Available on: Deep Medi LP
Dubstep – it’s a funny old thing. Now nearly as ubiquitous as its dance music predecessors, it’s been shunned, in its current popular incarnation at least, by many of its original pioneers but is still capable of delivering the sort of surprises and musical pleasures that made it one of the truly exciting London sounds of the ‘00s. Step forward Goth Trad, the Japanese producer that perhaps best embodies dubstep’s worldwide reach and spread.
New Epoch is Goth Trad’s fourth solo album – the man has a deep and interesting musical history which I won’t get into in this review, but which you can read about here – and the third on Mala’s Deep Medi label. It’s very much a dubstep album, in that it follows the sound’s most obvious stylistic elements, but it’s the way that it taps into the genre’s original ethos of infinite potentials based on those elements – a 140 bpm tempo, a leaning for dub aesthetics – that makes it a real modern standard-bearer for the genre.
Goth Trad has repeatedly admitted that what always interested him about, and first brought him to, dubstep was its potential for experimentation; for producers to be free to do what they felt sounded good based on common, shared ideas and principles. New Epoch takes this to its fullest, and in 2012 it’s a refreshing approach. Goth Trad has a long history with dub and his ability to channel this into the music is no more apparent than in opener ‘Man In The Maze’, a musical reflection of the trappings that have left many Japanese citizens feeling “lost” in the aftermath of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami that devastated the northern parts of the country and led to the worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl.
It makes for a great introduction, showcasing the tough, percussive rhythms that Goth Trad has become known for, with solid sub-bass groundings and enough variation and progression in both its core elements and its melodies to reveal a producer who immerses himself in and, crucially, understands the music rather than simply paints by numbers. ‘Walking Together’ develops its melody in beautiful ways, while ‘Air Breaker’ is a stunningly tough, almost violent highlight, reminiscent of early Kromestar and that period where dubstep producers started experimenting with straighter, 4/4 rhythm tracks in 2007.
Goth Trad’s bass melodies, in fact, are probably the one thing that sets him apart from the majority of his peers. His basslines carry the music just as much as his drums, rather than either becoming an afterthought or the be all and end all of his tracks. Whether that comes from his background in dub is up for debate, but the waves of sub on many of New Epoch’s tracks are always complimented with subtler bass melodies that breath life and energy into Goth Trad’s productions.
Further highlights come from ‘Babylon Fall; a vocal collaboration with Max Romeo that provides some much needed variety with lyrics strangely fitting to the current worldwide woes and protests embodied by the likes of the Occupy movement, and ‘Mirage’, a two-part epic reminiscent of Kode9’s best work – though repeated listens show that it’s far from mere imitation. If you made it this far, you’ve likely already realised that I think this album is great; in fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if it ends up as the best dubstep album released this year. Its sequencing in particular is one of its great strengths, creating a sense of continuity and a “whole” that few manage, particularly in dance music. Deep meditation indeed.