Releases — Dubstep Allstars Vol.10 – Mixed by Plastician / Various Artists / Tempa CD021

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Dubstep Allstars Vol.10 – Mixed by Plastician

Various Artists

Tempa CD021
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Liner Notes

"Everything starts off with a few people with an idea, doesn't it?" says Chris Reed, describing the earliest days of what would later become known as dubstep around the turn of the millennium. Alongside the likes of Hatcha, Skream, Benga and Artwork, Reed, aka Plastician, was part of a small group of friends that converged around Croydon's now-defunct Big Apple record shop to listen to records, swap tunes and give one another production advice. "That was the funniest thing, though - we had no idea," he shrugs. "We just thought we were doing dark garage!"


Plastician is a genuine one-off. An innovator in both dubstep and grime, he was one of the first producers to bridge the two genres: early tunes like 'Venom' and 'Pump Up The Jam' were dropped by Slimzee on Rinse FM around the turn of the millennium, and four tracks under his former name Plasticman - brutally stripped-back, stark and sub-heavy creatures - featured on Rephlex's now-infamous Grime compilation (which, ironically given its title, more closely documented what would later become widely known as dubstep).


"At the time no-one knew what to call what I was playing or making," he explains, "because I was making kind of a grime sound for the dubstep audience. So I was playing all of the Croydon stuff, mixed into this new take on the stripped-back grime sound, which you still hear today with people like Joker."


In the years since he's been an acknowledged influence on successive waves of artists, and has remained a leading light in dubstep as it's slowly gone global. So it seems perhaps a tad surprising that it's taken this long for him to contribute to Tempa's Dubstep Allstars mix series. In keeping with past instalments, it offers a single vision of an increasingly dispersed genre, reflected through Plastician's own perspective: brand new tracks from upcoming names and subtle nods to London in the form of MC chatter, hypnotic drones and ceaselessly rolling percussion.


Plastician first started to DJ while in a garage crew at college. It was the need to provide suitably rough and subby tracks for MCs that drew him into the darker mutations that were beginning to emerge - Zinc's '138 Trek', Zed Bias, and El-B's deliciously swung remixes of chart material. "Most of that stuff just lent itself to DJing for MCs," he remembers, "so when I was going to Big Apple I was asking for the new instrumentals. They needed to be dark, they needed to be bassy, so I was only interested in that."


It was those interests that drew him into an alliance with Hatcha, who was working in the shop at the time, as well as the then-teenage Skream and Benga, other shop regulars who were involved in another garage crew. They became friends, and started to teach each other production tricks. "I think that's how the dubstep sound started off," Plastician says, "Because we were all showing each other the same way to make music, and without knowing it we were creating our own way of making sounds. A lot of it just began to sound similar."


Over a few years, the Croydon sound evolved in relative isolation. It was only around 2001 or 2002 that the word 'dubstep' began to be used to describe it, and in 2003, Plastician was first invited to play at the scene's flagship night FWD>>. "I was really nervous about playing there, because I'd been going there since the very first FWD>> at Velvet Rooms," he recalls. "But it was amazing. I played back-to-back with Mark One, and I'd just finished my remix of his track 'Fight'. That was the first time I played it out, and I'd never played out on a system like that before. The intro to that track is really quiet, so I kept turning it up as it was building to the drop - like, 'it's too quiet, it's too quiet' - and the crowd were just standing there waiting for it. And when it dropped, it dropped so loud that the bass blew my hair back! We both looked at each other like 'What the...!'"


Over the following few years, dubstep's reach began to extend, and around 2006, when it really started to explode, Plastician found himself at the forefront of a rapidly mutating sound. He continued to draw together elements of dubstep, grime and similar sub-driven genres in his own productions, DJ sets and show on Rinse FM. It’s something that remains crucial to his approach to this day. "I still like to do the same thing now," he nods. "But now, I think, the lines between genres are a lot clearer."


Indeed, dubstep in 2012 means many different things to different people - something he kept in mind while piecing together the tracklist for Dubstep Allstars 10. "Now that dubstep's so big, you ask two different people to tell you what a dubstep tune is, and one person will tell you 'Anti War Dub' by DMZ and the other person will tell you something by Skrillex." he explains. "I just wanted to do a mix that I can say 100% I think that all these tracks are dubstep, or not far from it. It's as close to a 'pure' dubstep mix as I could be, without doing an old skool mix. So it was trying to keep it fresh - it's all current stuff - but with an old head on my shoulders."


That 'old head' is mindful of the genre's history, even though the music on the mix is all new. Gradually tracing a narrative arc from a briskly percussive opening section, it explodes into a roaring and ravey middle, before drifting away into a meditative and melody-soaked final third. London itself, and the suburban sprawl and weight of the early Croydon sound, are crucial reference points. They anchor the mix in a sense of physical location, an approach that's important at a time when strict geographies in music are becoming increasingly atomised by the internet. Synths roar like police sirens, sub-bass scorches everything it touches, and percussion is taut and driven by flurries of conga hits. Meanwhile, MCs - Doctor, Merky Ace, Newham Generals' Footsie - lend a languid flow to wrenching beats by J:Kenzo and Cato, strong reminders of dubstep's essential connection to grime.


Taken as a whole, then, Dubstep Allstars Vol. 10 is a reminder of the critical role of the selector as a filter: although the contributing tracks come from a variety of places, the context they're played within links them all into a specific history and shared aesthetic. Plastician's approach here creates strength in numbers - each individual track serves to enhance the others around it.


Rory Gibb
December 2012
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