Thursday, September 15, 2011

Dub-to-Dubstep: Taal Mala - Elegant Replica

Alright folks, our Thursday agenda is still being rounded out or sharpened, as it were, but the gist so far is "Dub-to-Dubstep". It is appealing to trace the evolution of today's dance and electronic musics back to Dub Reggae circa 1960's. This allusion provides a comfortable linearity missing (and perhaps rightly so) from most modern/post-modern histories. Anyone with enough time to take a second look at this assertion, will know that it doesn't really apply equally to all styles of underground/bass music.

There are some points which are grounded to specific geography. For example, The role of Dub in the formation of NY Hip-Hop holds some truth via Grand Master Flash's Caribbean roots, among other things. The presence of a substantial West-Indian community in the UK and the importation of the Jamaican sound system to the British isles seems adequate grounds to imagine the influence of Dub on early rave culture and Jungle. Though, locality is clearly important, these points give us only a vague idea of what electronic musical traits can be said to link back to Dub. In an era wherein most music is produced/built digitally, it seems an extra leap is required to see any resemblance between the formulaic comestibles of Tiesto and Osbourne Ruddock's other-worldly reel to reel.

Making this leap is not what concerns us here. Rather than being a question of how far the influence of Dub extends through time and place, it is a question of what is being "said" through such an influence. The emergence of a Dubstep genre in the UK (who's origins are much easier to trace than Dub!) allowed for an opportunity to link two sounds in a very direct method. Dub is subtractive by nature (removing musical elements from the mixing) perhaps more than it is about repetition (use of echo, reverb, versioning of songs). Dubstep circa '05 '06 somehow contains this idea, often stripping down the track to only drums and bass and replacing the frenetic rhythm of Garage and Grime with a half-time pattern. This leaves room for the bass to come into the foreground and vocal samples to echo out in the spaces of the "slower" rhythm. A gross majority of Dubstep today does not make use of silence in this way. More specifically, it does not convey the idea of subtraction: that there was once something present that is no longer there. The ghost in the machine has been overwhelmed by the machine itself ...

The argument is not that Dubstep should be more like Dub or even limit itself to one sound. The point here is to draw attention to the critical potential of sounds that, intentionally or not, illicit the same ethos of experimentation and being both inside and outside of history (timeliness?) As an end to this rant I'd like to offer something new, rather than look back with nostalgia at musics past. I wont add much to this, except to explain that Taal Mala is a Dubstep producer from Vancouver (how British is British Columbia?) who has drawn my interest since Myspace days. His music has evolved in various ways but clearly remains pinned to some of the qualities I've mentioned above. Elegant Replica is out on Aufect Recordings in 2011.
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