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Scuba - DJ-Kicks

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Artist: Scuba

Album: DJ-Kicks

Label: !K7

Review date: Nov. 4, 2011

A specter is haunting dance music. And that specter is dubstep. As with most electronic music genres, it’s a marvelously adaptable term, standing in for a slew of values and expectations that run deeper but are vastly more changeable than, like, a signature instrument or BPM range. Go ahead, add a prefix, infix, or suffix: Post-dubstep? Dubfuckingstep? Dubstep-lite? And magically: Mount Kimbie, bros, Skrillex.

Techno is another word-organism, a great dark sponge of connotation mingled with precise details, a cloud of glass dust with nothing substantial inside. I mean that affectionately. In order to talk about Scuba, a/k/a Paul Rose, both of dupstep and techno have to come up, with all their functional imprecision. But rather than scamper over to Wikipedia for some futile last-minute recon, I’ll go ahead and admit that I can’t draw Scuba’s family tree. We’re dealing with a mix here, anyway, a product whose authorship is difficult to grasp even when it’s amazing—which mixes often are. They’realso necessarily quick to die.

So the first thing I noticed was that Scuba’s contribution to the DJ-Kicks series stands out in the fray of RA and LWE podcasts on my phone. In terms of color, its dark propulsion makes me think of the gleaming contours of Kangding Ray’s Or, one of this year’s standouts. Kind of wedged between being a headfuck and being functional club material, it fits in with Scuba’s Berghain association while standing on its own. In keeping with Scuba’s past, you can detect a hint of dubstep’s lopsided lurch along with techno’s hallmark smooth bass bumps.

After a generously paced warm-up, Peverelist’s “Sun Dance” introduces an epic vibe, a kind of pensive, restrained melody that hangs well back from the rhythmic work. The home-listening appeal stays strong for the rest of the mix. Scuba doesn’t hold back from troubling the flow with mini-breakdowns—there’s a smart, active resistance to boiling things down to empty groove. The artists represented give an idea of how: Marcel Dettmann plays the Berlin mascot, Boddika contributes an up-to-date UK bass feel, and Sex Worker is the unexpected vocal track—casting Daniel Martin-McCormick’s yelps as a new form of divahood.

We could talk about standout tracks too—Beaumont’s “Cpx11” in particular is a sunny counterpoint to the mix’s sneaky nighttime atmosphere—but you get the point. Scuba’s DJ-Kicks entry stands out because it straddles styles effortlessly, sure, but it’s not an essay or summation. It’s just a smart encapsulation of underground dance music’s better qualities, but not so showoffy that it can’t work as an hourlong immersion tank.

By Brandon Bussolini

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