Various Artists
Grime
Rephlex
2004
B+



note to the unwary: this is not what is popularly regarded as “Grime”. The sleevenotes admit as much: “The purists might debate the name, but while they do that, crews around the world are uniting in this strong and fresh dance movement.”

The music usually called Grime, that made by the likes of Wiley, Dizzee Rascal and N.A.S.T.Y. crew, is strictly an East London thing, while the sound showcased here is associated with South London, even though it is not always produced there. Of the three artists featured here, in fact, only one, Plasticman, is from South London; Slaugther Mob hail from North of the river, and MarkOne is from Manchester.

The chief difference between the two scenes lies in the role of the MC. The East London Grime scene is constructed around MCs; they are a virtual presence even in its instrumental tracks, which have been designed and produced for use with vocals. In contrast with Dizzee or Wiley's graffiti-dense riot of slanguage, Rephlex's take on Grime is neutron bomb-depopulated, scoured clean of verbal hurly burly—more Canary Wharf than Billingsgate fish market. Additionally, there's a richer, less brutalistic quality to the Rephlex sound. The tracks here have a lushness and sheen lacking in the gratifyingly ruff ‘n’ ready Playstation productions of the East End crew.

But quibbles about categorization shouldn’t distract from the fact that this is a fabulous album. Plasticman has sometimes been compared to techno but his sound, like that of the two other artists, is less like techno than techstep: the austere, mechanoid microgenre into which jungle calcified in the late 90s. Techstep was what happened when the last traces of ecstasy in rave culture drained away, leaving a paradoxical joy-in-dread and pleasure-in-tension. Yet Grime is no mere reprise. Whereas techstep would dilate single ideas over a whole track, the music here tends to switch mood and tone every eight bars.

The opener, MarkOne’s awesome “Stargate 92”, is a masterpiece of clinically clipped breakbeats, swirling FX and stabbing bass. It’s almost like an older, darker, moodier version of the kind of track jungle pioneers Tango and Ratty produced back in the early 90s. Plasticman's “Pump up the Jam” resuscitates the corpse of Technotronic's hip-house hit of the same name, resituating the cheery hook into a desolated anhedonic plateau, like the remains of a garish poster left on the walls of a post-apocalyptic city. His “Camel Ride” meanwhile, sheathes a cyborg endoskeleton in a synthetic skin weaved in the 4th World, conjuring a mournful mirage reminiscent of Jon Hassell. Slaughter Mob, dubbier and spacier, sound like nothing so much as a 00’s Cabaret Voltaire: their “Fireweaver” takes the Cabs’ paranoia-as-a-form of resistance worldview (“Fear is the most powerful weapon we have”, “Trust no-one”, “Question Authority”) and simmering electro insinuation, while the bleak acid of “Black Hole” is all Voice of America-style pitched-down vocal samples and viscous synths.



Reviewed by: Mark Fisher
Reviewed on: 2004-06-10
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