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Sentimental Things: The story of UK Dance Music from 2000-2009 in 100 records (Part 2: 2002-2003)

Skip to: 2000 / 2001 / 2002 / 2003 / 2004 / 2005 / 2006 / 2007 / 2008 / 2009

2000-2009 was a hell of a decade for UK dance music, and the way the world works now renders it practically impossible that we’ll have one like it again.

That isn’t nostalgia, it’s a simple fact. The 2000s mark the decade that documented the transition from the club (and, of course pirate radio) to the internet as dance music’s key hub – the arena where new scenes were incubated and future classics first broke. Sure, the club still matters, of course it does, and labels like Night Slugs are working harder than ever to remind listeners of that with their Club Constructions series. For better or worse though, the dim room that most people are discovering dance records from in 2013 is lit by the cold glow of a Macbook rather than Plastic People’s little red light.

This feature isn’t here for us to preach, or decide whether that’s good or bad. It’s here to document a decade that not only won’t be repeated, but arguably (and we’re aware it’s a big argument) witnesses the hardcore continuum – that lineage of UK dance music that charts hardcore’s transition to jungle, to garage, to grime and dubstep and so on, as advocated by writers like Simon Reynolds – dissolving into something else entirely. It’s an attempt to chart the developments of the music at the heart of the continuum, but also the splinter groups that formed on its borders – Funky Bashment, for instance, and even largely forgotten oddities like Grindie – across 100 records, 10 per year.

An impossible task? Sure, possibly. When it came to the selection we called in help from some of our favourite artists of the decade – Mala and Pinch, to name two – as well as some of the writers that lived it with us and good friends with great record collections. More than anything, we hope this becomes an invaluable guide to people who’ve got into the music that emerged after, or at the tail-end of this decade – the Joy Orbisons and James Blakes of the world – and want to work back. We start the list today with our picks for 2000 and 2001, and we’ll be posting another two years every day until Friday, closing on 2008 and 2009.

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2000

SO SOLID CREW
‘Dilemma’
(Relentless)

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You can’t tell the story of the British pop vernacular c. 2000 without So Solid – the face of UK garage’s mainstream clout (plus, not so many months later, its fall from grace and trial-by-newspaper-splash). ‘Oh No (Sentimental Things)’ proved their breakthrough: hooky to a fault, it showed how homegrown chart music could be gully and sugary at the same time. It’s the freakishly minimalist proto-grime flip ‘Dilemma’, however, that remains their capital-M ‘Moment’ – a bare-bones riddim suggesting that, from here on in, things would only get starker.


HORSEPOWER PRODUCTIONS
‘Gorgon Sound’
(Tempa)

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Benny Ill and Jay King were well ahead of the curve, plotting a future path for 2-step that emphasised atmosphere over crispness, ambiguity over cheeriness. ‘Gorgon Sound’ in particular offered a viscous re-reading of UK garage – one where 2-step’s clean spaces were filled with a toxic, dubby miasma. Referencing dark ambient and exotica, ‘Gorgon Sound’ was an early indication that, with some imagination, UK garage’s sonic palette could be turned to potentially limitless ends.


PAY AS U GO CARTEL
‘Know We’
(Self-released)

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If you’re going to try and identify the a moment where the garage MC evolved from champagne-swilling accessory to main event, ‘Know We’ is the obvious pick – a hungry, gritty, and (g)ruff piece of vanguard grime. Musically, it’s prescient, with a skeletal rhythm buried under the gothic gloom and blue-screen-of-death bass drone, but it’s the vocal performances that mark a sudden and sharp refocusing of priorities. It’s telling that PAUG’s personnel list – Wiley, Slimzee and Geeneus among them – would prove instrumental in shaping the decade to come.


AZZIDO DA BASS
‘Dooms Night’ (Timo Maas Remix)
(Club Tools)

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A tune by a Hamburg producer, remixed by a fellow German, and originally released in 1999? Not a natural candidate for inclusion in a list of this nature, but, frankly, bollocks to the rules: it would be mendacious not to include a track as important to the mutation of UK dance music as ‘Dooms Night’. Caned at garage nights and given a major release in 2000, Azzido Da Bass’ prickly throbfest was wholeheartedly adopted by the scene as an early template for the dark garage sound. One of the mutant genes that helped UK garage evolve into something musclier, freakier, and altogether more dangerous.


DEA PROJECT
‘Come And Get It Girl’
(Booby Trap Recordings)

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As any good student of the ‘nuum knows, the homegrown 2-step sound couldn’t have existed without jungle, and ‘Come And Get It Girl”s roughneck drum programming makes the lineage particularly explicit – check those opening bars, which sound like a Remarc track with half of the jigsaw pieces removed. Perfectly situated between garage’s lighter strains (the jazzy Hammond stabs) and the developing ‘nu dark swing’ subset, it’s a liminal record – besotted with contemporary garage, but, like late-1990s operators like Groove Chronicles and Mr Reds, well aware of its magmatic potential.


WOOKIE
‘Battle’
(S2S Recordings)

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You had to be there to remember how feverishly hyped Wookie was for a time, but, with ‘Battle’ – arguably the most fondly remembered UK garage chart tune of them all – up his sleeve, it’s not hard to see why. The buoyant second half remains great fun, but it’s in those opening minutes that the former Soul II Soul apprentice stresses UK garage’s potential as a medium for high-drama. In this sense, ‘Battle’ is a crucial precursor for dubstep’s man-versus-the-elements aesthetic or sinogrime’s fast-beating heart. Can still slay any room, anywhere.


DJ ZINC
‘138 Trek’
(Phaze:One)

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Much like Scott Walker albums, Zinc’s scene-defining hits come once a decade, and ‘138 Trek’ is his major garage-idiom achievement. Like ‘Come And Get It Girl’, ‘138 Trek’ is another 2-step track that explicitly streamlined the jungle energy of old into something sleeker, and, crucially bassier – for all its pointillist, pizzicato feel, ‘138 Trek’ is a prescient pointer towards the coming importance of the low-end.


KUDU
‘Transit’
(Bitasweet)

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Rewritten into the history books by Kode9, amongst others, the ‘Space’/’Transit’ disc is classic bruk through-and-through. Kudu – nu-jazz leading lights Mark De Clive Lowe, Seiji and Domu – practise a particularly limber brand of UK breakbeat, all Fulton-esque squelch and robo-funk wiring. Listening to ‘Transit’, it’s impossible not to spot correspondences with the sounds emerging from the UK underground seven-odd years later – few tracks from the time presage UK funky’s tightly-sprung exuberance quite so convincingly.


GORILLAZ
‘Clint Eastwood’ (Ed Case Refix)
(Parlophone)

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Like so many contemporaries, Ed Case turned a junglist schooling to breezier ends in the late 1990s, farming out choppy and unfussy UK garage singles. For a period of about six months, his ubiquitous ‘Clint Eastwood’ remix proved impossible to avoid, and quietly frazzled the minds of young listeners fumbling with radio dials. Sweetie Irie’s bug-eyed roughneck performance was a world away from the slickness of most UK garage toasting, unwittingly readying a casual audience for grime’s bark and bite. Similarly, Case’s steroid-packed reading of 2-step UK garage – all the more conspicuous given the trudging pace of Albarn’s original – offered an early template for bassline’s Flubber-grade elasticity and shameless pleasure-seeking.


ANDREW MCLAUCHLAN
‘Love Story’
(Bush)

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Operating as part of the ‘Ealing Techno’ micro-scene making moves at the tail-end of the 1990s, McLaughin’s 4×4 track is a side note rather than a key-player – for the first half of the decade at least, UK Techno proved a relative non-story. ‘Love Story’, though, earns its place as a reminder of the diversity of purposes to which the same signifiers were being put at the turn of the millennium – the same tropical influences and fleetness of foot that informed broken beat and Horsepower are here retooled as the DNA for Axis-friendly light speed techno.

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2001

THE STREETS
‘Has It Come To This?’
(679 Recordings)

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Over a decade on, Mike Skinner and Original Pirate Material feel like old friends, but it’s easy to underestimate the fact that nothing else really sounded like ‘Has It Come to This?’ in 2001. The year featured as much glitzy, chart-friendly garage as it did darkside club gear, but ‘Has It Come to This’ managed to sound somewhere between both: even compared to a Menta or Jameson the production is simple and rough, but the hook (again, outrageously simple) and Skinner’s lyrics made him the genre’s lasting breakout star. To paraphrase a later track of Skinner’s, the stars aligned here – a real once in a lifetime moment.


EL-B
‘Serious’
(Locked On)

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El-B didn’t release his debut solo single until 2000 (though, of course, he engineered Groove Chronicles’ many classics and his ’99 remix of Zed Bias’s ‘Neighbourhood’ would have surely made this list were it released a month later), but he swiftly became one of the decade’s most name-checked dance producers. His drums – always instantly recognisable due to those pitched woodblocks – skipped and swung like nobody else’s, and combined with gritty basslines and, in this case, reverb-heavy vocals, his sound would inspire future dubsteppers such as Skream, Benga and Burial.


PAY AS U GO
‘Champagne Dance’
(Sony)

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The early ’00s was peppered with brief breakthrough moments for UK garage acts – see also So Solid, Heartless and Genius Crew – and although ‘Champagne Dance’ wasn’t quite 2000’s ‘Know We’, it would be churlish to write off the crew’s debut for Sony. For those growing up listening to garage in the UK, tracks like ‘Champagne Dance’ were huge moments, with even the Top of the Pops performances (who remembers Heartless throwing down the East vs. South gauntlet to So Solid when performing ‘Heartless Theme’ for the first time?) providing playground talking points for weeks. Sometimes it’s the small victories that last the longest.


AGENT X
‘Decoy’
(Heatseeker)

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A pair of wideboys working under a bunch of different aliases, Agent X changed genres depending on what was selling at the time (who remembers Agent X go UK Funky?), bootlegged every US act going and and almost definitely wore sunglasses indoors – they were total chancers, in short, and we loved them for it. The duo’s run of grime releases in the first half of the decade will always represent their pomp, however, and the rushing ‘Decoy’ should go down as their masterpiece. Make sure to check for their bassline bootlegs as Mask and their work for Slimzee’s label as Starfox though – Agent X is only half the story with these two.


DOMU
‘Save It’
(2000Black)

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Domu’s reputation was already reaching sky-high levels in London’s broken beat scene when ‘Save It’ was released, but it was this single that made the world outside Co-Op (broken beat’s flagship clubnight) take note – or some of them, anyway. ‘Save It’ wasn’t quite a crossover hit in the grand scheme of things, but it might just have been the closest thing that this largely under-represented scene had, and we’d wager an influence on Floating Points with its Arp bassline and cutting claps.


AFRONAUGHT
‘Transcend Me’
(Apollo)

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Another anthem in the broken beat scene courtesy of Bugz in the Attic’s Orin Walters, it makes total sense that ‘Transcend Me’ was released through R&S sister label Apollo – it’s effectively just gorgeous, floaty house music, like Karizma sent into space. As Mr. Beatnick pointed out in FACT’s 20 Best Broken Beat feature, the drums sound like they’re “grooving in suspended animation, filled with infinite rhythmic variation”. Almost eight minutes long, but honestly feels like it could go on for triple that time and not get old – Villalobos, take note.


STICKY FEAT. MS DYNAMITE
‘Booo!’
(FFRR)

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Both Sticky and Ms. Dynamite are tremendous individuals, but when the two combine the results are always magic (tragically, 2009’s ‘Bad Gyal’ was never given a full release, allegedly due to a break-in at Sticky’s studio). In a year full of fantastic garage vocals, ‘Boooo’ arguably has the most balls of all – it’s a full minute and a half before the track drops, with Dynamite’s creeping intro adlibs more memorable than many rappers’ entire careers.


JAMESON
‘Urban Hero’
(Lifestyle Records)

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Jameson would go on to make a dent in the pop charts with 2003’s Angel Blu collaboration, ‘True’, but for the heads ‘Urban Hero’ will always be his finest hour – still one of the fattest bastard rollers from that period where garage was spawning grime.


CLEPTOMANIACS
‘All I Do’ (Bump And Flex Dub Mix)
(Defected)

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A.K.A. the bay-bey! tune – so simple, and never gets old. Bump & Flex, of course, is one of at least 20 aliases used by Grant Nelson, one of garage’s often-unsung heroes. DJ EZ has played this every week for over a decade now, and it still sends clubs into raptures.


MENTA
‘Sounds Of Da Future’
(Sounds Of Da Future)

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Speaking of UK garage aliases, what about that Arthur Smith? Best known for his work as Artwork, one third of Magnetic Man with Skream and Benga, Smith has more under-the-radar garage hits in his catalogue than most, and even released records on FatCat under the alias Grain. On ‘Sounds of Da Future’ (first released on white label in 2001, then given a full release in ’02) Smith teamed up with studio partner Danny Harrison for one of his best ever records – make sure to also check the oft-overlooked ‘Snake Charmer’, from 2002.

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2002

MUSICAL MOB
‘Pulse X’
(Inspired Sounds)

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Even if ‘Pulse X’ isn’t the first grime track – and there’s a substantial lobby that’ll bet their crate of Big Apple white labels that it is – it’s undoubtedly the most definitive: what with its ultra-minimal aesthetic and raw violent streak, ‘Pulse X’ is the basic phoneme in a language that would become dazzlingly complex over the next ten years. 16-bars, snare, kick, dead space… it’s the grime equivalent of punk’s ‘three chord’ axiom. If that Liminal Sounds compilation and Kahn & Neek’s ‘Percy’ are anything to go by, producers are still taking note.


WILEY
‘Eskimo’
(Wiley Kat Records)

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No disrespect to ‘Ice Pole’ or ‘Shanghai’, but ‘Eskimo’ is the archetypal Wiley riddim – the rib from which eski was birthed, and the most striking demonstration of grime’s absolute plasticity. This is genuine alien music, assimilating early jungle, gothic garage and the impossible geometries of Autechre all at once. What’s more, ‘Eskimo’ also spotlights grime’s psychedelic streak – something emphasised on Wiley’s own Toy Story-sampling, hallucinogenic Devils mix .


ARTWORK
‘Red’
(Big Apple Records)

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Rinsed by Hatcha – who, through his sets at London’s FWD>>, quickly became pegged as dubstep’s principal archivist and evangelist – ‘Red’ offered a blueprint for much of the Croydon set’s subsequent output. Whereas others would lock in on the low-end (DMZ) or trade in menace (Vex’d), ‘Red’ fetishizes the sound’s elasticity – with its rubbery pads, spring-loaded bass and crisp, jackknife drum programming, it proposes a bendable-poseable re-reading of dark garage.


HEARTLESS CREW
‘Heartless Theme’
(EastWest)

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The debut single from relative old-timers Heartless Crew, also known as the ‘The Superglue Riddim’, penetrated the Top 30, but its impact on the garage-grime spectrum proved much more forceful. Too spartan to be called garage, too breezy to qualify as grime, and too irrepressible to stay stuck in the underground, it’s easy to see ‘Heartless Theme’ as the lighting of the touch paper that would eventually lead to the UK funky explosion half a decade down the line. Between the squelching bassline, coiling Far East touches and full-throated bellow-a-long moments, it still plays like LDN’s own answer to Missy Elliot’s 2001 ‘Get Ur Freak On’


COUSIN COCKROACH
‘This Ain’t Tom N Jerry’
(Bitasweet)

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Produced by 4Hero’s ‘Dego’, ‘This Ain’t Tom N Jerry’ is another of those remarkable tracks that seems to synthesise all sorts of contemporary ideas into a tightly-packed whole. The rolling drums clearly point to the future-jazz scene; the abyssal bassline is pure Sino-grime; and the stuttering bricolage programming shares more with the meanie jungle of Tango & Ratty or Subnation. Dego plants his flag firmly on broken-beat territory around the 4.00 minute mark, but before then, ‘This Ain’t Tom N’ Jerry’ is as elusive as a mouse disappearing behind a skirting board.


SMITH & MIGHTY
‘B Line Fi Blow’
(Studio !K7)

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Most of Bristol’s musical moves in the 2000s would have been inconceivable without Rob Smith’s output, both as trailblazer (with soundsystem legends Smith & Mighty) and participant (under dubstep alias RSD). His catalogue has fewer finer moments than ‘Bi Line Fi Blow’ – classic soundsystem garage, and one of the best first-wave fusions of 2-step bounce and dub culture. Also notable for a follow-my-lead performance from MC Niji 40 that’s extremely hard not to love. As Punch Drunk’s 2010 reissue showed, it can still exert a shamanistic pull.


HI GRADE
‘Brockout’
(Bingo Beats)

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Former d’n’b producer Brockie shines on this classic, souped-up garage platter. A-side ‘The Jug’ does a better job of tapping into 90s rave delirium, but flip ‘Brockout’ is the uglier, madder of the two, and the one to commit wholesale to the sludgy synth textures being used to upholster the stranger quarters of the developing grime scene.


DARQWAN
‘Said The Spider’
(Texture)

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Oris Jay did more than most to bring some shade into UK garage, and rarely more convincingly than under his Darqwan moniker. 2001’s ‘As We Enta’ is probably the more succinct example of Jay’s influential dark garage, but it’s scrubbed-up breakstep cut ‘Said The Spider’ that really pushes forward. ‘Said The Spider’ ably combines the schlockiness of darkside with the fleet-footedness of breakbeat, but it’s ultimately all down to those processed bass wobbles, like Cerberus’ three heads all growling at once.


DJ NARROWS
‘Souled Out!’ (VIP Remix)’
(Self-released)

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At the same time that grime and dubstep pioneers were gleefully disassembling garage’s rhythmic framework, some producers were fighting to keep the sound tethered to its US garage roots. None more so that DJ Narrows, whose dark 4×4 found favour with the UKG scene whilst also resisting its tendency towards syncopation (an interesting standpoint, given the dubstep-to-house migration pattern later in the decade). 2001 single ‘Saved Soul’, which sounded like Todd Terry soundtracking a dolorous moped engine, was another key point on garage’s basswards trajectory, but its 2002 VIP companion piece divined darker undercurrents than the original, and remains the more fearsome of the two.


DANNY WEED
‘Creeper’
(Roll Deep Recordings)

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The first release on a fledgling Roll Deep Recordings, ‘Creeper’ fulfils the promise of its title – it moves quietly and stealthy but, before you’ve realised it, it’s wrapped everything in its grasp. If not quite as thrillingly heteroclite as later key releases (‘Rat Race’, the manic ‘Fresh Air’), ‘Creeper’ is the hottest with promise: the moment where the pranging cello morphs into that hollow bass sound is essentially garage’s transformation into grime, acted out in microcosm.

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2003

DIZZEE RASCAL
Boy In Da Corner
(XL)

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Sure, 2002 had ‘Eskimo’, ‘Pulse X’ and the rest of them, but 2003 was the year that grime solidified from a dark garage splinter group to a fully-formed genre of its own (“I ain’t UK garage, get used to it”, Dizzee claimed on ‘Vex’d’). As a result, ’03 is the most grime-heavy year on this feature, with anthems released left, right and centre – and it’s never, ever scaled higher heights than Boy In Da Corner. This record’s been evangelised about in FACT more than enough now, so we’ll keep it simple: Dizzee’s next album could be 100 times better than his most recent effort, The Fifth, and it still wouldn’t come close to this.


ALIAS
‘Gladiator’
(Self-released)

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An update to Agent X’s ‘Decoy’ with Musical Mobb’s burnt-out aesthetic, has instrumental UK music ever sounded darker than Alias’s ‘Gladiator’-era records? More animal than ‘Horror Show’ and the rest of dubstep’s dread anthems, it’s the sound of a rollercoaster straight through hell. The sample – from Gladiator, of course – is total cheese, but you can’t have it all.


WILEY
‘Ice Rink’
(Wiley Kat Records)

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With ‘Eskimo’, Wiley created the then-nascent grime scene’s biggest anthem to date with one of its strangest tracks. As if to prove that it wasn’t a one-off, he repeated the track with ‘Ice Rink’ – a record that sounded something like Lil Louis’s ‘Original Video Clash’ left in a deep freeze and smashed into pieces a year later, and had every MC in the scene trying to ride it without slipping off.


RUFF SQWAD
‘Misty Cold’
(Ruff Sqwad Recordings)

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A precursor to ‘Funktions on the Low’ (not to mention XTC’s remix of this very track), ‘Misty Cold’ was the start of the “lost in the snow” grime aesthetic that still hits so hard today. Most of the grime anthems released this year are so deadly because they’re so simple – kick, snare, bass noise and sample, anything else is just flab – but ‘Misty Cold’s strings are coated in icy ambience; the drums barely audible through the wind. As current grime producer Slackk put it in FACT’s feature on the group, “grime was really odd music at the best of times but amid hundreds of weird white labels which were blasts of bass and noise, you’d get Ruff Sqwad turning up with two hours of sad spaceship music, and just kill it, it’s mad.”


HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER
‘Sholay’ (Epic Mix)
(Tempa)

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An alias of Horsepower’s Benny Ill, ‘Sholay’ was simply ahead of its time: an extended combination of Middle Eastern samples and dubstep dread before the likes of Shackleton and Appleblim would explore it in different ways. With its swampy low-end, there’s also a claustrophobic quality reminiscent of Memories of the Future-era Kode9 & Spaceape, but again, ‘Sholay’ was released back when Hyperdub was still a blog.


BIG$HOT
‘Stomp’
(Self-released)

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Like ‘Pulse X’ and Wiley’s snares, the bass on this record is still being sampled today – amusingly, by people working with much loftier production values than the likes of Big$hot.


KANO / JAMMER
‘Boys Luv Girls (Vice Versa)’ / ‘N.A.S.T.Y’
(Jahmektheworld)

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As grime developed, Jammer would become best known as one of the genre’s most memorable MCs, a whirling dervish of energy and bad language followed by a stormcloud of dreadlocks, but he was also one of its most important early producers. Together with Wonder, he was at the forefront of ‘sino-grime’, a trend of making grime tracks from East Asian instrumental samples – as seen here on the twinkling ‘N.A.S.T.Y’, the B-side to Kano’s anthemic vocal of Jammer’s ‘Vice Versa’ riddim.


ODDZ
‘Strung Up’
(self-released)

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A frequent collaborator with Eastwood, DJ Oddz is an often-overlooked piece of the grime puzzle. His tracks from this era were a lot more colourful than many of his peers’, and he even bagged an appearance on John Peel’s Radio 1 show (together with Eastwood). After releasing steadily through 2003-2005, he quit music to pursue religion and now apparently lives in Wales.


JAIMESON feat. ANGEL BLU
‘True’
(Sony)

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Thought you’d seen the last of the UK garage crossover hits? Grime and dubstep may have dominated 2003, but there was still room for Jaimeson (of ‘Urban Hero’ fame) to come through with ‘True’, a track that seems to have been whitewashed from both ‘nuum history books, but is actually – no, honest – a much better song than Heartless or Pay As U Go’s dalliances with the top 40.


RESTLESS SOUL feat. MAIYA JAMES
‘Peace in My Life’
(Clairaudience)

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As with DJ Narrows, Phil Asher was another artist resisting the swung, syncopated rhythms of garage and broken beat, flying the flag for true-school UK house through a particularly fallow period. In terms of vibe, though, ‘Peace in my Life’ really isn’t far removed from the broken beat classics of earlier years – and its breezy shuffle could have easily closed sets from UK Funky’s politer DJs half a decade later.

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2004

LETHAL BIZZLE
‘Pow! (Forward)’
(Relentless)

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Bursting into the Top 20 like a hobnailed boot through a screen door, ‘Pow!’ was grime’s great cavalry charge – a breathless, deathless rabble-rouser, and a genuine clubland phenomenon at the time. ‘Pow!’ was conceived by Lethal Bizzle as a primer to the scene, with the More Fire Crew alum hand-picking his favourite verses from a clutch of pirate radio regulars and cramming them all into one three-minute blast. It’s endured, too; as Dan Hancox pointed out in this great piece, it’s the closest thing to a protest anthem that we’ve mustered in a generation. The great aggie jam of the decade, whatever Tempz says.


LOEFAH
‘Horror Show’
(DMZ)

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Negative Space 101. Loefah’s blood-chiller was the first big half-step tune, and a key milestone in UK clubland’s ongoing rhythmic slackening. ‘Horror Show’ also makes dubstep’s heavy debts to darkcore explicit: where those early 1990s dark jungle cuts went down the sharp-shocks video nasty route, ‘Horror Show’ is all about what you don’t see – pregnant pauses, half-heard wails, a constant sense of threat. Altogether now: “There are no more barriers to cross…”


DIGITAL MYSTIKZ
‘Pathways’
(Big Apple Records)

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Picking up where Horsepower petered out, Mala and Coki’s first release Digital Mystikz release suggested the pair had clearly been listening with open ears to developments since the turn of the decade. Grime’s sonic palette, breakbeat’s ruff’n’tumble, dark garage’s spirit… ‘Pathways’ aggregates half a decade’s worth of work but, crucially, situates the sound in the context of vintage dub and soundsystem culture. An auspicious start for dancehall science’s principal thought-leaders.


SADIE AMA feat. KANO
‘So Sure’
(Self-released)

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Few producers stirred grime’s melting pot with quite such vigour as Terror Danjah – one-time jungle producer with Reckless Crew, N.A.S.T.Y Crew affiliate, Aftershock leader and sometime Roll Deep contributor. His fingerprints (and, in the form of that gremlin cackle, his sonic seal) are all over the decade, but he was at his most wildly creative when shaping the soft-focus, pitifully brief ‘R’n’G’ sound of the mid-2000s. Sadie Ama’s ‘So Sure’ is the highlight – coruscating, rainbow-coloured modern soul, and a reminder that the grime scene could deal in aphrodisiacs as well as browbeaters.


VEX’D
‘Lion’
(Subtext)

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If the DMZ crew were “rudeboys” and Benga and Skream were “prodigies”, Vex’d were enfant terribles. The dub signifiers are there, but their shredded 140bpm breakbeat music for Planet Mu is equally indebted to vintage industrial and power electronics. There are obvious links to the breaks sound of Stanton Warriors, Krafty Kutz et al – huge at the time, but not remembered with much fondness these days – but Vex’d were much closer in spirit to grime’s angry young men and dubstep’s doom-mongers. Key early track ‘Lion’ set out their stall – one where glitch, noise and dubstep shared shelf space.


D-1
‘Crack Bong’
(Tempa)

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Another essential half-step classic, ‘Crack Bong’ followed its contemporaries into the heart of darkness, but made it further downriver than most. Just about every component of ‘Crack Bong’ – from the gaseous snares to the time stretched vocals – is just a shade off, making for a wilfully disorientating listen. As so often happened at time, Loefah has a part to play, too – his bare-bones ‘Crack Bong’ remix is one of his all-time classics.


WONDER
‘What’
(Dump Valve Recordings)

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What is ‘What’? Held at gunpoint, we’d say half-step with a frosted sino-grime finish, but there’s so much going on in Wonder’s debut release that it’s probably smarter to take the question as a rhetorical one. Better known as the Dizzee Rascal ‘Respect Me’ riddim, ‘What’ proved a calling card for the E2 producer and a big unit-shifter for Geeneus’ Dump Valve Records. One can’t help but wonder if a pubescent Joker was listening.


XTC
‘Funktions On The Low’
(Self-released)

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Ruff Sqwad turned out more than their fair share of ravishing, heartsore grime, but ‘Funktions On The Low’ is their lighters-up moment – catchy, compulsive, and deeply, deeply sad. Unlike Rapid, Spyro or Dirty Danger, XTC (Fuda Guy’s older brother, incidentally) never got his time in the sun, but ‘Funktions On The Low’ is more than enough of a legacy on its own. It’s pure eski tristesse – when it comes to emotional lucidity, ‘Funktions On The Low’ trumps every other track on this list.


VARIOUS
Grime
(Rephlex)

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Rephlex’s three-part guide to the uglier, treblier end of the grime spectrum remains invigorating listening: four tracks from Mark One, transitioning from breaks to something altogether steelier; four bleep’n’buzzsaw joints from Plastician, né Plasticman; and four bits of amped-up nihilism of Slaughter Mob. As well as spotlighting grime’s potential affinities with the likes of Boxcutter and the Planet Mu crew, Grime also boasts some great sleeve notes, taking on the whole “wot-u-call-it” conversation head-on: “Grime. Sublow. Dubstep… It’s Music. Different people call it different things depending on when they discovered it.”


KODE9 & DADDY GEE
‘Sign Of The Dub’
(Hyperdub)

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HYP0001: the first release from the imprint who did the most to push, popularise and cross-pollinate dubstep throughout the decade – and it’s only a bloody Prince cover. If the DMZ catalogue and Wiley’s eski output had a heavy, filmic quality, ‘Sign Of The Dub’ plays like an arthouse remake of the same script – impressionistic, weightless, keening, loosely storyboarded. Where would the second half of the decade go? On the evidence of ‘Sign Of The Dub’, the answer was clear: anywhere it damn well fancied.

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2005

FISH GO DEEP feat. TRACEY K
‘The Cure And The Cause’
(goDeep Recordings)

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In 2005, several years before people started talking about UK Funky, a pair of Irishmen unwittingly created an anthem for the then-chrysalised (it’s a word now) scene. ‘The Cure and the Cause’ didn’t just predict the sound of London in 2008, it was constantly cited as an influence on it – and not just by UK Funky’s leading DJs and producers, but by grime artists like Roll Deep’s DJ Target too. A crossover hit then, but not as we know it.


ROLL DEEP
‘Avenue’
(Relentless)

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The long-awaited debut album by grime elders Roll Deep, In At the Deep End was a strange mish-mash of cries to the pop charts (‘Avenue’, ‘Shake a Leg’), hard-as-nails grime (‘Poltergeist’, ‘When I’m Ere’) and tracks somewhere between the two that never quite worked. As desperate as it sometimes seemed, however, Roll Deep’s minor crossover success was an important moment for grime, and the lesser-spotted Avenue EP remains a telling document of their time in the limelight, featuring minor chart hit ‘Avenue’, its remix ‘Thinking Of You’ (“had my heart broken about 17 times, mate”) and Wiley’s show-stopping remix of the Danny Weed-produced ‘When I’m Ere’.


SKREAM
‘Midnight Request Line’
(Tempa)

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It’s spoken of in hushed tones, but for a brief period between 2005 and 2006, grime and dubstep actually got along pretty well, and without any awful crossover tracks like P Money’s ‘Dubstepper’ being birthed as a result. Plastician/Plasticman was blending Skream and DMZ with Slew Dem and early Joker as one of both scenes’ most prominent DJs, and the likes of D Double E, Skepta, JME and even Wiley could be spotted at FWD>>. This short-lived union was in no small part due to Skream’s ‘Midnight Request Line’, one of the only – and possibly the first – track to be an anthem in both grime and dubstep, and still one of the greatest tracks to have spawned from the Croydon boy wonder’s lab.


DIGITAL MYSTIKZ
‘Neverland’
(DMZ)

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Capturing the duo at their most, er, mystical, ‘Neverland’ doesn’t quite boast the anthem status of next year’s ‘Anti-War Dub’ but could you really argue with someone calling it Digital Mystikz’ best ever record? Alien music rooted deep in the Earth’s core, it doesn’t sound like anyone, or, let’s face it, anything else around.


NEIL LANDSTRUMM
Life Of Grime EP
(Scandinavia)

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This, however, is alien as anything. Neil Landstrumm’s an interesting case when it comes to this list, a Scottish techno producer who released regularly on labels like Peacefrog, he found himself increasingly inspired by grime and dubstep as the decade went on, eventually releasing records like this one, not to mention 2007’s spectacular Restaurant of Assassins on Planet Mu. Fast forward to 2011-2012 and the feedback has firmly looped back, with UK producers like Blawan and Happa taking cues from his pre-Tokyo Assassin work.


KAMIKAZE
‘Ghetto Kyote’
(Self-released)

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Anyone who tells you that grime boys can’t be sad boys are liars – the strings on producer Treble Clef’s debut single (released as Kamikaze, the name of a short-lived crew also featuring DJ Spyro) are just about as tragic as a rap instrumental’s ever got on this side of the pond.


PRESSURE feat. WARRIOR QUEEN
‘Money Honey’
(Hyperdub)

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Like Landstrumm, The Bug was a UK artist whose work predates garage’s transition to grime, though he came from a very different background, rooted in experimental noise and dub-reggae. Although he never saw himself as part of dubstep, The Bug’s mid-’00s records were huge anthems for fans of the genre, this collaboration with Warrior Queen under the Pressure alias (one of Hyperdub’s very first records, no less) starting a run of FWD>> favourites that climaxed with his album London Zoo.


LOW DEEP
‘Straight Flush’
(Self-released)

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Low Deep were part of a group of grime producers – see also Chunky Bizzle – taking inspiration from Just Blaze and Heatmakers’ pitched-up sampling to make their own mini-genre of chipmunk grime instrumentals. New York hip-hop crew Diplomats – who Blaze and Heatmakers both produced for – were a bigger influence on UK music from this period than many give them credit for; ‘Straight Flush’ finds Low Deep at their very best.


JAMMER
‘Murkle Man’
(Jahmektheworld)

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Fun fact: no track has ever been reloaded on London radio more times than ‘Murkle Man’. And that was before the video dropped. Just watch it.


DEXPLICIT
‘Bullacake’
(More 2 Da Floor)

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The UK continuum is full of artists who survived its changes from one genre to the next, with Rinse FM’s Geeneus arguably the most notable. Dexplicit, however, was a unique case: after producing grime’s most infamous hit single (Lethal B’s ‘Pow’), he turned his attention to the bassline house sound that would dominate the Midlands and the North in the decade’s second half. Effectively 4×4 bassline house hinging on a grime-style 8-bar structure, ‘Bullacake’ is perfectly poised between the two – give Dexplicit another few years, and he’d (for some of the heads, at least) top T2’s chart smash ‘Heartbroken’ with ‘Lifey’, surely one of this period’s most unfairly-neglected pop songs.

Check back tomorrow for 2006-2007.

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2006

DIGITAL MYSTIKZ
‘Haunted’/’Anti-War Dub’
(DMZ

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Digital Mystikz rightly muscle their way onto the list for a third time with this definitive double-header, a record of glistening glitch and snaking bass throbs (‘Haunted’), fleet-footed rhythms and Rasta peace cries (‘Anti-War Dub’) which arguably stands as the high watermark of purist-era dubstep. ‘Haunted’/’Anti-War Dub’ arrived right on cue as the world finally picked up on south London’s seismic transmissions and descended en masse to DMZ in Brixton one spring night. As legend now has it, the tiny downstairs room filled up fast, and by midnight the queue of bassweight pilgrims stretched far down the road. DM’s Mala got on the mic and directed the throng upwards to the venue’s cavernous main room – and with that, pointed dubstep in a whole new direction.


SKREAM
‘I’ (Loefah remix)
(Tempa)

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And what brought the buzzing throng down to Brixton that night? Two words: Dubstep Warz. Probably the most influential two hour set in dubstep’s history, the special edition of Mary Anne Hobbs’ Breezeblock show on Radio 1 alerted the rest of the UK (and the wider world) to every major face on the scene – Mala, Coki, Kode9, Benga, Vex’d and Distance, plus the two represented by this hulking leviathan of a record, in which Loefah dons his hard hat and takes Skream’s ‘I’ down to unfathomable depths, cranking up the bass pressure and trimming the mid-range fat to brain-melting effect. Little wonder that Dubstepforum tripled its membership practically overnight.


PINCH
‘Qawwali’
(Planet Mu)

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So sparse, so deep – this early single from Pinch, dubstep’s chief ambassador in the West Country, arrived from Planet Mu on a cloud of shisha smoke, looping fragrant tendrils of harmonium through pattering hand drums; the club-friendly ‘V.I.P.’ version on the flip, meanwhile, comes with a spring-loaded bass wobble that gets rights under your toes. Dubwise Bristolians had caught on early, of course, with Pinch’s club nights Context and Subloaded introducing the sound to what soon became its second home, birthing a new generation of producers like Appleblim and Joker and inspiring today’s young cubs in the Livity Sound and Young Echo collectives.


CYRUS
‘Indian Stomp’
(Tectonic)

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Released on Pinch’s label Tectonic, ‘Indian Stomp’ by Croydon producer and Random Trio Productions boss Cyrus feels like a companion piece to the Eastern-facing ‘Qawwali’, with its sampled Bollywood vocal, gentle bells and smoky percussion coalescing into a deliciously warm haze. Gentle, yet distinctly menacing, it’s no wonder the producers of bleak British sci-fi flick Children of Men chose to use it in their soundtrack.


OMEN
‘Rebellion’
(Tectonic)

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Another one from the Tectonic stable, Omen’s ‘Rebellion’ is pure, unadulterated doom-step – sparse as fuck, absolutely useless on anything less than a six-foot high speaker stack. Don’t even bother clicking on the link, to be honest – a cruddy YouTube file and iPod earbuds are not the one. That hospital monitor bleep going on? To remind you that you haven’t died.


BURIAL
Burial
(Hyperdub)

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A modern classic. Though Burial’s debut is often thought of as the definitive dubstep album, there’s actually a striking lack of the abyssal low end, whipcracking snares and cavernous atmosphere common to so many of the classics listed here. In Burial’s hands, dubstep became music to be digested at home or, as that perfectly apt cliche goes, on the night bus, through earphones; ghostly fragments of 2-step, ambient whispers and breathy low-end slowly unfurling as you trundle past concrete roundabouts and flyovers, lost in thought. Here is dubstep for introverts, for out-of-towners, for ex-ravers, for kids not old enough to blag their way into FWD>>, and the rest.


SKREAM
Skreamizm Vol. 1
(Tempa)

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After making waves with his club-demolishing ‘Midnight Request Line’, the still-teenage Skream injected the elixir of youth into a scene that seemed to pride itself on maturity and a sense of gravitas. While the haunted fairground melodies, dubbed-out organs and reverb-soaked snares are ear candy in themselves, it’s the way Skream twists the bassline into unexpectedly melodic shapes that’s the real innovation here, helping lay the blueprint for all manner of filthy wobble experiments to come.


SKEPTA
‘Duppy’
(Boy Better Know)

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As the rather unhelpful potted history goes, grime is the bastard offspring of UK garage – a moody and belligerent child who wants no truck with its lame, positively geriatric elders. But kids grow up, and this track by grime kingpin Skepta turns the strained parent-child relationship around by fondly flipping a buoyant garage beat into a grime anthem, adding a who’s-who of guest bars (Boy Better Know’s Wiley, JME and Jammer plus Footsie, Bearman, Bossman and Trim) alongside a stuttering hook from garage’s primo voice, MC Creed. Still a deadly weapon in a DJ’s arsenal.


STATIK
Grindie Vol. 1
(Self-released)

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When Dizzee Rascal won the Mercury Prize for Boy In Da Corner in 2003, the stage seemed set for grime to invade the charts and turn British pop music on its head. Except, a few notables aside, no one turned up to the party – or if they did, they weren’t being let in. Grime was largely in the doldrums by 2006, and nothing better illustrates the still-young genre’s dilemma, as it pondered how to convert street cred into chart success, than producer Statik’s mash-up mixtape Grindie Vol. 1. The 60-plus tracks spliced JME with Test Icicles, Scorcher and Manga with Larrikin Love and – in a pairing that led to a real-life collaboration – Lethal Bizzle with The Rakes. It hasn’t aged well, frankly – but it did introduce a mass of unsuspecting indie kids to the likes of Wiley, Jammer and Skepta.


DJ NG
‘Tell Me’
(Self-released)

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Hello, what’s this? A new sound is barging its way past the testosterone-addled dubstep nights and eski dances to offer light relief via the medium of an irresistibly bouncy riddim and a cherubic young voice. That’s Rinse’s leading lady Katy B on the mic, doing the aloof garage diva pose over a shuffling beat that became one of the first anthems of UK funky, a sound that was soon to take over the clubs and pirate airwaves.

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2007

APPLEBLIM
‘Vansan’
(Skull Disco)

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As dubstep took off, bass-hungry ears from all corners of the globe naturally began to absorb and reinterpret its characteristics in various unexpected ways, while British producers too looked beyond borders for clues as to where to take the sound next. Appleblim and Shackleton’s Skull Disco label was at the forefront of an especially fruitful crossover as the UK producers took their cue from both Berlin and Detroit to explore the fertile boundaries between dubstep, techno and house, with ‘Vansan’ the calling card for a new flavour of expansive, strung-out nocturnes.


SHACKLETON
‘Blood On My Hands’ (Ricardo Villalobos’ Apocalypso Now Mix)
(Skull Disco)

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Ricardo Villalobos was instrumental in introducing dubstep to the international house and techno crowd, regularly mixing up his sets with early Hessle Audio records and the like. This Shackleton remix by the master of the 4/4 long game is a towering achievement by any measure; a gloriously miserabilist marriage of dubstep and techno stretching over two sides of wax – that’s 20 minutes of bombastic, orgasmic, edge-of-madness club music. With the suitable sub-bass and the appropriate chemical modifiers, it is said the open-minded listener can achieve ego death through this record.


PEVERELIST
‘Roll With The Punches’
(Punch Drunk)

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It’d be fair, if totally idiotic, to describe this track as ‘simple’. Liquefied grime synths, softly rolling bass, dub snares, minimalist hi-hats – and that’s about all there is to it on this early Punch Drunk release. Except if it was really that simple, we’d all have been doing it. Pev’s masterly restraint is the reason he’s so often cited as a favourite by other producers; boiling down a track to its rawest elements, he somehow manages to deliver twice the impact.


BURIAL
Untrue
(Hyperdub)

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Though Burial’s second album is musically not a drastic step forward from his debut (sunless urban travails ‘In McDonalds’ and at the ‘Dog Shelter’, this time more thoroughly haunted by ghosts of garage raves past), Untrue was nevertheless pivotal in bringing dubstep to the attention of the media and wider audiences, especially after picking up a Mercury Prize nomination in 2008. The case of the anonymous producer (pretty standard operating procedure in electronic music; unacceptable in the glamour-hungry pop/rock milieu of corporate-sponsored awards ceremonies) vexed one Sun journalist, the poorly named Gordon Smart, so much that he launched a campaign to “unmask” this mysterious Burial character, sparking a still fruitless five-year search that has so far only turned up two plausible candidates. Okay, we jest – props to Will Bevan for staying out of the limelight and continuing his irregular ghost dance transmissions.


RUSKO
‘Cockney Thug’
(Sub Soldiers)

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‘Cockney Thug’ is a fork in the road, a major milestone in dubstep that mapped out a glorious future of filthy wub-wub bass, thrashy mid-range and adrenalin-pumping builds and drops – or, seen from another angle, a devolution into the arena-sized, testosterone-and-energy-drink-fuelled macho absurdity dubbed ‘brostep’. No one could’ve predicted that at the time, though – and ‘Cockney Thug’ itself, with its anything-goes attitude, unshackled party vibes and inescapably British humour, stands up as a solid banger.


COKI
‘Spongebob’
(DMZ)

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We can’t lay all the blame on Rusko, of course – the move into the mid-range, as wobble basslines took on both melodic and rhythmic qualities at once, was happening everywhere, as evinced by Caspa and Rusko’s Fabriclive CD from the same year, which featured this mega-ton wobbler from Coki as well as ‘Cockney Thug’. Though simpler and sparser than Rusko’s cut, ‘Spongebob’ is equally as devastating, throttling your ears with a dirty bassline that spirals over and under like a haunted rollercoaster.


RUSTIE
‘Jagz The Smack’
(Stuffrecords)

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Beaming in from Glasgow with a debut EP as baffling as it was brilliant, Rustie made a splash that rippled through dozens of genres at once – the bass pressure of dubstep, the low-slung breeziness of the L.A. beat scene, the mechanical doom of Drexciya, a smattering of Southern crunk, a smear of London grime – to forge his own screwy breed of US-meets-UK club noise. No wonder the whole ‘aquacrunk’ thing caught on – bowled-over listeners were reaching for any made-up word that might fit the hyper-eclectic, hyper-glossy, hyper-connected soundworld Rustie had created. Truly a product of the internet age.


T2
‘Heartbroken’
(Powerhouse Records)

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For most British clubgoers, bassline simply wasn’t a concern in 2007. A quick trip up the M6, however, revealed a different story, and whether you were stumbling between bars on Birmingham’s Broad Street or reminiscing over short-lived Sheffield ground zero Niche, the sound was as omnipresent in the Midlands and the North as the garage and 2-step that had led to its creation a few years earlier. ‘Heartbroken’ was the point where the sound actually emerged from its local purgatory, and with T2’s bubbly, shuffling rhythm and Jodie Aysha’s innocent schoolyard vocal, it succinctly distilled the sound without having to water it down. Bassline may have come and gone, but ‘Heartbroken’ still has the power to fill floors, whether you’re in Dalston or Digbeth.


APPLE
‘Mr Bean’
(Street Tuff Recordings)

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Released in a tiny run in 2007, Apple’s ‘Mr Bean’ is a riot of clattering Soca-inspired drums, lilting synth melodies and, well – not much else. The bare-bones production of this early UK funky anthem is a masterclass in keeping it simple, with the sub-three-minute result powerful enough to alert fans of dubstep, grime and house to the emergent underground movement. Tough yet euphoric, it remained a mainstay of DJ sets years after its first appearance.


SKEPTA
‘Stage Show Rhythm’
(Adamantium)

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Utterly unhinged, hyper-percussive madness – Skepta crashed the party with this one, bringing with him a Brazilian football crowd armed with drums, airhorns and bubble machines, by the sound of it. A classic riddim that tapped into dancehall’s clash culture (Skepta has gone on record to say that the track was heavily inspired by Ninjaman) and the addictive patter of UK funky while retaining the awkward urgency of grime, ‘Stage Show’ proved irresistible to dozens of MCs who hopped on the beat and rode it like a bucking bronco.

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2008

HARD HOUSE BANTON
‘Siren’
(Spoilt Rotten Entertainment)

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2008 was undoubtedly funky’s year – the point where, for the first time since breakbeat fell off, stylised syncopation and percussive ingenuity became dancefloor weapons once again. Whereas some lesser producers fell into the bongos-for-all tourist trap, the scene’s best artists used soca and dancehall rhythms as cues to bend 2-step into strange new configurations. ‘Siren’ was a top-notch example – whipcrack, double-jointed club music, bolstered by musique concrète detailing that shares as much with Lucier as it does with Fuzzy Logik. A year later, London DJs Heatwave would pair ‘Siren’ with the acapella from Stush’s ‘We Nuh Run’, creating an anthem for the Funky Bashment sound that they championed through their club night and Rinse FM show.


HUD MO
‘Ooops!’
(LuckyMe)

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Half a decade before he was breaking the Billboard Charts, Hudson Mohawke was swiping from them. Ross Birchard’s Tweet bootleg still plays like a micro-manifesto for that new strain of party music emanating from Glasgow at the time: genre-snobbery was out, breadth trumped depth, and crunk, chart-pop and IDM all co-existed without difficulty. As with Rustie, Hud Mo’s work would become knottier and proggier, but ‘Ooops!’ is still the most effective representation of the LuckyMe project we can think of – even if it subsequently opened the gates for an army of laptop-wiedling greenhorns touting their crappy Brandy cut-ups. ‘Ooops!’, indeed.


RAMADANMAN
‘Blimey’
(Hessle Audio)

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Even on its very earliest releases – TRG’s swampy ‘Put You Down’, the guttering 2-step of Pangaea’s ‘Coiled’ – Hessle Audio was clearly a label with vision, applying the precision and austerity of techno to the dubstep sound. Under his Ramadanman/Pearson Sound aliases, David Kennedy has consistently been responsible for Hessle’s best work, with ‘Blimey’ standing as his first great triumph. It’s a pointillist delight – meticulously detailed, more interested in tickling the skin than rattling the sternum. It would take a year or two for Kennedy to fully hit his stride – his 2010 run remains absolutely peerless – but ‘Blimey’ is a key moment in the late 2000s elision of dubstep and techno.


BENGA & COKI
‘Night’
(Tempa)

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Yes, we’d had Children of Men and Untrue, but ‘Night’ was dubstep’s first proper crossover moment. Cracking the BBC Radio 1 playlist, ‘Night’ proved a limelight moment for two very different kinds of elder statesman. Yet, even as it parped out of phone speakers and soundtracked yoof-orientated BBC3 trailers, ‘Night’ still remained a very inscrutable sort of hit – hooky, but also deeply, impenetrably alien.


TRG
‘Broken Heart’ (Martyn DCM RMX)
(Hessle Audio)

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By 2008, ‘dubstep’ – an, ahem, wobbly term at the best of times – was becoming increasingly unfit for purpose, and deliberately baggy substitutes (the dreaded ‘bass music’ among them) weren’t much better. Viewed charitably, the word became a sort of global rallying point – a swap-shop where an international community of disparate artists could meet and trade ideas. Martyn’s ‘Broken Heart’ edit is a prime example: a Dutch remix of a Romanian producer, adored by Flying Lotus and his brethren, and released (and rinsed) in UK. It’s a woozy, shimmering effort from the former d’n’b producer, and perhaps his most gorgeous release to date.


KYLA
‘Do You Mind’ (Crazy Cousins Remix)
(Maximum Bass)

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Plenty of people have accused funky of being fundamentally reactionary – a vulgar, conservative strain of soulful house, that, in light of grime and dubstep’s demolition strategies, was about as welcome as a Kevin & Perry Go Large screening at the ICA. Thank god, then, for Crazy Cousins’ edit of Kyla’s bassline track ‘Do You Mind’ – a genuine underground pop classic, and a three-minute skeptic conversion kit. Low-lit and super sensous, it’s the UK equivalent to Annie’s ‘Heartbeat’ – a dancefloor banker that’s doe-eyed, sad-eyed and pie-eyed all at once.


IKONIKA
‘Please’
(Hyperdub)

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Of all the genre tags being flung around in the 2000s, few were repudiated by the artists involved quite as forcefully as “wonky” – a dirty word made dirtier by this uncharacteristically off-the-mark Reynolds thinkpiece linking ketamine to the scene. If one track ever merited the term, though, it’s Ikonika’s unapologetically off-centre breakthrough. ‘Please’ is pure musical heteroglossia, compacting dubstep, bleep, Apollo-era techno and wobble into one dense, unstable whole. Brave New World music from the twilight of the decade.


LIL SILVA
‘Seasons’/’Funky Flex’
(Self-released)

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For all the colour and fluff, there was something deeply odd about funky’s knock-kneed rhythms, and no one understood this better than Lil Silva. His debut 12″ is weird and wired, and contains two absolute classics of the genre. ‘Seasons’ draws connections between funky’s eternal summer grime’s Siberian winter. ‘Funky Flex’, meanwhile, is the better connected of the two – a track that plugs funky into the same matrix as Ikonika’s zonked machine music and Joker’s Sega fantasias. It’s worth noting that Lil Silva would become an A-team player for Night Slugs – another key genre-crushing label who, sadly, arrived just too late for this list.


JOKER
‘Gully Brook Lane’
(Terrorhythm)

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Joker was a big deal in 2008 – a Great New Hope making music that was incredibly easy to rhapsodise about. Championed by Pinch and anointed as the head of the “purple” movement, the Bristol teenager turned Dizzee Rascal and Ruff Sqwad’s SID-chip sound palette to supercharged new purposes. His 2008-9 releases are damn near impeccable, but ‘Gully Brook Lane’ was the first to showcase his knack for hi-res digital pornography: spitting wires, frenzied LEDs, and computer fans whirring at 6000 rpm.


GEENEUS feat. KATY B
‘As I’
(Rinse Recordings)

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As boss of Rinse, Geeneus was arguably the UK dance underground’s central tastemaker and enabler – plus, in the latter half of the decade, the driving force behind its gradual gentrification. Correspondingly, his late-period funky productions did a fine job of balancing accessibility and authenticity. We could have plumped for the Ms. Dynamite-assisted ‘Get Low’, but ‘As I’ is the more essential and exuberant of the two – not to mention a trailer for Katy B’s 2011 LP On A Mission, the underground/overground crossover album we’d spent a decade waiting for.

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2009

LA ROUX
‘In For The Kill’ (Skream’s Let’s Get Ravey Remix)
(White label)

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So after the best part of a decade, it finally happened – the Croydon sound crossed over. As in, actually crossed over, to the actual charts – Skream’s drastic dubstep-meets-drum’n’bass makeover of La Roux’s retro-electro-pop effort cashed in hard, picking up hours of radio airplay and even soundtracking movie trailers. Alongside Benga & Coki’s ‘Night’, this cut did more than any other to corrupt a young and innocent audience with the visceral pleasure of bassweight.


TEMPA T
‘Next Hype’
(No Hats No Hoods)

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The phenomenal ‘Next Hype’ rolls in like two cartoon characters brawling in a ball of dust, elbows and curtain rails a-flying – it’s outrageously angry, comically violent and genuinely riotous, which probably explains why it became the anthem of the next year’s student protests, as hundreds of kettled youth started doing some smashing of their own on the streets of central London. Tempz is in such a rage he can barely spit his words out, while Westwood’s cameo in the DIY video is one of the Big Dog’s finest on-screen moments.


KODE9
‘Black Sun’
(Hyperdub)

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If 2009 could be summed up in one sound, it’d be the woozy synth wafting through ‘Black Sun’ (see also: Joy Orbison, Deadboy, James Blake, etc.). Warm and drowsy, yet distinctly dissonant and menacing, the jazzy analogue fuzz recalls the funkified haze of Kode 9’s pal Flying Lotus, whose 2008 album Los Angeles had a profound influence on plenty of producers on both sides of the pond. ‘Black Sun’ also marked a departure for Hyperdub, breaking free of dubstep’s 140bpm formula to adopt the pace and rhythm of UK funky and pushing firmly into what we’d have to describe as ‘post-dubstep’ territory.


INSTRA:MENTAL
‘Watching You’
(Nonplus)

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Nominally drum’n’bass, but touching on everything from The Knife’s cyborg electro-pop to Cassie’s boudoir’n’b, ‘Watching You’ was where the brief and blinding flash of light that was Autonomic, the fresh d’n’b niche dug out by Instra:mental and dBridge in the latter half of the decade, climaxed. Skittering along on a half-time rhythm, dBridge’s feminised robot vocals are given so much breathing space they feel barely tethered to the bassweight below, threatening to float away into silence and air leaving just a skeleton of fizzing percussion behind. It’s so good, in fact, that Instra:mental decided to abandon their 170bpm experiments after they’d written it, “because we felt like that was the best tune we could do. We thought we’d quit drum’n’bass while we were ahead.”


UNTOLD
‘Anaconda’
(Hessle Audio)

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Initially intended as raw, minimal club tool on the B-side of ‘I Can’t Stop This Feeling’, this ridiculous track is the ultimate square peg record, almost-but-not-quite slotting into the round holes of grime, garage, dubstep and bleepy electronic madness. Exploding with unexpected, seemingly undanceable sounds (windchimes! Steam trains! A dog’s squeaky toy!), ‘Anaconda’ tore up the rulebook and laid the groundwork for plenty of genre-crossing young producers, from the Hessle Audio stable to Night Slugs and beyond. Speaking to FACT a year or so later, Pearson Sound claimed that Untold’s records from 2009 were more influential than anybody’s in terms of encouraging him and his peers that anything could work on a dancefloor.


UNTOLD
‘Stop What You’re Doing’ (James Blake Remix)
(Hemlock)

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The sound of a young buck pulling back the velvet curtain to reveal a maze of unexpected directions for dubstep and its cousins, this Untold remix is packed with signature Blakean touches, from the heavy-headed synth fuzz and pitch-shifting G-funk riser, to the garbled vocal bursts and haphazard stacks of percussion. Ben UFO immediately deemed it “the most utterly next level piece of music I’ve heard in years.” And he should know.


COOLY G
‘Love Dub’
Hyperdub

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Cooly G’s first proper single coasts in on a wave of serotonin and dawn light; another emotional serenade in a year packed with gloopy, heartfelt floor-fillers. Built from the wreckage of dubstep, funky and house, the cherry on top of ‘Love Dub’ is of course Cooly’s silky vocal, later used to deadly effect on her 2012 album Playin’ Me. A UK Funky producer releasing on a what was, at that point, still loosely considered a dubstep label might seem second nature now, but at the start of 2009 it was a major curveball and a sign of things to come.


DARKSTAR
‘Aidy’s Girl Is A Computer’
(Hyperdub)

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Another Hyperdub release from 2009, ‘Aidy’s Girl’s A Computer’ seems like a curio in light of the Warp-signed, album-oriented band Darkstar quickly grew into on debut album North and this year’s News From Nowhere. Splicing dubstep’s pensive mood with lilting rhythms lifted from 2-step and funky, and adding an uncannily affecting sad robot vocal, it’s a true crossover track and one that delivers an emotional punch to the guts every time.


MOUNT KIMBIE
‘Maybes’
(Hotflush)

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Like Darkstar on Hyperdub, it’s odd to think that Mount Kimbie’s earliest records came out on Hotflush – nowadays you’re more likely to see them playing Field Day than Fabric. ‘Maybes’ remains one of the duo’s strongest moments, a record which, like Darkstar’s ‘Aidy’s Girl’, is underpinned by dubstep logic yet reaches out to electronica and even post-rock, with a rarely-heard wash of guitar sweeping the track along.


JOY ORBISON
‘Hyph Mngo’
(Hotflush)

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Joy Orbison’s debut was arguably the record that did most to knock down the barriers between dubstep, house, r’n’b, techno and beyond – the unassailable ‘Hyph Mngo’ possesses an almost otherworldly sheen; a hypnotic, bedazzling artifact that sways to its own pulse. Steamrollering a path from underground hit to Ibiza anthem within months, it’s that rare example of a record loved by almost everyone caught in its glare. FACT were smitten from the start, of course, eventually declaring it our favourite record of 2009.

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