Mark "Ruff" Ryder - Acid Dubs

by Rich Morris Rating:4 Release Date:2010-06-01

Concept albums are usually the reserve of 70s prog-rock bands, but in Acid Dubs, Mark 'Ruff' Ryder attempts to prove otherwise. Sort of. This is the second part of a seven album series which, although crafted over five years, is due to be unleashed in its entirety throughout 2010. Each album includes a comic strip and video cartoons which link into one giant story which sees Mark as "as a kind of super hero on a dangerous journey which takes in a secret code , alien invasion, and much more!" As the founder of Strictly Underground Records, the somewhat prolific Romford-based Mr Ryder has been involved with various U.K. dance scenes since the late 1980s. This album series proudly showcases his diverse influences and experience, covering garage, dubstep, drum and bass and house. As the title suggests, Acid Dubs leans towards late-1980s acid house, with pounding beats, crisp, shuffling hi-hats, Roland TB-303 Bass Line synths and tripped-out breakdowns aplenty.

As is to be expected from a renowned dance DJ and producer, all tracks run seamlessly into each other, only disturbed by 'conceptual' dialogue samples. Somewhat hilariously, these snippets portray a news report of a spaceship hanging around on the London/Essex border. It is, of course, hanging over the offices of Strictly Underground Records. Seemingly unimpressed with our heroes set, the aliens eventually leave. Once they have killed Mark 'Ruff' Ryder, that is. Clearly we are not meant to take this narrative strand too seriously. Despite my initial reaction to the cringe worthy title of the first track ('Who's The Dubby'), it is clear that Ryder enjoys a bit of self-depreciating fun, notable in a breakdown in which a rather sarcastic voice snarls: "oooh, my name's Mark Ryder, and I'm a superstar DJ". The reporter also keeps emphasising that little is known about this Mark 'Ruff' Ryder chap. He's some sort of DJ apparently.

This whole alien palaver becomes a bit clearer when we are told at the start of 'Your Dub Friend' that: "You've gotta get out quick, the aliens are everywhere. Whatever you do, your music's getting ripped to shreds". Yes it seems the whole thing is an unsubtle and bitter analogy about the supposedly destructive impact of the press and the commercial music machine on, well, on Mark 'Ruff' Ryder. Taking a quick look at his ranting blogs, it all makes sense. Ryder is very sensitive when it comes to reviews. I'd better be careful what I say. Yes the fact that he has done very well independently is sort of an excuse, but it still feels preachy and unnecessary.

Anyway, back to the music. The majority of tracks do what they say on the tin. They are retro, dance-floor friendly tracks which will immediately transport any listeners of a certain age back to the ecstasy-fuelled warehouse parties of the late 1980s. If you're a fan of that period of dance music history, you will no doubt enjoy this record. This is nostalgia through and through, and there is little to suggest this was made in 2010, save for the occasional 90s vocal garage-style vocal sample and a generally cleaned-up production style. Yet what is so admirable about the U.K's independent dance music scene is that it constantly morphs and changes with the times. For such a prolific and experienced producer, I would have liked Ryder to show a little more innovation and experimentation. 'Acid Return' briefly delves into drum 'n' bass territory, but it doesn't match the energy or authenticity of his pure drum 'n' bass work. 'Best Dub In Life is Acid' is closer to late 1990s trance, and -here comes another terrible pun- 'Move Your Acid Dub' has a delightfully playful, old-skool hip-hop beat. Yet it is ruined by the emcee's inexcusable rap about his school days, including lines like: "Practised for my GCSE, I was told the rest were better than me". Yes, he's talking about his 'old school' with an 'old skool' beat behind him. I get it. Although the rest of the emceeing on the album is a touch more bearable, it generally only reinforced my long held belief that the vast majority of emcees belong in raves, not on record.

Acid Dubs may fair better when experienced alongside the other offerings Mark 'Ruff' Ryder will put out this year, which cover dubstep, trance, and live albums. The cartoon concept might fare better too. After all, the press release states that: "its intention is to create an audience that want to buy into the whole project". This is a brave and admirable mission, especially when doing so relies on people buying seven separate albums throughout one recession-laden year. This album, therefore, is strictly for diehard fans (undeniably, there are many out there). Others may struggle.

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