VA: Tectonic Plates Vol. 2

Dubstep would appear to be at a critical juncture. Now that the hype's died down and hipsters have moved on in search of the latest fad, labels such as Tempa, Hyperdub, and Tectonic have to plan their next moves strategically so that their respective “brands” evolve without alienating listeners who helped them establish their reputations in the first place. Judging from its recent singles, Hyperdub seems content to almost wholly divest itself of the association and move on; Tectonic's latest compilation, on the other hand, suggests that Pinch's Bristol-based imprint is less interested in severing its dubstep ties and instead broadening the genre outward in order that it encompass a greater stylistic range.

It's a double-disc set, with the first featuring a dozen originals by a rogue's gallery of top-tier names such as Benga, Skream, Flying Lotus, 2562, Martyn, RSD, Peverelist, Joker, and Pinch himself, while the second is a Pinch mix featuring previously-released tracks now made available on CD for the first time (the mix disc wasn't provided for review so can't be commented on further). A great deal of the pleasure in listening to the first disc lies in the material's very sound. The humongous snare with which Skream powers the pulsating “Trapped in a Dark Bubble” feels like a gunshot to the temple, and the scraped guiro patterns and thunderously-echoing snares in his ska-styled “Precression” likewise prove ear-catching. 2562's the standout here with two solid cuts, with the first “Kontrol” rather more dub than dubstep (check out the whipcrack snare's echo and the subterranean bass pulse) and the second “Greyscale” which migrates in Deepchord's direction when its thudding dub-techno pushes through a dense aquatic stream. Benga and Flying Lotus also impress: the driving swing of the former's slinky and hyperactive “Technocal” aligns it more closely to soca than dubstep, while the latter's “Glendale Gallereria” wraps its phantom fluidity in as heady a mix as anything on his acclaimed Los Angeles long-player. Strong too are cuts by Martyn (the dub-funk crusher “Yet”), Joker (the lurching heavy-hitter “Untitled_Rsn”), and Pinch & Moving Ninja, whose “False Flag” crawls through a beatless dungeon in the first half before detonating with viral dubstep rumble in the second. Tectonic Plates Volume 2 sounds, therefore (disc one at least), like both a consolidation and expansion. If most of the cuts are less genre-advancing than genre-refining, the material's nevertheless solid enough when taken on its own terms.

June 2009