Friday, February 11, 2005

How the half-tempo revolution in Grime and Dubstep is a brilliant coup

Anybody who reads this blog knows that I'm a member of that odd breed of American who follows with perverse interest every development in the evolution of UK's hardcore continuum, which in recent years roughly translates to grime, dubstep, and drum n bass and the underground institutions that produce and disseminate them (pirate radio, dubplate culture, etc). A surprising, mostly unspoken, phenomenon has been quietly taking hold within the garage "speed tribe" (as Kode 9 would say) - which adheres to roughly a 130-150 bpm tempo range...

An increasing number of tunes coming out of the current UK underground have skunked out their beats and effectively cut their tempos in half, so that they can still be mixed smoothly with 140 bpm beats, and perhaps retain the bubbling basslines or skittering hi-hats of garage's more danceable forefathers, but which clearly place the kick drum and snare such that they effectively pull the song's momentum down to a sludgy 70 bpm, slower even than hip hop.

It's a subtle transformation, masked in many ways by the toungue-twisting mc's that still lace many of these beats, but a significant break nonetheless with the usual break-neck acceleration that has marked hardcore's various incarnations throughout rave's history. The quality in drum n bass, grime, 2-step, jungle which has most been a turnoff to the uninitiated has always been its relentless, aggressive speed (often construed as absence of soul). Whenever I have attempted to turn hip hop heads on to grime, or even 2-step before it, the first reaction has usually been "It's too fast."

With the introduction of the "half steppa," grime has ingeniously, instantaneously aligned itself more closely with the syncopations of Dirty South hip hop than rave, without selling its soul to the U.S. (as so many of have done before, and uniformly failed).

For its part, dubstep has pulled a provocative coup as well. DJ Youngsta's sets, for example, are now composed almost entire of tunes that could be classified as half steppas, lending a supremely dark and skunked out dreadness which brings the "dub" in dubstep sharply into focus. Most of the big producers making waves in both scenes - Jamma, Wiley, Plasticman, Digital Mystikz, Loefah - are experimenting with spacing out their beats, which really opens them up in exciting ways.

Considering the reports of chronic head-nodding and nary a swerve of the hips to be found on the dancefloor, the only lingering question may be if we can even call this music dance music any longer?

Listen: Digital Mystikz - "Jah Fire" | Wonder - "What"
Wednesday, February 09, 2005

The second installment of NYC's first ever grime night lands this Friday at Rothko, and it looks to be another night of mayhem (those who came through last time for DJ/Rupture, I-Sound, and Shadetek can attest it was a proper throwdown). And to sweeten the pot, I'll be holding it down in the downstairs lounge playing strictly DUBSTEP, so come down and get blunted...

Bangers and Mash 2

Resident DJs: Shadetek Sound System (Warp Records), Drop the Lime (Broklyn Beats)

Friday, February 11th, 10 til 4
Rothko, 116 Suffolk at Rivington, Lower East Side
Monday, February 07, 2005

The past few weeks have seen grime making serious inroads into the consciousness of future-minded American audiences. First, Rinse FM made their broadcasts available worldwide through the net. Then NYC had its first proper grime-centric club night (Bangers & Mash at Rothko). And this past Saturday, a development with potentially far-reaching implications: the reigning heavyweight champ of all hip-hop radio stations in New York, Hot 97, played grime during its hugely popular Cipha Saturdays show...

Introduced as "Something you probably don't know about that's blowing up the streets of London," the Forward Riddim rang a massive alarm in the center of the stagnating US hip hop playlist. Sandwiched between 50 Cent and Elephant Man, Lethal Bizzle's raucous Forward beat wrought absolute havoc and seemed to issue a direct warning that London ain't taking no shorts.

There was a symmetry in hearing grime mixed indiscriminately with dancehall and hip hop that signalled for me the very real possibility that the hip hop mainstream in the US could actually embrace grime as it has dancehall. Whereas many Yanks who have been tuned into what's going on in the world of grime have assumed it would not find an audience outside raverdom or hipsterdom here, the important cultural event of Hot 97 playing the Forward Riddim seems to suggest otherwise, or at least I hope so...

Mosey on over to Dissensus for more on this subject.
3am brooklyn radio waves

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