Scuba, Sub:stance

[Ostgut Ton]

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It’s hard to resist beginning any discussion of an Ostgut Ton release — be it a single, album, or mix compilation — without discussing the room from which its artist ostensibly drew his or her inspiration. Berghain, with its veritable pipe organ of Funktion One stacks pushing sweaty air into lofty post-industrial buttresses, is particularly susceptible to this line of thinking. As evidenced by the sandpaper highs and sucker-punch lows adopted by just about anyone who’s been at (or looking to get their records to) the club’s helm, Berghain begs producers to push its acoustic buttons in extremely particular ways.

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Even if Sub:stance, Berghain’s Hotflush-fronted bass music showcase, wasn’t a reality, there’s a better than good chance the potential influence such a space would have on dubstep would make for excellent rhetorical fodder. But forget about the furthering of dubstep’s love affair with techno or any grad student grovel about musical and architectural parity in representations of 21st-century urban decay; instead, just think about the sound — bass dropping like an atomic bomb on Westminster, coating Croydon in a thick, deadly dusting of fallout. I haven’t had the chance to experience Sub:stance firsthand, and I come to the club night’s first mix compilation — compiled by Hotflush mastermind Scuba and released on Ostgut — with the acceptance that a mix is hardly a substitute for the real thing. But Sub:stance, featuring an array of exclusive or unreleased tracks by scene stalwarts and upstarts alike, has enough of the rusty, dread-laden textures we’ve come to associate with the Berghain to provide a pretty solid approximation of what shape dubstep might take in that space. Through this filter, and in Scuba’s dextrous and profoundly able hands, dubstep sounds as bleak, wacky, and creepy as ever.

Beginning with an ambient track, “Light Swells (In Distant Space),” from Hotflush regular Sigha (making his first of four appearances here), Scuba makes it clear from the start that Sub:stance is as concerned with atmosphere as it is sub-bass. When the mix really takes off with the one-two punch of Pangaea’s “Sunset Yellow” and Joy Orbison’s “The Shrew Would Have Cushioned The Blow,” the sudden burst of energy is less a result of getting smacked in the face with bass than the chilly house vibes suggested by the introductory tracks finally opening up enough to fully envelop you.

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Once he’s grabbed you, he really takes you for a ride. Bouncing you from the insane avant-stepping of Untold, Shortstuff, and the selector himself (in the form of “You Got Me,” taken from his breathtaking forthcoming long-player, Triangulation) to the hard-edged, digital-clipping techno of Surgeon and DFRNT (remixed by Scuba) he throws you in about fifty different directions beat-wise. It’s in this portion of the mix, though, that Scuba’s expert mixing truly pays dividends. Eschewing rewinds and quick cuts for relatively extended, techno-style bleeds, Scuba guides bodies through moods as disparate as they are tense. It’s also the moment where the influence of the Berghain really starts to shine through. With its hollow, punchy kick and static-infused cymbals, AQF’s “Born And Raised (Version)” could be an MDR B-side. The same could be said for Badawi’s “Anlan 7,” which briefly simmers up through the glitches and casts impossibly black shadow on the mix. It’s Sub:stance‘s precise midpoint, and Scuba has us at a crossroads, and on the very edge of our seats.

Like Diplo continuing to drop M.I.A.s “Paper Planes” long after you helped your mom load the Slumdog Millionaire soundtrack on her iPod, Scuba is probably one of the last DJ’s in the world with free reign to play Joy Orbison’s sublime yet overexposed “Hyph Mngo.” Ironically, our selector (and the man responsible for the track’s release) creates an utterly unexpected moment out of one of the most ubiquitous sides in recent dance music history. It’s tough to construe “Hyph Mngo” as anything other than a call to place all hands in the air, but Scuba manages to turn that euphoria into something sexy, a tawdry release from all that grinding. The mix gets progressively stranger with a string of peculiar tracks you can’t imagine anyone else figuring out how to use, the best of which — Ramadanman’s “Tempest” — might be the mix’s most musically sublime. From Instra:mental’s bona-fide minimal techno banger (?!) “Voyeur” through Joker’s prog-dubstep epic “Psychedelic Runway,” Scuba’s taking us home, but he’s managing to keep it rough, sweaty, and surprising right through the final moment. Berghain, Sub:stance seems to suggest, embodies an ideal broader than techno; it’s about rawness, breadth, and quality, no matter where in a measure the bass drum happens to thump. Dance music’s favorite decommissioned power station just got a whole lot more cavernous.

[zero r=”SUB:STANCE mixed by Scuba” a=”Various Artists”]

jonnyp  on February 18, 2010 at 2:52 PM

sorry to be particular, but hailing from these parts I feel obliged to correct you: it’s Croydon not Croyden. Nice review, thanks. I like that player at the bottom too, very clever.

Ahoyskin  on February 18, 2010 at 7:39 PM

I guess I’m going to have to lift my buying a mix cd embargo after all.

harpomarx42  on February 18, 2010 at 10:07 PM

George Fitzgerald’s “Don’t You” is my favourite track at the moment. I needs to get my mitts on a copy.

rubin  on February 19, 2010 at 6:04 AM

thanks for covering this. I’ve been hammering it for the past month or so.

The mala track is the pure standout for me, but the entire mix is sick from front to back.

Headphone Commute  on April 30, 2010 at 1:24 PM

Correction: The track “Born And Raised (Version)” is produced by AQF, not Antye Greie (aka AGF).

Trackbacks » Easter  on April 1, 2010 at 10:12 AM

[…] a similar impulse.) He’s emerged as one of the world’s most impressively dexterous DJs (see his Sub:stance mix or, better yet, his latest podcast for RA for proof), dropping dubstep and 4/4 with equally sure […]

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