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Dusk + Blackdown - Margins Music

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Artist: Dusk + Blackdown

Album: Margins Music

Label: Keysound

Review date: Dec. 2, 2008

In a blog post entitled “Where is Dubstep,” dated November 10, 2004, Martin Clark (aka Blackdown) eloquently etched out the primary foundations of dubstep’s stark elements. Written two years before the genre received worldwide attention, the post paid homage to dubstep’s crucial musical influences such as King Tubby, Basic Channel, Wiley and Detroit techno, while putting primary emphasis on the inspirational effect of London itself:

“ ... most of all you’ll hear the echoes of modern multicultural London, of Jamaican, African, Chinese, Indian, American, Cockney and even Scottish accents. Reflections come off crumbling warehouses, dirty towerblocks, endless row terraces, unhinged nightbus rides, skunked-out cars and clattering overland trains. London: this is the defining influence on dubstep; that which gives it its tempered, edgy, compressed character. These are the echoes of a tense, intense city. This is mystical margin music. This is London, 2004.”

Fast-forward to 2008: The media hype on blogs, forums and file-sharing sites surrounding dubstep over the past two years has transmitted its seismic frequencies far from the Croydon borough where the genre was fathered. Though the transnational spread of dubstep’s subsonic weight has allowed producers of wildly varying backgrounds to interpret its sounds in their own way (ex: the current techstep amalgam that has cemented in Bristol, the Netherlands, and Berlin this year), the genre’s proliferation has also distanced the music from the gloomy streets that sparked its original mutation from Jamaican dub, 2-step and garage.

Margins Music, however, serves as a definitive reminder of dubstep’s London roots. It’s the first full-length from Clark and his cohort Dan (Dusk) Frampton after a string of 12”s on their own Keysound Recordings, providing a powerful tour of the city’s boroughs through a blend of bass, field-recorded narrations, and Bollywood breaks. Clark’s thorough chronicling of the dubstep/grime scene over the past four years has certainly paid off; his efforts to blend journalism, documentary, and music are direct enough to cultivate a logical narrative, but are woven together with such subtlety that his intentions aren’t overly intrusive on the music itself. If Burial’s self-titled debut conjured a blurred, post-apocalyptic image of an underwater London, then Margins Music is its forward-thinking counterpart to the here-and-now.

A looped sample of Roll Deep Entourage emcee Target opens the album, rambling on about how the police sirens in the background provide a perfect accompaniment to the grime collective’s current setting – Limehouse, he elaborates. The album’s immediate association with specific location establishes its connection with grime’s strict territorialism, setting the tone with a groove that tumbles lazily while the chatter ensues. Almost all of the lyrical content featured throughout Margins Music revolves distinctly around London, from the sampled monologues of teenagers discussing their interpretations of the city, to emcee Trimbale pledging his allegiance to the east side.

Though Margins Music’s message relies heavily on grime’s mentality, its actual musical traits are dominated by the incorporation (or “re-appropriation” as Clarke suggested in a recent interview) of Indian musical traditions. Tablas, sitar ragas, and Bollywood samples form the basis for many of the tracks – several of which also feature original vocals from special guest Farrah, who is Pakistani. The technique could easily be dismissed as glossy kitsch, but Dusk + Blackdown thread the elements together masterfully: On “Concrete Streets,” for example, Durrty Goodz’s biographical rhymes are peppered with bursts of strings and skittering snares.

It’s the way that these elements are so seamlessly integrated that makes Margins Music so convincingly potent, its cohesiveness embodying the diverse scene of London’s streets through a tectonic melting pot of sound, bass, culture, and interpretation in the digital age. As much anthropological document as it is club-ready head music, the record feels absolutely alive and fluid in comparison to the mechanical rigidness that electronic music can often convey – even if its 14 tracks echo the bleak, mundane futility of everyday life. At the very least, the strength of Margins’ intricate, intimate structure makes it dubstep’s most successful long-player to date, and a sure-fire contender for album of the year.

By Cole Goins

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