Dub continues to exert its ghostly spell over an ever-wider terrain. Producers dig the mind-warping effects pioneered by those original Kingston innovators. Its fractured, disembodied soundscapes are enough to keep swathes of hauntologically-savvy Wire readers happy. And dub’s peculiar ability to either hold things up (the half-time kick drum) or move things forward (that stepping hi-hat) in the dance gives DJs and ravers plenty to shout about.
In dub terms, Jay Glass Dubs, aka Athens-based sound artists, Dimitris Papadatos, is very definitely a classicist. He delves deep into the seemingly inexhaustible well of evergreen Jamaican versions – literally in the case of his recent Glacial Dancehall mixtape – gathering snippets of essential DNA then mashing them up with later influences (southern hip-hop, brooding electronica) to create a new hybrid that feels contemporary without ever being severed from its essential lifeblood. In Glacial Dancehall Papadatos rinses his boxful of his beloved 7-inches through a smeary sieve, upping the disorientation factor to create a dreamy, unsteady stew. Listening to Dubs at the controls induces a mood of swirling euphoria, akin to hitting the dancefloor at the moment of optimum intoxication, at that critical point just before everything gets messy. Yes yes.
Meanwhile, III sees Papadatos applies these principles to a set of his own compositions. It is, as you might expect from the title, the third in a series of tapes after an opening salvo on Hyle Tapes and THRHNDRDSVNTNN (and there’s another instalment just out too on Bokeh Versions so grip that if you need even more dub pressure in your life) . Unlike Tubby, Scientist, Jammy et al back in the day, Jay Glass Dubs doesn’t use existing roots or rocksteady hits as source material to sculpt and shape, but in all other respects he cleaves true to the JA template, even down to the track titles, all of which follow standard naming convention of ‘noun + dub’ – Loose Dub, Everlasting Dub, and so on – so beloved of the old school sorcerers. Here every snare hit and synth stab is fed through the echo chamber, giving them what seems like eternal lifespan, even as the engine room of drums and bass pushes on forward. So in the pared back Loose Dub, the sluggish motes of electronics and drum machine hang in the air like a muggy haze, gradually piling upon one another in a reverberating mass of rhythm. And in each bar Sieben Dub, the stepping snare and piano chords seem to burst free of their moorings, rising up into air like a cloud of multi-coloured butterflies in an ever-repeating cycle. Dub maximalism writ large.
Leeds-based producer Melting is the minimalist to Jay Glass Dubs’ echo-laden saturation. For this enigmatic producer the spirit of dub is channelled through its 21st century descendent dubstep, processing dub’s low-end analogue warmth into mighty slabs of digi-subwoofer heft and ice-cold synth stabs. I don’t know much about who Melting is or how they work – the release notes note only that they use ‘the sampler as a compositional tool, explor[ing] an outsider approach to hip-hop beat craft and bass music’ – and I don’t need much more to lose myself in the nine deep cuts on offer here.
Melting carves their dubs into brittle, rigid shapes, with tracks like Change and Trick featuring plenty of top- and bottom-end in the mix – fierce snares like a punch in the face, bass thick enough to make your vertebrae rattle – but only the occasional, queasy synth or ghostly voice fragment floating through the middle. It’s a digital simulacra of an empty warehouse, the frame intact but its innards long since gone. In fact these pieces echo the warn-out urban environments that helped shape dubstep’s first wave, those crummy town centres full of decaying tower blocks, windswept car parks and cookie cutter town centres that have seen better days. Dusk has these vibrations embedded into its foundations, and an attendant sense of melancholy seeps out of tracks like Sleep, with its descending keyboard line and scratchy drum loops, full of a once-hopeful vision of the future now consigned to history.
Nevertheless, it is those untidy spaces that made music like this possible. Created in the bedrooms of flats in those tower blocks and played out in raves in the warehouses and clubs in those same towns, this music brings people together in a shared community across race and class lines, as all around the twin spectres of austerity and gentrification bulldoze the buildings and limit the potential for opposition. Perhaps that’s why Dusk in particular seems poised between anger, euphoria and resignation – an urge to fight the power matched by equal and opposing forces, by the desire to forget your worries and dance but also by the creeping sense of powerlessness, that whatever we do it’s not enough. Dusk puts us at a crossroads, but the way forward isn’t exactly clear.