Wednesday, April 22, 2009
Dubstep: An Arcane Perspective
Prologue: The scenes are set
Vancouver was once a sleeping city. Its true electronic underground hyper compressed into micro scenes spread between bizarre pseudo venues (house parties, multi-genre "benefit shows", coffee shops and entrepeneuring "ethnic" restaurant basements). It lived in glorious moments of sparkling conviviality between the rotting monoliths of established sub genres treading water in sad, straight faced recreation of former moments of cultural significance. The clubs were filled with monotonous house, passionless DNB ferocity and hip hop running empty on creative stimulation. Vancouver's true underground was so obscured it was literally off the radar. It could only be tracked and sourced via. direct human interaction: a glance, a recognition, information conveyed. As such it had no true form yet. It was merely an ethos and a recognizable moment of collective response to a sound, a feeling. Perhaps at this point it could be identified only by what it was not: club culture, money music. There were those who held down the vibe as best as possible: The Hippy's still packed warehouses with psy-ethno-downtempo twirling and pious intentions. The true blood Junglist soldiers never left the front lines. The Hip Hop kids ignored everyone else and did what they loved. The Techno strategists turned their eyes to Europe, the homeland, and never looked back. But somewhere between all these realms a serpent was slithering. In the shadows of downtempo and experimental a new singularity was wriggling in the amniotic fluid of raw creative instinct, the desire for a new collective experience ( a new way of dancing together) and a deep yearning for the body shock of pure sonic force: Bass Power.
Temporal Mapping: An approximate chronology.
The year is 2005. It is the low depth of a grim winter, grey , rainy and oppressive. Several seasoned cultural engineers stand in a semicircle inside a dimly lit secret warehouse sharing cigarettes, their breath visible on the frozen air as they stare at an intimidating array of Bass cabinets: Soundcheck. I for one, was in a state of mild shock. I had never felt this much sub sonic pressure at any underground event. was this really necessary? was it simply a wank on the promoters behalf? I was nervous. I had never been part of the hosting of an international performer and was half convinced that no one would show, we would all lose money and never speak of this accursed night again. I had heard Kode 9's sets via Rinse FM, bought a bunch of dark garage and Dubstep tunes and concluded that something was indeed up. There was a new movement transforming the subcultural topology of Brixton, Croydon and London. People were LISTENING to dance music again and according to DMZ were even meditating on it. Conceptually and sonically I was intrigued and was willing to take a gamble on this Kode 9 fellow if only to confirm my suspicion that Vancouver wouldn't get it. Opening sets from locals ran the gamut from acceptable to brilliant. Punters and friends were slowly arriving but it still felt pretty sparse. I had depressing visions of the ten or so local nerdy guys trainspotting K9's set, hands in their pockets, bemused interests on their faces. My memory eludes me here as though I entered some liminal nether world of event management but I remember suddenly looking up and the place was full of radiant faces and astonishing waves of sonic force. The next two hours are a blur. I emerged from the other side of the tunnel utterly transformed, enthused and I was not alone. Something, a presence defined by its novelty, physicality and spaciousness had arrived in our city and had magnetized a room filled with very different people. A common refrain I heard in the earlier days of Dubstep was "I have been waiting for this sound for a long time". This to me was the unspoken axiom in the mind of nearly every person in that room that night. As though the sound chose us to be its carriers, disseminators and human representatives. Acolytes of the new Dub.
The Nature of the Serpent: A mythic history of the vibration
The first stirring, the uncoiling if you will can be traced back through the millennia but for relative clarity's sake began in jamaica with the soundsystem. The communal convergence around amplified, nyabingi infused bass. The physical force of subsonic vibration unlocking atavistic memories of ancestral drums and ritual. The Mulahdara awakened in the depths of the Bodymind, the kundalini serpent rising, increasing power and awareness. Traveling to the UK and dubbing itself out even further. Dub: a non linear sonic-cultural space capable of containing a seemingly infinite array of intelligences, messages, sensations. Bass: the carrier wave for intention experienced synaesthetically. Now Raving on two turntables, the ouroborous gone figure eight: an infinite mobius strip of sound. A never ending sonic realm. Even when the sun rises and the last DJ winds it down the decks continue to spin somewhere else on earth. The open spatial nature of dub operates as an alchemical crucible: seemingly disparate cultural signifiers converging within. Witness the early industrial dub fusions of Mark Stewart, Tackhead Soundsystem, Techno Animal (aka J.K. Flesh and The Bug), Scorn (a true pioneer) and even Vancouver's own Skinny Puppy. The seeds have been germinating for so long, growing deep and powerful roots. Perhaps that is one of the keys to Dubsteps potency and trans genre mobility: Roots. This is %100 Soundsystem music, itself a recreation of the most ancient musical rituals. Without an understanding and implementation of the key elements of Soundsystem Culture a true representation of Dubstep is not possible. It is not a genre per se but a re-creation and recognition of the common heritage and powers inherent in all post Soundsystem (aka Dance, rave, hip hop etc ) culture.
The Spell: Invocation of Sub Bass Intelligence
Required materials: A hidden, protected space, a minimum of two 18' sub bass speakers with accompanying tops, monitors etc, one pair of turntables and mixer, any number (50 to 300 is most preferable) of acolytes, Holy Ganja smoke, darkness, heat.
Meditation Images: King Tubby, crowned and enthroned before his meticulously kept amplifiers. Devotees in the grip full spirit possession around a pre historic bonfire. Electronic conduits and channels like miniature pathways for a million radiant microscopic etheric entities, ancestors and atavisms coalescing in the dance, rejoining the embodied, the living. The oppressive monoliths of the city crumbling in the wake of furious bass rumble and human bio-etheric pulses.
Process: Choose time and location according to all known methods of divination and cyclical knowledge: Lunar, Seasonal, etc. Aim for synchronization, holism in order to empower and "earth" the spell. Maintain tradition via secrecy and initiation: cloak and obscure the symbols and invitations in order to call in only those who are already initiated or those who may resonate subconsciously. Cleanse and gather all elements in the temple according to the teachings of the great masters (Jah Shaka, Scratch, Tubby, Metalheadz, Digital Mystickz etc) stir and allow to come to a full rolling boil. Once the brew has achieved full "coagula" allow it to be passed around freely to all participants. At this point the Serpent, if pleased by the offerings will arise and conscious control of the ritual will be surrendered...
Earthing: Sleep, eat together, share stories, make art / music, sex.
Contemporary Analysis: The Serpent becomes a hydra
The initial spells were very successfully in timing and execution and as a result the Serpent burst forth consuming and briefly uniting the underground. It slithers now in the daylight of the street, through informational pathways, language and symbol. It has evolved: become a vast, neon glowing multi headed hydra, moving in innumerable different trajectories (Bass Techno, Wonky, Funky, Aquacrunk, West Coast Style, Bangers etc) . Happily the hydra seems to still retain a single uniting body: Bass, Soundsystem Roots. How long it will maintain this shape before splitting into separate entities is difficult to determine but perhaps inevitable. My personal opinion is that the snake has shed its skin and left a shimmering husk in its place, still infused with power but the beast itself has returned to the shadow only to re-emerge when the stars are once again aright. In its wake the Acolytes still enact the rituals and hold aloft the discarded shell, now dressed in rainbow finery and often accompanied by a delirious unconscious abandon. We must take caution not to confuse the skin for the snake. Dubstep despite what some may believe and claim is, in my previously stated opinion not a genre, but a re charging, reclaiming and re identifying of underground dance music with its place and function in relation to tradition (cultural, technological, mystical etc) and physical sonic force. As the capitalist death machine attempts to trap the serpent it first begins to grow a multitude of slippery new heads then sheds its skin and escapes. The shell now in the grips of the machine begins to glow with a furious "spectacular" sheen reminiscent of the omnipresent square screen. We should remember that according to tradition and observation we do not own this movement: It is a sub-cultural atavistic entity with its own intentions and right to live. It owns us as much as we own it through our interactions with it. If we abuse the Serpent (as I believe we have) through ms-use, miss representation, or arrogance it will leave us. We must listen to this entity and find our common goals. Coax it from the shadows with pure intentions and authentic effort. A cursory glance at the short but astonishingly mutative history of Post Soundsystem culture reveals that the Serpent seems to be transforming and evolving at an exponential rate through its manifestations in the human world. Those whose intentions transcend their own ego inflation and unrefined cathartic abandon are encouraged to examine closely the movements in the shadows of their culture both globally, but especially locally. Perhaps they will catch a glimpse of the Great Dragon that is both pure immediate innovation and the most ancient of intelligences. Let us chart its movements, watch its trajectories and see where and when it seeks to re-emerge, if only briefly, in its inexorable mission to free humanity from the shackles of sleep and false consciousness.
Epilogue: Please forgive any obscurantism that may be present either intentionally in a frenzied attempt at dream logic or as a result of some semi-unconcious attempts at identity preservation. As well please recognize my lack of academic training and rigor. This is merely an attempt to illustrate my observations of a particular sub-cultural entities movements and the effects thereafter. Any criticisms or comments are encouraged and most welcome.