When it comes to commentating on the past decade of underground UK sound, few come more qualified than Martin ‘Blackdown‘ Clark. Whether it be his vital roles as music journalist, Rinse FM host, label owner, producer or DJ; it’s safe to say – through years of immersion in music – this man knows his onions. As co-owner of Keysound Recordings, alongside sidekick Dusk, we have been introduced to, or, re-connected with the sounds of Starkey, Sully, Kowton, Skream, LHF, Vibezin, LV and Logos.
As we fast approach our 10th-anniversary on the 19th October, Blackdown takes us on an insightful journey through a decade of pivotal moments in grime, dubstep, footwork and beyond…
2002: Slimzee ft Dizzee Rascal Sidewinder Bonus CD 2002
“I think this is potentially my favourite grime set of all time. Dizzee in his prime, Slimzee in his prime: it’s simply too ruff. Recorded for Sindwinder, grime’s most seminal club, this is a unique snapshot of a unique time and if there’s one thing that watching the cycles of London music has taught me it’s that periods of intense creativity like this was, last for only so long, even though they feel like forever when you’re in them. So treasure every moment.”
2003: High Plains Drifter Feat. Goldspot Productions “Sholay (Epic Mix)” [Tempa]
“For a long time this was my favourite dubstep track, it probably still might be. Produced by Benny Ill from Horsepower and Goldspot, it samples the seminal Bollywood film and just takes you to another (sub)continent. The vinyl pressing was 300!”
2004: Riko & Target “Chosen One” [Aim High]
“Listening to this just gave me full on memory flood grief. 2004 was a great year for grime, exploding with possibilities and Target’s Aim High label was one of the brightest stars. Riko came with this yard flow to grime and was able to show his conscious side with this, despite obviously being a pretty road guy. Roll Deep were untouchable at this time: this was the greatest period of the greatest grime crew ever.
2005: Digital Mystikz “Neverland” [DMZ]
“This reminds me of Plastic People, its long building intro noticeable from the drums. In the dark smokey dancefloor it’d tumble into the breakdown, send shockwaves of emotion around the club and fresh shards of light through the nascent dubstep scene, build up again before inevitably being rewound. And there you’d be, all the way back at those intro drums again.”
2006: Skream “Midnight Request Line” [Tempa]
There’s lots of music from 2006 I could pick but I think it would be wrong not to choose the tipping point. Still not bored of it, still remember Skepta and Wiley going off to it in Forward>>. Still remember Youngsta cutting doubles of it onto 10″ Transition dubplate and mixing it a beat out. My jaw dropped to the floor and back. Speechless.
2007: Apple “Mr Bean” [Street Tuff Recordings]
“Yes this is the year Burial “Untrue” came out but if I have to introduce you to that album then you’re really on the wrong website. Instead of dubstep a new sound was bubbling underground. Alienated (by grime) UK garage DJs had turned to US house, and as always happens, began to make their own LDN mutations of it. Apple’s “Mr Bean” might be pretty loop-y but it has that raw, almost eski feel to it yet is also from the house lineage while underpinned by soca rhythms. Another “wot do u call it” moment. Treasure those.
2008: Ikonika “Please” [Hyperdub]
“I’ve singled out Ikonika here but really it was a cluster of Hyperdub releases, “Please” plus Darkstar “Need You,” Zomby “Spliff Dub (Rustie Remix)” and the Quarta 330’s remix of Kode9’s “9 Samurai” that reclaimed the mid range from the wobble-doughnuts and introduced this neon, irradiated unstable synth sound that I’m not sure has, to this day, yet run its creative course. No one liked the word “wonky” but the ideas behind the pan-genre term remain profoundly powerful.”
2009: Kode9 “Black Sun” [Hyperdub]
“So if the cluster of synthy tracks started something new, then “Black Sun” suggested exciting possibilities for the existing UK funky scene. Frankly this track was years ahead of its time and the b-side’s message about dubstep “its too far gone/there’s no way back” was lost on most, but “Black Sun” still sounds light years ahead now. This video I recorded on my Nokia N95 at one of the few “Beyond” nights Geneeus organised to give funky its own Forward>> or Metalheadz. Sadly they didn’t continue but the legacy of “Black Sun” looms large over 2012.
2010: Various “Bangs & Works Vol. 1” [Planet Mu]
“Some say the internet has ruined musical subcultures now everything is accessible anywhere, all the time. If that’s so, why weren’t we all listening to footwurk/juke for the last decade? In truth it took Mike Paradinas’ sense of curatorial insight to pull together and present this fast, raw and underground sound. What 160bpm (or 80bpm) now means for UK producers is still being worked out by Om Unit et al but for many their fixation with ghetto vocal chops and old school drum machines started here. See also: Addison Groove’s “Footcrab” as a game changer.
2011: Kuedo “Scissors” [Planet Mu]
“Severant” was my non-Keysound album of 2011 by a country mile. Historically I hadn’t always agreed with Jamie Vex’d’s musical choices but this album and the remixes that built towards it I fell hopelessly for. On one hand it painted a hazy sense of mid-field sweeping grandeur soaked in Vangelis synths. On the other its rattlesnake drums preceded the trap fixation we currently find ourselves in, albeit in more interesting and creative ways. Road/arty, epic/ruff… its near perfect.”
So what will 2012’s track of the year be? Certainly from my quarters it won’t be a demented brostep banger, mediocre tech house DJ tool or a tepid future garage “hit,” and I don’t connect on a personal level with trap, so who knows. Personally I think after several years of meandering exploration and dissociation, people are looking for a sense of focus and hence belonging again. My eyes are on the 130bpm and 160bpm pockets of creativity right now. After all this colour, dark/edgy feels fresh again too. Watch out for the new wave…