VA: Tectonic Plates

Tectonic Plates includes enough marauding bass wobble, lurching stop-start grooves, gunshot snares, and doomsday ambiance to keep your resident dubstep freak happy for at least a week or two. Listeners new to the genre could do a whole lot worse than start with this top-notch collection from the Bristol-based Tectonic: two discs, the first filled with thirteen choice selections from the label's vinyl-only catalogue and the second a fluid, twenty-track mix disc comprised of label highlights (eight reprised from disc one) and forthcoming material, and both of them filled with contributions from leading talents like Digital Mystikz, Loefah, Distance, Skream, and MRK1. Dubstep's dark side is well-represented by titles (i.e., “War Dub,” “Full Metal Jacket”), naturally, but also by the music: the lethal crush of Armour's “Iron Man,” the pulsating sub-bass warble in Headhunter's “The Haunted” and Vex'd's “Third Choice,” and the blade-sharpening snap of Omen's “Frontline.” Elsewhere, the main theme in Skream's “Bahl Fwd” sounds like a stoned riff on the sombre Dies Irae melody in the “Songe d'une nuit de sabbat” (“Dream of a Witches' Sabbath”) from the Fifth movement of Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique while Digital Mystikz's “Molten” sounds like some mutated dubstep re-creation of Kraftwerk's “Hall of Mirrors.”

If there was ever music tailor-made for the opium den, it's dubstep—and not merely because of the occasional sitar, tabla, Indian flute, and Eastern vocal chant that drifts aromatically through mesmerizing stunners like Distance's beautiful “Temptation.” It's also the hallucinatory vibe and slow-motion rhythms that imbue the music with that hypnotic, smoke-drenched atmosphere. And, no question, the music is hypnotic and remains so throughout the collection's two-hour-plus duration. A key reason for that is the artists' tendency to leave the music's oft-skeletal frame exposed—all the easier to savour splendid bass-and-drum configurations like Hijak's “Nightmarez” that reveal the genre's dub roots.

January 2007