Available on: Rinse CD
Oneman, in his own, understated way, changed the face of British dance music.
In terms of trend, in the underground, dubstep is very much out. There are several reasons for this, the largest being dubstep’s prevalence in the mainstream, which has led to a predictable dilution of quality, a lot of bandwagon jumpers and a lot of misinformation. “Got any dubstep mate?” isn’t just a running joke now, it’s the main thing DJs with a remote connection to the genre get asked by punters when playing out. I get asked it – can you imagine how often someone like Shortstuff must do?
Many producers who came from the dubstep scene – or at least, were inspired to make electronic music by early dubstep artists like Digital Mystikz and Kode9, who also distances himself from dubstep nowadays – would rather call their sound anything but the D-word, and understandably so. The word has picked up a lot of stigma – the sort of stigma that drum’n’bass carried during dubstep’s rise – and thus we get rushed pieces of terminology like “post-dubstep” and “future garage” being thrown around as commentators try desperately to find an alternative.
Another word that carried a stigma during dubstep’s initial rise, though not to the extent that some historians would have you believe, is “garage”. UK Garage music was burned into the sub consciousness of anyone who lived in the UK at the turn of the noughties, and at the peak of its popularity it was effectively London’s own pop music. There’s the old story that dubstep and grime – genres cultivated in bedrooms and small scale club nights like FWD>> that were the polar opposite of garage raves at Ministry of Sound – were born as a reaction to unwelcoming, champagne ‘n’ charlie garage nights. In truth, it’s not that black and white, but that’s a debate that could go on all day. As the duel forces of grime and dubstep swept London in 2004-2006, the pair were viewed by many as an oppositon to the garage that came before them.
Now of course, there’s no stigma surrounding garage’s presence in the underground. Many of the most exciting producers from the capital, such as Joy Orbison, Bok Bok and Deadboy, would tell you their music comes from a place between house and garage, and when Brackles or Appleblim drop a 2step classic from ‘99, the dance floor goes off whether it’s FWD>> or Fabric. In one sense, this is simply the result of natural revisionism and testament to UKG‘s lasting power. In another, it owes much to DJ Oneman.
It sounds simple in retrospect, but when Oneman emerged on the radar of grime and dubstep fans in 2006-2007 as a result of the House Party squat parties he organised with journalist Melissa Bradshaw, he was one of very few people who’d mix garage and dubstep records (in his own words, from a 2008 interview with Martin Clark, he “basically play[ed] 98-02 UKG 2step B-sides and 2005 dubstep”). More importantly, he was the only one who mixed them to the degree he did. A superlative DJ from a technical perspective, his multi-minute blends between garage and dubstep (such as Mala’s ‘Forgive’ with Groove Chronicles’ ‘Stone Cold’) became infamous. In the words of his regular host, Asbo, he takes “two tunes and makes ‘em sound like one, man.”
Most telling when it comes to Oneman’s impact on dubstep was Loefah, talking to Radio 1’s Mary Anne Hobbs in 2008. Hobbs had organised a show titled Generation Bass, where each of the six dubstep DJs from 2006’s Dubstep Wars Radio 1 show (also organised by Hobbs) picked a DJ each to perform a ten minute set. Loefah chose Oneman, and in his introduction, revealed that he never particularly liked UK garage until he heard Oneman mix it.
It’s a point that’s examined further on a second conversation between Martin Clark and Oneman, this time for the sleeve notes of this CD rather than Clark’s Pitchfork column. The impact Oneman made on dubstep not only helped ease garage back into the consciousness of the underground, it got him a residency on Rinse FM, the premier grime and dubstep radio station. Here he curates the 11th edition of their mix CD series, after a year spent as one of their most reliable hosts.
This CD takes place across three acts. One of Oneman’s qualities discussed in that second interview is his ability to “break down” a set and build it back up, something he does twice here to divide the CD into three sections. The first section opens with Double Helix’s ’96 Flava’, which bemoans the lack of “classics out there” (an opening statement that Oneman is “happy making … as I do feel that way”), before rolling into broken house by Ramadanman and Martin Kemp.
Martyn’s remix of Detachments would keep the flow going if it were instrumental, but I can’t hack the Ordinary Boys style vocal. Anyway, Doc Daneeka follows the knees up, before a run of anthems (‘Black Sun’; ‘Mega Drive Generation’; ‘Klambu’; ‘You Cheated’; ‘Rumours and Revelations’) follows, ending the first third. The mixing’s superb, as is the case throughout Rinse 11 but the selection’s nothing special. If you’ve got your ear to the ground enough to know about Oneman, then you probably heard at least some of those five tracks to death last year.
The second act, however, is special. Oneman breaks things down with Martyn’s beautiful remix of Efdemin’s ‘Acid Bells’, before picking up the pace with Geeneus and Ms Dynamite’s mesmorising ‘Get Low’, setting the tone for a series of rolling Funky tracks from Smoove Kriminal, R1 Ryders and Sticky. The mixing hits fifth gear, first with a blend of Sticky and Marvin Brown’s ‘Jack It’ and R1 Ryders’ ‘Rubberband VIP’, and then when it takes on a narrative quality, the “they came in a – a spaceship of some sort” sample on Soultonic Sound System’s ‘Flying Saucer’ introducing the chords of Bok Bok’s otherworldly ‘Citizens Dub’.
Tracks from Shortstuff and the Boogaloo Crew follow, before Oneman breaks down the mix for the second time, letting Joy Orbison’s all-conquering ‘Hyph Mngo’ build up on its own, followed by Breakage and Newham Generals’ ‘Hard’. The next three tracks take the form of a trio of favourites from Oneman’s Rinse show: Desto’s ‘Disappearing, Reappearing Ink’, Joker’s ‘Digidesign’ and 2000F and J Kamata’s ‘You Don’t Know What Love Is’. No one needs to hear those last two again obviously, but you can’t knock the Desto / Joker blend.
Starkey’s robo-crunk epic ‘Rain City’ introduces the CD’s final stretch, followed by the subterranean garage of Modselektor’s remix of Headhunter’s ‘Prototype’ and Brackles’ remix of Crystal Fighters’ ‘I Love London’, a closing track that plays like a response to the Double Helix one that opened Rinse 11. There might not be the same amount of classics around as during the golden period that Oneman helped reintroduce to dubstep, but when it’s possible to make a 27-track CD with this much quality, entirely compiled of music from the past three years that centres on the UK’s capital, then things aren’t bad. Not when Oneman’s soundtracking them, anyway.