I’ve been DJing a lot recently.
Nothing super serious, but actually playing out and putting in a few practice hours, which has led me to think a lot about mixing technique and programming, and has had me going back to old favourites with newly opened ears to the tricks, techniques and big picture stuff that make them good. But of all the CDs I’ve pulled off the shelf, Skream’s Rinse: 02 is the one that has had me not just in awe of how it’s put together, but wanting to listen to it again and again, as loud as I can possibly get away with.
It is, let’s not mess around, pretty close to a perfect mix. I don’t know how it was done – judging by the flawlessness of the track blends, it’s probably pieced together in the studio, but that doesn’t matter. The important thing is that the pacing and selection are absolutely bang on: those things are always paramount, with mixing technique a long way behind. But also as a snapshot of a point in time, it’s magical. Obviously, a lot of purists will put dubstep’s glory years as circa 2003-05 when it was more underground than Croydon’s sewer system, and we can argue all day and night about the peaks and troughs of commercialism and sonic garishness that the scene would achieve in the mania and spectacular crash of 2008-12. But 2007 was an absolutely magical time in its own right, and should be celebrated as such.
Dubstep had come out of its corner in early 2006, with Mary Anne Hobbs’s Dubstep Warz and the symbolic spontaneous movement of DMZ’s crowd from the 400-capacity Third Base to the far larger Mass upstairs – the well-documented tipping points from dubstep being enclosed and cult-like to being something that other scenes started watching closely and taking inspiration from. Through 2006 we had early adopters like Laurent Garnier and Ricardo Villalobos getting involved, and by 2007 it was a fixture in clubland. It standardly soundtracked the second rooms in drum & bass or techno raves and was increasingly pushing them aside in the main room. The mainstream was beckoning too: big names and major labels were starting to sniff around, even in the USA.
In fact, during this phase, dubstep was more than just a new flavour – it was a shot in the arm for the entirety of the club world, providing a connecting point between previously fenced-off sub-scenes and, along with the myriad dayglo offspring of electroclash and nu rave, giving the first millennials a sense that this club music was not only theirs but allowed them to write the rules as they went along. Where, back in 2006, Kode9 had told me that “none of us are going to be giving up our day jobs”, now there was a tentative but growing sense that not only were there going to be careers made, but the world was there for the taking.
Musically, this all made for the perfect “wot do u call it” sense of indeterminacy. There was already a sense that rowdy “jump up” dubstep was pulling in a particular direction – N-Type’s Dubstep Allstars CD early in the year was a clear statement of that, and Caspa & Rusko’s FabricLive.37 mix would send things into overdrive shortly after Rinse: 02 was released. But there was also the emergence of a celebratory, even anthemic, tendency thanks to dubsteppers remixing or bootlegging vocal tracks, which would much later reach its apotheosis on ‘In for the Kill’ and then ‘Katy on a Mission’. Pinch’s Underwater Dancehall album, Mala’s ‘Alicia’ and a few producers like D1 were also making a case for a kind of dubstep-soul. And there were all the existing elements of UK garage, techno (both the more rugged Lost variety and Basic Channel-styled misty radiance), jungle, dancehall (both 80s digital style and modern bashment) and actual dub which made up dubstep – or, as Skream himself took to calling it around this time, “mongrel music”.
“Rinse:02 was – and is – a milestone in rave history.”
All of that is here on Rinse: 02. From the righteous Rasta fury of Kulture’s ‘Steppin’ Outta Babylon’, it’s obvious that this mix is going to be uncompromising. And it is: it’s full of noise and fury and madness, yet for all that it weaves its way through some truly beautiful and contemplative sounds (the Plaid-like synth ripples of Skream’s own ‘2D’ remind us just how gentle and sophisticated a touch he often had), back through an amazing sequence which takes nihilistic techno that wouldn’t have been out of place in some early 90s dungeon in Cologne crashing into brutal murder-dem dancehall and then into Distance’s patent bleakness and the final melancholic-sensuous comedown of ‘Alicia’ and D1’s ‘Sorrow’.
It’s the full rave experience, decades of it, all telescoped together (and as Blackdown’s sleevenotes remind us, as if we needed reminding, Skream was the full raver). When the sublimated jungle roll-out of Skream & Cluekid’s ‘Sandsnake’ slides into the mix, ravers of a certain age will get goosebumps every time – and of course the flavour wasn’t just kids making a throwback beat for the sake of it, but was in Skream’s blood thanks to his junglist older brother Hijak (whose 80s dancehall update ‘Butcha’ forms a deep and moody centrepiece to this mix).
And all the other influences are here entirely natural, too: serious techno was part of dubstep from the beginning thanks to Artwork’s involvement with Lost, and reggae, soul, R&B, bashment and even indie rock were part of any 2000s Croydon teenager’s natural sound palate. This wasn’t a blurred, mushed together, information-overload, lowest-common-denominator fusion – it was an accurate, natural document of all the influences coming to bear on a particular place, a particular time and a particular person, played off one another with real expertise and sensitivity. It was – and is – a milestone in rave history.
The majority of tracks on the CD are Skream’s own productions – bar a seasoning of Benga, Mala, Coki and Distance – and as far as I’m concerned, this is his definitive statement. His first solo album Skream! just seemed pretty tame in comparison to his beastly Skreamizm EPs, while its follow up Outside the Box was almost awesome but suffered from ill discipline and sprawled where it could have been super-tight. Rinse: 02, though, showed his full range, from messy raver to razor-sharp analyst, woozy sentimentalist to instinctual scene connector, and it’s not only his best album to date, it’s very possibly the best dubstep album of all time. Well, can you name one that covers more ground, with more style, yet from beginning to end delivers with such immediacy, and is so impeccably sequenced and structured to boot? It’s enough to make you give up DJing.