Scientist - Scientist Launches Dubstep into Outer Space

by Charly Richardson Rating:8 Release Date:2010-11-29

Tectonic have called Scientist Launches Dubstep into Outer Space their "most ambitious project to date", and I am inclined to agree. On the surface the premise is simple enough: choose a set of 12 unreleased and exclusive dubstep originals by artists such as Kode 9, Shackleton, Pinch and RSD; get Scientist to remix them; and then release the original and remix album together. Yet it is the exploration of complex issues about dubstep's history, culture and musical heritage which makes this really intriguing. Although most dubstep (and the subgenres it has spawned) moved from the dub-reggae to the minimal house or futuristic electronica side of the spectrum long ago, Scientist Launches Dubstep into Outer Space invariably acts as a bold statement on a musical debt. Like it or not, dubstep - and indeed most dance music forms - owe their very existence to the innovations of Jamaican producers in the 70s and 80s. And Scientist is one of the most influential.

Hopeton Brown had an electrician as a father, and was an apprentice of dub's number one innovator, King Tubby, while in his early teens. As apprenticeships go, it doesn't get much better than that. Always eager to learn and keep music evolving, the technically brilliant Brown's legendary mixing ability quickly earned him his nickname after Tubby joked: "damn, this little boy must be a scientist." As they say, the rest is history, and Scientist has been hugely prolific and respected ever since.

Label boss Pinch kicks off the original CD with '2012'. Its grandiose organ and dreamy vocals (by upcoming Berlin-based artist Emika) help it live up to its dark title (2012 being the year the Mayans predicted the apocalypse). Other highlights include King Midas' highly unique 'U', featuring Japanese singer Hitomi and London-based Trinidadian poet Roger Robinson, under which The Bug (aka super-producer Kevin Martin) places a delicate, brooding soundscape. RSD's 'After All' is a slice of Luciano-style post-dancehall roots (albeit with a filthy bassline). Prince Jamo provides the soaring, optimistic vocal melody. 'Hackney Marshes' is mesmerising and borderline avant-garde, proof that Shackleton is considerably bolder than many of his contemporaries. Guido, however, is an exception; his superb 'Korg Back' utilises a crunchy beat, a sea of synths and numerous nods to sci-fi. Alongside artists like Kuedo (Jamie Vex'd), Guido shows which direction the scene should be heading in if it is to survive forays into the mainstream by clichéd, carbon-copy imitators. He also shows that, as always, Bristol is on the cutting edge of electronica (Pinch and Joker are Bristolians too).

It is a shame that many of the other choices are less inspiring, and you can't help thinking that there is a reason why they were previously unreleased. Asbo (Loefah and SGT Pokes) offer 'Dog Money'. It has a nice groove and dreamy synths at the end, but little else. Jack Sparrows' 'Red Sand' takes us towards bassline/funky house territory, complete with a somewhat bizarre tribal vocal sample. Randomn Trio's Cyrus provides 'Footsteps'. The skippy, disjointed beat and huge sub-bass are intriguing, but it sounds like a sampled loop not a finished track. Kode 9 and Spaceape's 'Abeng' is gloriously futuristic and eccentric, yet it's not quite up to the standard of their other work.

And then Scientist takes the controls. Despite being from a different generation (and country), he quickly shows the UK producers that minimal music doesn't have to be dull. In his armoury he has a seemingly endless supply of delay, reverb, filter, and phaser units, all of which are utilised, giving a fresh twist to the better originals, and a breath of life to the stale ones. He brings samples in and out, creating a patchwork quilt of soundscapes. Just the way he pans effects between speakers is exemplary. You may feel trippy, you may feel invigorated, you may feel disorientated and confused. In all likelihood, it will be a mixture of them all. His remix of Distance's 'Ill Kontent' is a good example; nightmarish, twisted, and downright brilliant all at the same time. All in all, his remixes are as eccentric and unique as the album's title and cartoon-cover (both tributes to his legendary series of albums for Greensleeves Records in the 80s).

Despite taking a largely old-school approach to remixing, Scientist displays a broad understanding of dubstep and elctronica. Dub has always been more personal than social, and his remixes are indeed better suited to listening rather than dancing. Scientist's only fault is that at times his remixes become a little too chaotic. He deploys his tools like a true craftsman, but sometimes gets carried away. Still, that's part of the charm; you can hear he is genuinely having a lot of fun.

Dubstep has evolved too far for me to declare that Scientist has 'schooled' the UK producers, but this is an evocative meditation on dubstep's heritage. Not that they needed a reminder; contributor Mala said this was an honour, calling Scientist "an original dub master". Scientist Launches Dubstep into Outer Space is a brave post-modern adventure: a legendary dub producer remixing the products of a scene he helped spawn. It highlights in glorious detail the similarities and differences between the approaches of producers who, although from two different scenes and generations, create musical forms which are inextricably linked. Or as Pinch puts it in the press release: "the influence of dub swings round full circle!" Kudos to him for taking the initiative; few other labels would have dared.

Charly Richardson

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