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V/A - Steppas’ Delight 2

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Artist: V/A

Album: Steppas’ Delight 2

Label: Soul Jazz

Review date: Dec. 3, 2009

The more compilations appear to somehow document the dubstep scene, the more confused things get, with the always-unanswered question being: What exactly is dubstep? It’s many things to many people, clearly, but when compilations come along, there seems to be general agreement about where dubstep’s been, but differences of opinion about where it’s going. Comparing the two volumes of Steppas’ Delight against, for example, 10 Tons Heavy, shows a remarkable divergence of opinion.

In the time since the first Delight, Soul Jazz has also found inevitable evolution -- even in the past year and a half, things have changed, continuing the always astonishing fast pace of Britain’s electronic music evolution. Over the years, from garage to jungle to drum’n’bass and onward, the pattern seems to repeat: a vague, undefinable difference coalesces into a seemingly new scene (though everyone’s hard-pressed to clearly describe what actually defines said scene). It becomes the new thing until backlash occurs, and everyone accuses the latest innovators of selling out the scene, when in actuality, they’re quite likely saving the scene from retreading the same ideas over and over again.

Dubstep and grime (quick, differentiate them in one sentence) have had relatively strong staying power in this fast-moving world, but hints of a backlash have been simmering for some time. Grime seems to have stalled to some extent, while its primarily instrumental cousin has been growing a wide variety of tentacles, whether in a powerful noise direction, a la Milanese, or into dirty skeletal-noir territory via 2562 and Burial. The first Steppas’ Delight collection had the advantage of hitting before fragmentation got more intense; the current double-disc has some choice cuts, but suffers from the inevitable lack of focus.

Across a few hours, then, you’ll find everything from garage-style synths to atmospheric rhythms. The dancehall chanting of Octa Push’s "Quebu Sabe" comes out of Brackles’ "Get A Job," which suffers from blippy synths that try too hard to please. Benga offers the closest thing to a dubstep blueprint, while "Hard Body" from Kutz is more forward-looking, heavy on atmosphere and bass buzz.

Quite a lot of these tracks seem to be moving away from the scrappy, organic dirtiness of the early grime and dubstep work, in favor of shinier, slicker sounds. From the slick jazziness of Cluekid to the shine of Sully Shanks and the glittery vocals that suffuse tracks from both Von D and Mr Lager, there’s some mainstreaming going on that mixes uneasily with the heavier offerings. The atmospheric clicks and minimal rhythm framework from Untold, the buzzing synth and popping beats from Coti, and deeply reverberating hits by Jakes are speaking a different language, and they’re simply more interesting; they feel more personal.

If Soul Jazz makes it to a Vol. 3, it will be fascinating to see what variations have popped up in the ensuing 18 months, and how many of them make it onto the next compilation. By then, it’s equally possible that quote-unquote dubstep will be forsaken. Let Vol. 2’s improvements on the original remind us that this is likely a good thing.

By Mason Jones

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