Dusk + Blackdown: Dasaflex – album review

Dusk + Blackdown ”“ Dasaflex (Keysound Recordings)
Out Now

Journalist turned musician Martin Clark ”“ aka Blackdown ”“ and his production / DJ partner Dusk have come crawling from the wreckage of the asset-stripped musical subculture known as dubstep to release a mighty fine record that explores all corners of the world of bass and drums.

For those who don’t know, Clark was one of the writers that helped chart the early evolution of the grime and dubstep scenes ”“ the twisted half-siblings that emerged from street-level South London culture in the mid \’00s through the blackdownsoundboy.blogspot.co.uk was for many the first taste of this swampy variant on dance music where myriad influences clashed in a fresh and exciting way ”“ roots reggae & deep-dark-dub, Detroit techno & funky garage, Eastern instruments and Chinese percussion ”“ all underpinned by a obsession with ultra-low sub-bass frequencies. As with any combination this intoxicating, once the scenes experimentation hit a sweet spot it quickly mutated into pop-music, into a formula that could be taken and polished for mass consumption, reduced to a template and peddled around the world. And that is where we are now. The huge insect-like bass sound that infects most pop-dance music? The song structures that revolve around a series of mindless-but-fun crowd-pleasing drops? Skrillex? All are the idiot children of a version of dubstep, simplified and sold. Nothing wrong with that, as long as the world remembers that it’s only a single vision of what was, once, a wide open space full of new musical possibilities.

And this is where Dusk+Blackdown come in. They could have chosen to follow the wobble-dollar and cranked out lowest-common-denominator big-arena tunes, but instead on this record, as on their first album (2008’s \’Margins Music’), they’ve taken a more varied and interesting path. Spread over twelve short-sharp songs \’Dasaflex’ explores the shades and tones of twenty years of dance music refracted through the prism of the many genres and sub-genres currently swirling through UK electronic music.

Several tunes jump out including the mutant grime of \’Next Generation’ which frames MC Shanti’s exhortations to the youth to put the effort in and not waste their lives, like a 21st century version of James Brown’s \’Don’t Be a Dropout’. The found-sounds and cut-up vocals that form the shifting sandbank rhythms of album opener \’Lonely Moon (Android Heartbreak)’ are beautiful, as is \’High Road’, with its mysterious anonymous collaborator (heavily rumoured to be Mercury Prize nominee Burial from the Hyperdub label).

Other highlights include \’R in Zero G’ which takes the basic DNA of grime and twists it into something new, and my personal favourite – \’Wicked Vibes’. This is a bizarre tune, created largely from samples of MC GQ sampled from a classic jungle mixtape recorded live at the AWOL clubnight in the mid-90’s. I used to have the tape it’s lifted from, so when his voice dropped over the fractured garage beat and huge sub-line the hairs on my neck stood up and I was transported back to those heady days. Wicked vibes indeed, and brilliant example of the endless ingenuity of sample culture and it’s ability to loop back round on itself and somehow create music that is more than the sum of its parts.

Despite it’s space and occasional delicate touch \’Dasaflex’ isn’t coffee-table music, it’s music for dancefloors and car journeys through deserted city streets, for late nights on the roof staring out over the glow of the city. This is serious music that wants to have fun, music that leaves you with a smile not a screwface, and is all the better for it.

All word by Bert Random. More by Bert can be found here.

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