For those unfamiliar with Sub Basics, it’s all in the name. From humble beginnings and the fans gained online within the Soundcloud community (myself included), to the attentions garnered within the dubstep scene itself from the likes of J:Kenzo and Foamplate, Sub Basics is undoubtedly one to watch in the future (catch me discussing this on Radar Radio here). Having released on a range of American labels, including New York-based label Tuba as well as the Canadian imprint Visceral Sounds (hailing from Canada), Sub Basics brings it home to the cold shores of the UK for ISF005. This release on Stoke-based Infernal Sounds represents a label that has also been turning heads and rattling ribcages of late, in collaboration with other notable dubstep artists such as Sepia, Perverse and Causa & Shu.
Initiating the launch sequence, we have IFS005’s opening track ‘Horus’, an absolute monster of a tune that haunts us from it’s very beginning. One feels a distinct corporeal dread from the first sample; a gasping sound of an airlock decompressing, pressure inhaling with a hiss of otherworldly vacillations, blending and fading into an echo chamber as the main body of the song is foreshadowed. As the momentum builds towards the drop, silence reigns as true as the deepest reaches of outer space, before unleashing a cataclysmically cold, weighty barrage of sub-driven artillery that is sure to have chestplates quaking with all the precision of an advanced interplanetary warhead. A gritty and earth-shaking track with some serious tectonic aptitude, ‘Horus’ is an impressive piece of work that also hints at a new direction from previous material, with Sub Basics evidently moving to make a more traditional imprint of musical bassweight; harkening back to a DMZ-era, early 00’s dubstep vibe. True to form, the track engages the sub-woofer to squeeze all the air it can muster, delivering a gusto of concise and well-rounded stabs that will be familiar to discerning ears who have heard previous Sub Basics work. It is a sub-style that never strays into a muddy flatline, but is instead quick as lightening whilst striking like thunder; crisp, controlled…and with devastating impact.
Such impact is layered with a murky (and merky) atonal warbling of LFO’s to create that dirty, wet and eerie texture to the dub ambience, as though an android is lecturing you in its own impossible cybernetic language, the kind of sound that assaults you with all the waviness of a k-hole and all the depth of a black hole. Add some tastefully placed industrial samples that ooze and ebb at the periphery of the riddim and one can feel how the tune is embellished with some incredibly realised poetics of space. From the guttural, dripping snare to the clumsy tread in rhythmic balance between bass and step ( a style also cultivated and enjoyed by fellow dubstep aficionado Foamplate ) although the percussion remains fat and clinically crisp, performing its skeletal role with that visceral weight we all crave. I feel I speak for any soundsystem head when I say it’s a tune you want to experience and feel booming from a massive rig; resounding throughout a disused warehouse, somewhere in the concrete wastelands of suburban London. Either that, or it needs to be that soundtrack detonated amidst a coming alien armageddon, bringing the heavyweight vibes that would have human friend and alien foe alike getting down inna migraine skank.
The second track, ‘Cartel’, true to its name, is a track that implicates the listener in some very shady business indeed. In its own way, the visual connotations of the chosen title, as well as the auditory experience of the song itself, form an emblematic gesture towards the truth of our own troubling times; the corruption, the extortion, the power, the violence. Not forgetting the narcotics, that too. In fact, the dirty, no-good sonic sci-fi soundscaping of ‘Cartel’ is so wavy and out of this world, that you immediately think of the hostile alien plot you know is behind all of this. You know, the ones puppeteering the global new world order? It sounds like that, except if the aliens were on an interstellar binge, and there were just as many narcotics flowing in the mothership looming above as you were abducted. Still, strange imagery aside, the song itself begins building tastefully with an oscillating array of distant, wet, wholesomely EQ’d wubs amidst some classically fleeting dubstep hi-hats . It is certainly a recognisable soundscape in that kind of intro that would have knowing fans pause in anticipation, straining to hear the incoming tune, before being subsumed by the steadily growing, undeniable excitement felt when you know exactly what tune is approaching.
Yet unlike the cartels, this tune delivers the bounty without the elusive presence of a dead drop (the pun was unashamedly intended, mull on that for a second.) Seriously though, this is a fully live drop and subsequent bodybag of a tune, exploding into that groove of unadulterated, gritty dubstep madness that will surely have gunfingaz waving and enough people skanking really, really low. Like, LOW. The tune keeps enough groove in the pocket to preserve the classic ‘step’ but some nifty percussion really keeps an edge to the bounce amidst the pulsating drive of yet again, some stellar LFO work that drives the song forward into the deeper and more dangerous gangland territories. An incredible bridge section introduces a new element of harmonics to the journey that really flesh out the song with the pitch-black aesthetic of outer space, a sound combining really well with the other melodic alien chimes finding their way in, out and around the rings of Saturn before echoing into the great vacuum of space in the tune. All in all, ‘Cartel’ is a real classic, a wavy sci-fi head noddah that is more than capable of doing real soundsystem damage inna di dance.
The final track ‘Northern Lights’ is a more nuanced conclusion to Sub Basics’ so-far terrifying arsenal of soundsystem ordinance; a tune that still manages to carry the signature old-skool dubstep sound permeating the core of this release, whilst also flirting with some different formal experimentation in regards to mood and colour. Also true to its title, when listening to ‘Northern Lights’ we are met with a more a seductive, sensual intro of soaring synths; noises that evoke neon shades of the aurora borealis, coalescing and convulsing in an aural dance of light. The sound brings inflections of deep-house and a cross-pollination with the golden days of early rave culture, as the song begins propelling us through a nostalgic, ethereal dream towards something brighter and better waiting for us on the other side. Therein, my only qualm with this tune is that these decadent synths are somewhat at odds with the explosion of a distinctly Skream-esque (and no less, devastatingly heavy) barrage of LFO’d stabs that again brings forth the all-too familiar assault of wobbly dubstep goodness. I would have maybe liked to see some more experimentation and exploration of a deeper, more diverse soundscape as seen previously with the incredible (in my opinion, game-changing tunes) ‘Vapour’ and ‘Elixir’ released on Visceral Sounds.
However, Northern Lights must be accredited as a song that switches up its pace, and thus the pace of the EP, eventually hotting up the dance with more of an artistic focus on the two-step sensibility; as the snare starts cutting and lashing into the tune, providing an off-kilt percussive bounce to the synths and soaking the wavy late night skank in that 90’s garage ambience. This vibe is rounded off and amplified by some interesting samples too, adding some unique textures to a soundscape that is both enchanting and ominous. These samples also flourish the tune with some great patience, arriving in unholy communion behind or after the treble-heavy, restrained snares, before fading into the background with subtlety and again demonstrating Sub Basic’s beautiful command of dynamic reverberation and space. Such considerations are surely reminiscent of other contemporary dubstep soundscapers Malleus, not to mention the likes of Moonstones or Samba, all of whom also favour eerie, foreboding and stylistically darker textures and samples in their tunes.
All in all, this dubstep space odyssey is a sterling release from Sub Basics and the Infernal Sounds crew, and is sure to be getting love on February 17th when it drops on digital and vinyl copy. Be sure to check out the artists mentioned and support the soundsystem community by copping this release and the many others due to be coming out this year! Peace.