Releases — Dubstep Allstars Vol.08 – Mixed by Distance / Various Artists / Tempa CD018

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Dubstep Allstars Vol.08 – Mixed by Distance

Various Artists

Tempa CD018
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Liner Notes

Dubstep's expansion in all directions is undeniable and unstoppable. It's become an interwoven, interacting, multi-varied, multi-national system of systems; a pile-up of post-this, future-that and a-bit-of-the-other-step springing up on a weekly basis. Grime MC's, electro DJ's, American rock kids, indie songwriters, mega-pop artists – all are putting their own, sometimes dramatically new, twists on the rhythms and sonics. As it pushes further towards the fringes and the mainstream simultaneously, confusion reigns over what dubstep even is.

Which means that there's no better time for Tempa to bring things back to basics by turning to Greg Sanders – DJ Distance. If there's one man who can give a snapshot of the core of dubstep as such in 2011 it's Distance. He's been there in the scene from the beginning, from way back when the sound's aficionados could be numbered in the hundreds worldwide. And from then 'til now, his DJ sets, his own productions and his Chestplate label have always stayed true to the deep, heavy and immersive style from which sprung everything else we hear today. What he plays, and what he's put on this CD, is dubstep from the heartlands: the biggest and best dubplates from the people who have made the scene what it is.

Yet Distance is not what you could call a purist, and nor is he stuck in the past. From the very outset way back in the early 2000s, he was emblematic of dubstep's mongrel nature, the young metal-lover who found common ground between the sub-bass of dark garage and the huge stadium dynamics of bands like System Of A Down. From that rock background he has retained a love of grittiness that has informed his production, but also an understanding of song structure that you can hear in his astounding remix of Mr Lager & Alys B's “Tell Me” (which appeared on the previous volume of Dubstep Allstars) and the brilliantly catchy collaboration with Alys that followed for his major label debut “Falling”.

“I don't like to force it,” he insists; “I don't want to do crossover for the sake of it or take any old remix – but dubstep has got that space in it, and it's flexible, so I do look out for possibilities to do songs because that's part of what I grew up with.” He's even comfortably extended his style to combine his rhythms with what might seem a very far-removed part of club music. His remix of mega-trance duo Above & Beyond's “Sun and Moon”, which appears here, combines their sweeping trance riffs and vocals with his dark rocker's sensibility and classic dubstep heft. While some have brought trance elements in as a way of exposing dubstep to the light, Distance drags the trance back into dubstep's shadowy corners.

And he's constantly moved with the times as a DJ too, especially in the last three years when he's featured endless unsigned young producers on his Rinse FM show (not least one James Blake whose career was kickstarted when Untold heard Distance play one of his demos). This aspect of what he does has been increasingly important to him. “It's encouraging,” he says, “to hear exactly how many people out there are doing stuff that doesn't just stick to whatever is the popular style. And it's surprising how many of those are doing something interesting – so it's good to feed that encouragement back, because if these guys don't get that acknowledgement that what they're doing is good, they might just end up thinking they need to copy whoever's the current big producer.”

For this mix, though, he has returned to the source. What you get on Dubstep Allstars Vol.08 is the music that has always formed the backbone of Distance's DJ sets: the artists he's retained solid links to over the years. It's packed with Distance's own productions, and those of his closest associates in the scene Cyrus and Tunnidge, but also with others he's collaborated with over the years. Benga is here with the fearsomely dark “Chemical Compound”, a slap across the face for those who think he's all about pop-step or jump-around wobblers nowadays. And Bristol's DJ Pinch appears, teamed up with Distance in their Deleted Scenes guise, demonstrating his continued mastery of exquisite detail in production and showing just why he is still a lynchpin of the scene and still rattling chests some eight years on from his conversion to the sound.

While Distance was honoured to be chosen for the series, he knew why Tempa had chosen him, and felt no pressure when it came to the tracklist. “These are the tunes I would play anywhere,” he affirms; “and I don't think there's any need to change that.” It's not just favourite tunes banged together, though: he's keen that it stand up as an example of the DJ's art. “People need to appreciate that a DJ is a 'selector' too,” he says, “because it's easy to pick a dozen crowd-pleasers and bang them together, but it's something else to select carefully and make the sequence and mixing turn them into something else, a mix that draws you in.”

Completely refusing the idea that there is a split in the style between “hard” and “deep”, Distance has perfectly exhibited his and his friends' distinctively dark but powerfully moving style here. And in the process created a perfect document to show that despite all its variants and offspring, straight-up dubstep still has integrity and power in 2011. “I hope,” he says, “that as well as for hardcore fans, this will work for people who might have got into all the 'bangers' that everyone listens to on YouTube but now want something more. People who are realising it's not all rave riffs, and starting to understand about real soundsystem music.”

And that's what it's really about... if anyone questions that real soundsystem music still has value – this CD is the answer.

Joe Muggs
London, Summer 2011

 

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