One of the smartest things about dubstep, the sound of bass driven urban music reconstructed with a grainy, filmic sheen of menace, is it's sheer amorphousness. This is aside from it being (Like jungle in the early 90s) originated uniquely in Britain and more specifically within the pirate radio microcosm of the nation's capital. It's an ambiguity that reflects the composite nature of the movement's ingredients – splinters of grime, garage splinter two-step and dub reggae, mix to taste – and it gives a panoramic template for many a young laptop auteur who both create and devour it so voraciously.
It also remains an underground movement in it's strictest non-commercial terms, for whilst the largely anonymous Burial earned a Mercury Music Prize nomination for his second album Untrue, few outside of its burgeoning global movement were even peripherally aware of it. The evidence would suggest however that for the artists concerned, this is fine. Many of it's key progenitors seem to prefer a pseudonymous existence – a handful being Scuba, Boxcutter, Tempa, and Kode 9 – and in general interviews are rare. All of this makes those who might be labelled dubstep "stars" a rarity. But occasionally either by demonstration of talent or an equal desire to elevate the movement into the spotlight, one emerges. Benga (AKA Beni Uthman) is one of these few.
Perhaps this is because he amongst a handful can hold a legitimate claim to be an authentic pioneer of the bass obsessed sound, having emerged as far back as 2002 with his debut release, Skank on the seminal Big Apple label. Since then he's been responsible for a steady stream of top-of-its-game EPs, including collaborations with contemporaries Skream, Hatcha, and Walsh and has personally grown in palette as the sound itself has evolved, mutating his personal output from dubstep's more homogeneous roots.
Coming from the movement's South London epicenter – the concrete and bitumen sealed powder keg of Croydon – Benga's been making tunes since the age of twelve (He's 22 now), mainly inspired originally by UK garage artists like Wookie and the multifarious pirate radio stations that crackle across the cities airwaves. As his popularity has grown along with the genre, his music has found a wider audience with shows on imprints like Rinse FM.
So, all things considered the release of Diary of An Afro Warrior last year was as close to the top of a hype cycle in dubstep circles as you can possibly imagine. And given its growing overall critical kudos at that point, it would've been the simplest of tasks to crank up the sub-bass wobble and churn out a series of 140's, meeting expectations and doubtless collecting awards like confetti in the wake of patronage from an industry who's who.
Easy, but absolutely not the game-plan. Just take closer "Loose Synths", the kind of almost jazzy post ambient workout that German mavericks Mouse on Mars have been known to turn out. Uthman spoke after the release of Diary..of a need to get the tracks into the hands of DJ's, sounding like a man on a crusade. Whether this was to prove that dubstep per se is capable of producing far more diversity or that he personally is capable of transcending it, either point is proven.
That's not to say that there isn't plenty for the aficionado to nod their head appreciatively: the 2007 neo-classic "Crunked Up" gets another deserved outing, and both "The Cut" and "B4 The Dual" are familiar territory, interweaving organ pummelling low frequency dynamics with loping kicks and snares. But it's where Diary.. goes off base that it becomes really interesting. A few months ago LA producer Steven Ellison, AKA Flying Lotus, released Los Angeles, a similarly technicolor exercise on magpie aesthetics. Here too apparently there are no limits, as evidenced by the mesmerizing rave stabs of "E-Trips", whilst the faux Rhodes of opener "Zero M2" is a fittingly genre busting prelude. There's even a techno run-out ("Pleasure") which will be giving The Hacker new something new to think about.
Having been around in one almost recognizable format or another for most of the decade, it may well be time for dubstep to mutate into some other identity. When – not if – it does, Benga and a handful of others will be there at the vanguard, still giving us nightmares whilst making us dance.Powered by Sidelines