to preserve some originality, to use the double edged double meaning of the word, implying uniqueness and origin? This is clearly an “ear of the beholder” issue as many of the newer incarnations of bass music are not necessarily always appealing (check the uncertainty about foot work for example), but also that mutation at high speed necessarily implies assimilation or cross fertilisation, thus shifting one genre closer to another and thus essentially contaminating it. This might be the case in point for Cosmin TRG, Scuba and Martyn. Fantastic music, but hardly dubstep anymore, at least in it’s pure, original form where perhaps many would like to say?

Indeed, still talking of criticism, Hyperdub's 5 year double CD from a few years ago was given top marks by Resident Advisor, but with some confusion caused, judging by the intelligent comments. One in particular by bareklik hits the nail on the head:

“Talk about mixing metaphors throughout. For all the sound and fury of a collegiate vernacular and a pitchfork style review, I'm not really sure I understand if you liked or hated the release. You gave it a 4.5 but you spend your 700 words pulling that hipster's chicanery of hiding an insult within a compliment within an insult…

Darkstar's Aidy's... is good, sure, but it's pretty far from leftfield or experimentalism. It's a house track. What's special or surprising about that other than the fact that it's on Hyperdub, an amazing dubstep label? Why would the only real house track (despite Flying Lotus' awesome disco warrior hit) be the best of the batch? It's not even on the same boat with the rest of the comp.”

Essentially, the reviewer takes a double disc set of futuristic bass music and fixates on the house track, perhaps confounded by the sheer variety, awkwardness and invention of the “real” bass music? Other commenters weigh in, pointing out that “If you want the old dubstep sound, break out the old DMZ and Tempa plates.” which now seem prophetic written two years in the past and given the current accusations. So it seems that some don’t like evolution and some do. But where does it leave us all except for betraying bass music? One artists switches genres, another stays, but both betray the music for contaminating it with new while another stagnates it with the old. Meanwhile reviewers and artists seem to want house music and betray the latest incarnation, giving rise to the same problem.

One partial aside from this, Scuba will release a new DJ Kicks mix CD on !K7 in October which promises a mixture of house, techno and of course dubstep (though which vintage should not be a difficult guess). An intriguing inclusion in the mix is a somewhat cover by Sex Worker of the Motown hit “Rhythm of the night”, originally by DeBarge, from last years “Wave Good Bye” album on Not Not Fun.

The "original" is also worth it for the hair:

This is not the first time this year that the California-based low-fi label has featured on a high profile electronic mix CD, the first example being the Agoria Fabric mix. This can only be good news as it would again suggest some cross fertilisation (sic) and goes further to confirm the eclecticism of taste in the age of downloading. However, it is still something of a surprise that sites like Resident Advisor have been slow to pick up on the 100% Silk sublabel of Not Not Fun which releases their more dance floor orientated experiments.

Xavier Hollander’s “Urban Gothic” album on the parent label Not Not Fun was a slightly underwhelming trawl through John Carpenter/Alan Howarth synth territory, but his more electro styled single for 100% Silk was a dance floor bomb in the style of Prins Thomas or the Permanent Vacation label.

A couple of recent singles also show a lot of potential to forge something a bit more unexpected and even less serious than some dance music. One previous release by The Deeep also wotked deep inside the dub reggae spectrum, so who knows where these latest forays will lead?


  1. I like it when dubsteppers betray bass music and go house, its the only tiem I enjoy their music. I can understand however the disappointment in dubstep/broken beat/bass music fans however. I saw ramadanman play and he played all 4/4 techno and I liked it, but no one else seemed to.

    Surely bass music is itself a felxible term, as you mention, and deviations into whatever the artists decide can still constitute bass? Can bass music be in 4/4? I'd say it can, and I really like those isntances of Funky which are 4/4 but which sound oddly like dubstep. Funkystepz are a group that do this well, and Cosmin TRG, and lots on Rush Hour.

    While I dont like dubstep I loved the 5 years hyperdub comp, so maybe I do like it? I like the footwork angle, so perhaps it is only traditional dubstep that I find so uninteresting. Given the lack of development or challenge within so much house and techno aklternatives are always interesting.

    Which is why 100% silk is so good. Had insomnia the other night and sat up listening to loads on their website and at Boomkat. The foggy tracks are great but the new octa octa which is crystal clear is wodnerful too.

  2. ... And is eclecticism in mixes necessarily something to strive for? Yes its a trait of our times but it kinda amounts to a wishy washy "hooray for everything" meaninglessness. Me and you, we're both eclectic as fuck aren't we, but the state of youff downloaders is a dreary hodgepodge melange of whatever diverse shit passes their ears.

  3. Hi Josh,

    I like it when people betray bass music too as with the Cosmin TRG album, amazingly innovative house, but the phenomenenon of "betrayal" is a curious one. Why are there no house artists betraying house to make dubstep, for example? Why are people trying to compare apples and pears, as in the reviews, looking for one strain inside another all the time (ecclectisim as you mention is perhaps the key)? No one really tries to compare house and techno, but comparing Funky to old school dubstep, or expecting one to be the other is a bad mistake. The Hyperdub compilation confused me at the time as I was still trying to assimilate these frenetic computer game noises, which at times grate me endlessly, like some of Joker or Zomby's stuff, for example. That said, Zomby's new album is very mesmerising, a kind of bottled storm that unleashes in a visceral, ambient style. And on an indie label, 4AD, just like Joker's upcoming album, another form of betrayal? Maybe the point is that there is a great deal of confusion in "bass music" that exemplifies and stimulates its creativity to positive ends and who cares what its called as long as it is not needlessly bundled or critiqued in the wrong way. But the best in this genre right now is still Surgeon, who plays both at the same time with their inherent psychologies intact (ie without betrayal) to astounding effect.

    and 100% Silk rocks a camels slimy ass!!!

  4. Here here on Surgeon, and he adds those droney jazzy tracks in too, fucking awesome.

    True betrayal is what Kompakt's been doing to us for much of the past decade. Walls, Gus gus, etc etc. Never bothered with Killamanjaro, nor the new Gui, should I? I kinda like I Dont Smoke, but wont after a few listens. Eva likes it though and sings along which is cute. otherwise Total 12 is the best in years. What did you think of pop ambient 2011? I thought that the worst in years, aside from a handful of gold (Jurgen paape, Voigt)