Various Artists - Dark Matter: Multiverse 2004-2009 - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Various Artists - Dark Matter: Multiverse 2004-2009

by Charly Richardson Rating:8.5 Release Date:2010-07-05

Dark Matter is a pretty unique concept for an album. Released on Tectonic, it is a compilation of tracks made between 2004 and 2009 in Bristol's Multiverse studio. The press release states that Multiverse focuses on "exploring the unchartered spaces between genres, bridging together today's cutting edge sonic possibilities with electronic music's rich and diverse musical history". When you start to listen, you quickly realise this is no exaggeration. Dark Matter is a perfectly entitled, carefully complied exploration through cutting-edge underground and sometimes experimental electronica. Although many see Croydon as the birthplace of dubstep, Bristol has long been a pioneer of new electronic and dance music forms such as trip-hop and jungle in the 90s, and it's long-established and vibrant Jamaican community means that reggae, dub and dancehall are inescapable influences. Yet little of this album could really be classified as dubstep; it is much broader than that.

Starting both CDs with a bang is Vex'd, who started their career in Bristol before signing to Planet Mu and moving to Brixton and then Berlin. Vex'd rightly deserve this starting position. 'Lion' is dirty and raw, with pounding industrial drums and a distorted reggae vocal sample, filled in with electronic bleeps and apocalyptic soundscapes. They prove that industrial, rave and dubstep can co-habit the same piece of vinyl. 'Pop Pop' nods more towards 2-step, with a disgustingly satisfying 'wobbly' bassline, something which many Vex'd imitators have tried to pull off, few doing it as tastefully. The huge detail to their sound design is strikingly obvious.

Circuit Breaker's 'Phonque (October Remix)' sounds closer to 90s big beat, yet the metallic synth, bleeps, distorted bass and driving bongo sample help it stand out. Moving Ninja's 'Witchdokta' is an initially intriguing soundscape of multi-layered drums, echoing rain drops, a stunted string synth and occasional Indian vocal snippet. However it quickly feels dull. Luckily the next track, Pinch & Dutty's 'War Dub' is mesmerizingly dark and eerie, with a muffled thud of a beat which slowly gets clearer, underpinned by delicious, throbbing sub-bass. It is no surprise that this was used for Children of Men as it suits that films apocalyptic tone perfectly.

Croydon artist Skream is represented here by 'Bahl Fwd', a reference to the legendary FWD dubstep nights in East London. It combines a 2-step shuffle, furious bongo sample, vaguely middle-eastern sounding synth and huge snare to create an immensely danceable tune. Yet the tacky strings and horns at the beginning show that, despite being so amazingly prolific and popular, Skream is way behind his contemporaries when it comes to sound design. Take minimal techno project Emptyset, represented here by 'Gate 4' and 'Demian'. Both tracks are evidence of how worthwhile a painstakingly detailed approach to sound design can be.

'Get Up' by Pinch is remixed by Rob Smith (RSD) and features Massive Attack vocalist Yolanda Quartey delivering a simple yet powerful taste of the old skool over a melancholy piano hook and driving drums. It is probably the most mainstream of the tracks. But that's not a bad thing. 2562's 'Techno Dread' has a four-to-the-floor beat, jam-packed with neatly placed cross rhythms. It is a great example of how dubstep and techno can be blended without being crude, and is more accessible than his other offering, the haunting 'Unbalance', which sounds like an avant-garde horror film until a disjointed beat emerges and things fall into place.

Indeed, things get more experimental and abstract in the second half of Dark Matter. Moving Ninja's dream-like 'Uranium' utilises warm, euphoric pads, gentle city sounds and an understated beat, and is very reminiscent of Burial's 'In McDonalds'. 'Qawwali /Brighter Day' by Pinch is minimalistic with interesting instrumentation which includes an accordion and reversed kora. Yet October's ironically entitled 'Euro Dance Hit' is sparser still, with a beat apparently constructed from white noise.

A highlight of the album is Joker & Ginz's 'Purple City', a song which resulted in Bristol's Purple Wow Collective. Joker describes his music as 'purple' because -although he denies having synaesthesia- he sees the colour when he listens to it. The track is a densely constructed mass of crushing bass and a refreshingly melodic and catchy synth melody which gives a nod to 90s West Coast hip-hop.

By the end of the album, Dark Matter feels like a study of the how different UK underground dance genres interact and relate to each other. You can hear the different sub-genres interacting, influencing and folding back on each other in a never ending cycle experimentation. What is amazing is all this evolution happened over only five years. This ingenuity and eagerness to evolve is surely what makes UK dance music so exciting. Dark Matter perfectly catches the buzz of a new underground scene in a relatively small yet particularly fertile city.

There are a few tracks which don't quite stand up to the rest, such as 'Big Ass Mini Skirt' by The Body Snatchers, which largely relies on the crude vocal sample: "big ass mini skirt, we gona bang it 'til it hurt'; or S.N.O.'s 'Disturbance' which, despite its name and use of police chatter and sirens, fails to really kick off. Still, the overall depth and quality of the album is commendable. Material spanning a healthy cross-section of modern electronic music has been lovingly hand-picked and crafted to create something remarkably coherent. And for that, Dark Matter deserves to be put on a pedestal alongside magnificent compilations like Hyperdub's recent 5. To have a small studio like Multiverse be so influential, progressive and prolific is rare.

Charly Richardson

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