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V/A - Box of Dub: Dubstep and Future Dub

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Artist: V/A

Album: Box of Dub: Dubstep and Future Dub

Label: Soul Jazz

Review date: Jun. 26, 2007

The new Soul Jazz comp Box Of Dub: Dubstep and Future Dub casts a broad net to position itself as a harbinger of new movements in Afro-British music, specifically the two subgenres suggested by the title. These would seem to be purely British phenomenae: There will be no "dubstep" at this year's Sunsplash, and odds are good there are no "dubstep" mix cd's for sale at the Ft. Lauderdale Swap Meet (although, 20 or so years ago, that was the place to go to get live dancehall bootlegs that features Brigadier Jerry, Outlaw Josey Wales, and Yellowman, while Shaggy and Elephant Man were still in elementary school.) The idea of "future dub" is more prognostication than anything else, cuz who knows? Maybe "future dub" will mean keeping all the tracks pumped and adding more stuff, no more taking away. Or maybe it will be all about the silences in between.

Anyhow, Box Of Dub makes a bit of a case for a new sound, whether or not it's actually two different sounds, and all of the tracks have a few things in common. None of them would be possible without the strong Caribbean presence in South London neighborhoods like New Cross and Brixton, primarily the latter. As dub goes, none but perhaps a few tracks that lean heavily on early dub samples (Tayo & Acid Rockers Uptown's "Dread Cowboy" being an especially good example) display any strong semblance of the almost Middle Eastern mystique conjured by original dub mainstays like Augustus Pablo and Scientist. Nearly all, however, capture a claustrophobia, a bleak limey-ness that could only come from being a third-generation minority in a country that's grey and 58 degrees Fahrenheit all year round. It's cold, and all the meat pies are gone.

Some of the tracks here wear their drum and bass or jungle roots on their tams, with chestcaving bass (the relentless "Dub Island" from Skream; don't let the Pablo-esque piano intro fool you) and hyper-Pong drum machines at 220 beats per minute. The creepy sterility of some of the electronic drum sounds come across as more German than anything spawned by Jamaica: it's "future dub" in the same way the Blade Runner was future world, future metropolis; they've sucked away all the warmth, the meat, the sugar, and left pretty much metal and oil. In other spots, however, the sand stays in the fingernails, such as in Haze & Ho's "The Light," a lurching, 'verby jam loosened up with Paul St. Hilaire's dizzy harmony, as slippery in spots as Gregory Isaacs standing under a second story window, crooning his way in the side door.

Burial, whose eponymous 2006 album would suggest he's above mere genrefication, lays on the sad spaciness over trademark broken beats for the track "Unite." A word like "unite" is very UK; they throw stuff like that around the way we yanks say "cool" or "O.P.P.," but honestly the only things under which any of the artists are likely "united" would be herb and misery. There is not a 1/64th note (this is all jittery, post-jungle, by the way) of optimism throughout.

At least one instance that digs into the roots and then shows a (sad) way forward is Tayo & Acid Rockers Uptown's "Dub Island." Beginning with a good handful of measures from a scratchy dub plate, it simmers anachronistically, until a cold Boss 606 snare starts clattering away out of time as the pilot figures out his route. Soon, every manner of electronic instrumentation and gadgetry has all but replaced the original rhythm section. We’re left with cyborgs, built from whatever scraps of humanity remain in the consciousness, while steel belts and wheels carry the rest forward.

By Andy Freivogel

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