VA: Dark Matter: Multiverse 2004-2009

Formally speaking, Dark Matter: Multiverse 2004-2009 celebrates the Bristol-based recording and production studio that has been instrumental in bringing the city's dubstep artists' creations into the world and developing the genre's global profile. But the compilation—twenty-four tracks spread across two unmixed discs—is just as much a celebration of Tectonic as it is Multiverse, with many of the double-disc contributors being label associates of one kind or another, from the imprint's overseer Pinch (Rob Ellis) to Skream, Joker, Moving Ninja, Cyrus, and 2562, among others (other labels midwifed by Multiverse include Earwax, Kapsize, Build, and Caravan).

Filled as they are with bass rumble, police sirens, and voice transmissions (e.g., S.N.O's “Disturbance”), these are city tracks that breathe no bucolic country air. Representative of the style, Moving Ninja's “Witchdokta” oozes prototypical dread in its industrial-drenched atmospheres, while also letting a bit of Eastern-styled mysticism to seep into its rumble and throb. Vex'd's “Lion” does much the same in adding violent squalls, ammo strafings, and echo-drenched vocal samples to its urgent dubstep chug. Pinch & P Dutty's “War Dub” is also coloured by a dystopic gloom appropriate to the film in which it was featured (Children of Men). Naturally there's no shortage of bass wobble and slow-motion head-nod (Loefah's “System” and Loefah & Skream's “28 Grams,” for instance), and also a generous dosage of exotic ambiance (the undulating female vocal, for example, which helps make Cyrus's stripped-down “Indian Stomp” so potent, plus Pinch's masterful “Qawwali / Brighter Day” with its aromatic melodic touches). Dark Matter: Multiverse 2004-2009 is not wholly dedicated to dubstep, however, as shown by the inclusion of bleepy electro-crunk (The Body Snatchers' “Big Ass Mini Skirt”) and “Three Drops,” a trippy slice of electro-tech-house from Caravan label boss October.

Highlights? The heady rush of Skream's classic “Bahl Fwd,” a deft marriage of Indian tablas, shotgun snares, and a stepping melodic hook that sounds like some twisted take on Baroque music, hasn't been dulled by familiarity. With its pounding kick drums and blazing bass lines countered by a declamatory front line of simulated strings and horns, Joker's incredible “Stuck in the System” proves to be just as epic. And “Get Up,” Pinch's stunning collaboration with Massive Attack vocalist Yolanda Quartey, is updated by Rob Smith (RSD) but thankfully not in such a way that the soulful euphoria of the original gets lost in the process. The imagination certain artists bring to their work can be staggering. “Purple City” by Joker & Ginz, for example, manages to somehow transform elements of jazz fusion and dubstep into an exercise in funk throb that comes off sounding entirely fresh and natural, and Joker's “Psychedelic Runway” makes a strong impression too. A complementary volume to the Tectonic Plates compilations, Dark Matter: Multiverse 2004-2009 is both an in-depth portrait of an era and a remarkable archive of pioneering work by electronic innovators, dubstep-related and otherwise.

July 2010