So, lately I’ve been listening to a lot of speed garage. Around the time most of this stuff was coming out I was so deep into other musics that I heard speed garage a couple times, decided it was too “hand-baggy” for my tastes and never really listened to it again. Of course, speed garage would go on to mutate into 2-step garage, introducing breaks into the mix, 2-step would turn into grime as the MCs became more prevalent and the music started to shed the house elements, and finally, evolve into the conventions of what we now call “dubstep”.
I love me some dubstep. However, listening to speed garage, man, speed
garage was PARTY MUSIC. Dubstep can be party music too of course, but so
much of it these days is so damn serious. Speed garage, on the other hand, rarely took itself too seriously, and if it did, it wasn’t speed garage anymore, it was trancey deep house or something. What I really love about speed garage is how it fucks with your expectations. Most of the tunes would give you those gay hands-in-the-air drumlines and divas wailing about this and that and another, and right when you think OK, fuck this shit, all of sudden here comes this BIG-ASS fucking raw distorted bassline to completely contrast with everything else that came before it and make you fucking move that ass. Of course, like everything else, at some point speed garage died and nobody really noticed because they had moved onto other things.
Flash-forward to last year. Dubstep is abso-fucking-lutely huge in the
UK, starting to make some big inroads in the states, and even the locals
are starting to make dubstep tracks. Of course, with all the hugeness
came the adherence to convention, the taking it’s shit too seriously
and, like IDM and minimal techno, it fell in love with itself and
started to think it didn’t really need to keep pushing the boundaries and/or didn’t need to please the crowd – it became music for music-makers.
I’m not saying that’s what all dubstep producers are doing, but let’s
face it, a lot of it sounds exactly the same. Half-time steppers with
wobble basslines and the same snare on the same beat of every measure
throughout the song with zero variation. I myself dabbled in production
like this and while I can see the draw (it’s not rocket science to wrap
your head around the formula) it’s just a dead-end, conceptually.
Enter bassline house. As far as descriptive subgenre names go, it’s not
bad, it’s pretty accurate in fact – but really, it’s a speed garage
revival, and then some. It’s a revival that acknowledges what’s happened to UK bass music in the last 10 years and incorporates a lot of those changes into it’s conventions. A lot of those production tricks you hear with drum n bass and dubstep, that multi-band compression that just makes the basslines tear and burn, is present. However, it also brings in a lot of the quick vocal stutters and a bit of the glitch from IDM, too. Of course, the Roland analog bass drum kicks, hands-in-the-air handclaps and high-hat patterns from house/garage are what underpins it all.
The way I describe it, it sounds like a mess, musically – and it is, a
great big fun-as-hell mess. Stripped-down and minimal are not adjectives
you’d use with “bassline”. On top of all I’ve described above, it also
includes fun/clever/nasty samples, Grimist MC rapid-fire vocal science and even some nods to Miami bass and acid. I’ll be damned
though if it doesn’t work, and no doubt about it, this is not headphone
music. This is PARTY music. This is music for slappin that ass, smokin
that spleef, waving that bottle of champagne in the air. This ain’t
delicate, introspective music for being serious, for the chin-stroking
artiste with the turtleneck and the parties that use the Helvetica font
all over their “modern”-looking flyers. It’s not gonna get it’s own
night or even a DJ slot, at Mutek, EVER. It’s a great big mash-up of
convergent styles, it’s kinda st00pid, it’s totally ghetto, and I love it.
Let me quote the “lower end spasm” blog:
“…niche bassline house, is the anti-dubstep. Huge banging blines that
buzz and wobble like the best of em, but also no reserve on the drums,
no holding back, just euphoric breakneck tempo all the way….Give me
huge, “dumb” bangers over ponderous meditation music ANYDAY.”
Who knows, maybe it’ll be gone within the year, but for now, it sure is
fun to listen to, and a welcome reprieve from all that “serious” music.
Here’s a couple mixes and links to check out:
and of course, smugpolice, which has a shitload of downloadable mixes.
Personally, alot of it rubs me the wrong way at times. I’ll be grooving to a track and then the producer will ruin it with a completely lame vocal sample.
What I really dig about it though, is the promise that it holds. Listening to these mixes, I think, what if, instead of all this wailing diva crap, what if they turned it all darkside and shit? What if somebody started coming out with some serious rootsy dubbed-out productions? It seems like adding those 2 beats back somehow gives you another great big landscape to explore, and like with everything else, all this ghetto/party bassline stuff is just the protoplasmic form from which other, more evolved musical lifeforms will emerge (“dubline house”, “bassline techno” maybe even, yes, “minimal bassline”)
Of course, if that happens, it’s likely to follow in the footsteps of everything else, and evolve so much that it becomes “oedipal” – it takes a moment to pause for self-reflection, falls in love with itself, and never looks back from whence it came. Or maybe it doesn’t happen, who knows. In the meantime, it’s fun party music, its’ fresh, and it’s totally recommended.
(originally posted to the mtn-raves mailing list and edited slightly for clarity)