Electronic music purveyors have long recognised that watching someone on a dark stage twiddling knobs or mixing records isn’t the most thrilling concert-going experience visually. Over the years electronic acts have deployed light shows, lasers and projected visuals to accompany and compliment the music in a live setting. This month in Subdetritus we look at bass music’s dichotomous relationship with live visual stimulus and it’s relationship with multimedia art at large.
From the earliest days of rave culture back in the late-eighties, parties were something of a visual spectacle – ravers dressed in fluorescent colours, warehouse spaces decked-out in UV décor, strobes, lasers and all manner of mind-altering lighting displays. This wasn’t necessarily the blueprint that all electronic music parties followed in subsequent years, particularly bass and sound system culture. Many drum’n’bass and dubstep parties were, and continue to be, very conscious of a certain “hoods up, heads down” mentality towards the music and how it should be enjoyed in a live setting. One of the most famous of the original dubstep parties – Mala, Loefah and Coki’s mighty DMZ night in Brixton – would pride itself on being no more than a dark room with one sparse blue light and the mother of all sound systems. No flashy visuals or strobe lights, just: “Come meditate on bass weight”.
This has been a staple of many bass gigs around the globe: spare no expense on the sound system and the rest should be simple and raw. It’s a cry back to original Jamaican sound systems and a statement that the music itself should be the primary focus. It was an ethos that one-time smoked-out jazzy junglist turned innovative sound artist Amon Tobin employed on his 2007 tour of Europe supporting his album The Foley Room. “Fuck visuals,” he was famously quoted as saying. “We’re sinking every last penny into the sound system!” And from all accounts he wasn’t fronting – the music was loud, bass-heavy, crystal clear, in your face and inescapable. Fast forward to the last few weeks, and Amon Tobin has just kicked off his latest tour in support of brand new album Isam. The album itself has received mixed reviews as Tobin continues to push his challenging sound manipulations into new and less familiar territory, but in an interesting flip, the live show he has assembled for this record could go down in history as one of the most unique multimedia performances of our time.
The first show of the tour was in Montreal on June 1st and is currently being staged in select cities across Europe. Videos have since been uploaded to www.amontobin.com of the performance and its design, and scores more have surfaced from fans on YouTube. Described in a press release as featuring a “stunning 25′ x 14′ x 8′ multi-dimensional/ shape shifting 3-D art installation surrounding Tobin and enveloping him and the audience in a beyond 3-D experience”, the footage has to be seen to be believed. The marriage of his dense electronic compositions with such a jaw-dropping visual accompaniment is light years ahead of its time and makes his contemporaries who seek to offset the visual boredom of DJ sets by wearing giant mouse heads look frankly ridiculous. On top of all of this, Tobin teamed up with respected artist Tessa Farmer whose unique visual style based on reconstructions of organic material has been the centerpiece of an art installation that has been on display in galleries in London and Paris to coincide with the launch of the album.
Flying Lotus is another that has been pushing the visual element harder than most in terms of cover art, live performances, interactive web applications and film clips. There are plenty of others in bass music who are embracing other media in an attempt to compliment and enhance the sensory experience of their music, including crews here in Brisbane. The future looks bright and flashy in the murky world of bass.
This is the big one. The mighty Digital Mystikz, aka Mala and Coki, step to the Step Inn’s main room, augmented with extra bass bins for the occasion. For those who witnessed The Bug in 2009, this is the same system, so pack your earplugs. We’re also very happy to be welcoming Mark Pritchard, aka Harmonic 313, to the Morass for the first time. Expect Mark to cover the full spectrum of bass music, including tunes from his forthcoming Africa HiTech album, just announced for a May release on Warp Records.
Tickets on sale now for only $35+bf from OzTix, and get up to speed with this brand new in-depth interview with the man like Mala.
Come meditate on bass weight.
This was the call from Brixton’s DMZ nightclub when it launched in 2005, inviting clubbers to succumb to the emerging pressure of dubstep. The club night and its eponymous label run by production duo Mala and Coki, producing as Digital Mystikz, alongside Loefah, were the core of a movement that had only just begun to find recognition beyond the grimy clubs of South London.
Producing tracks together and as solo artists, they nurtured a discography of genre-defining dubs specially crafted for the DMZ nightclub sound system. Featured on Rephlex’s early snapshot of emerging dubstep, Grime 2, they proceeded to map the sound’s territory with equal attention to chest-rattling spacious rumble and bowel-churning wobble. Their vinyl releases on the DMZ label are collectors’ items to this day.
Now, Mala and Coki come to Australia for the first time together, bringing their combined classic discography and a bagful of new dubs for the dance. The main room at Brisbane’s Step Inn will be augmented with extra bass bins to accommodate this landmark event on Friday 25 March.
Digital Mytstikz have been at the forefront of the movement through its evolution: In 2006, their “Anti-War Dub” was featured in the film Children of Men, logically pairing the dystopic sounds of darkest dubstep with Alfonso Cuarón’s modern classic. Meanwhile, Coki’s 2008 track “Night”, co-produced with Benga, caused DJs from other genres of dance music to finally perk up to the limitless possibilities of dubstep.
Still with us in 2010, Digital Mystikz released their first two LPs – Return II Space, featuring tracks produced by Mala and Urban Ethics, with beats by Coki.
Signing off from her long-running BBC Radio 1 Experimental show last year with one last mix by Mala, she described him and Coki “as the men who set the bar in 2005. Their club night DMZ changed my life for all time.” Now, Australia has the chance to experience the chest-rattling roots of this musical movement.
Also on the bill is the debut Morass appearance for another electronic music pioneer. Mark Pritchard’s illustrious career stretches back to the mid-90s and spans virtually every genre of electronic music. Known by many names, including Global Communications and Jedi Knights for his work with Tom Middelton, his most recent inventions come through hard-edged Detroit-style hip hop as Harmonic 313 and a collaboration with Steve Spacek as Africa HiTech. With releases on Warp Records, Hyperdub and Mala’s Deep Medi, he’s stayed at the cutting edge of the beats scene like few of his peers.
Finally, Brisbane’s own dubstep royalty Frosty returns to the fray with an old school set and Dank Morass DJs Walrii and Swob.
It’s been all quiet on the dank front for a few months as Swob has undertaken a Hunter S. Thompson-style global fact finding mission. That’s all about to change with the biggest dubstep line-up ever to hit Brisbane. DMZ founders Coki and Loefah head the bill with their earth and chest rattling bass. If you were there, you may remember that Loefah brought the all out war to the Morass dancefloor just over a year ago, and since then has started a new label, Swamp 81, which will release a Kryptic Minds album later this month. The addition of his DMZ brethren Coki will only amplify the mayhem.
As if that weren’t enough, Canada’s Excision brings his warped bass sound to decks. If you need to be convinced that this man is on the cutting edge of dark and seething dubstep, check his Shambhala 09 mix (mp3, right click and save) and tracklist.
They’re joined by Swob (back from his globetrotting with tales of dank depravity) and Walrii.
Tickets are $20+bf from OzTix, or $30 on the door.