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Dusk + Blackdown - Dasaflex

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Artist: Dusk + Blackdown

Album: Dasaflex

Label: Keysound

Review date: Sep. 18, 2012

It’s sort of amazing how much excitement still exists surrounding U.K. Bass music and how, despite the browbeating it’s taken in the press, we’re still not exactly sure what to call it. The stuff that key artists and scenes keep coming up with makes it harder and harder to justify a blanket genre without trying to get creative on your own in clarifying the sustained attraction to this post-dubstep archipelago.

“Put in simple, indivisible terms: this stuff is really, really fun right now.” The words of Blackdown’s Martin Clark in one of his last Month in Grime/Dubstep columns for Pitchfork resonate as strongly as they did over a year ago. The thrill of inhaling RinseFM and never knowing what to expect from a Oneman set or catching unreleased Four Tet dubs on a Hessle Audio show still exists. The borders are broken and every new set carries with it the potential of bringing some special surprise.

Clark knows better than I do how thrilling it all is – he’s been indulging in this music with Dan Frampton as Dusk + Blackdown for at least a decade, dating back to pre-Rinse radio shows and continuing on through the Pitchfork column, a short-lived NME column, and the creation of his own Keysound Recordings imprint in 2005. All of the Dusk + Blackdown releases have come out on Keysound but, in recent years, their own output has slowed as they spend more time preparing for their shows and releasing the music of others (Sully’s Carrier and LHF’s Keepers of the Light are the most recent albums). They were able to muster some excitement recently for a Burial collaboration on the High Road EP, but things have been quiet for both men personally as it’s assumed they have more pressing matters with which to attend.

And yet, for running the rat race as long as they have, Dasaflex sounds circumspect next to something from Pearson Sound or Addison Groove. The follow-up to 2008’s Margins Music still clings to sounds and rhythms that wouldn’t have been out of place on a Groovetech show they were doing a decade ago. Aside from the chopped vocal of the title-track, the mind-warp of “R in Zero G,” and the woodpecker rhythms that liven up “Fraction” on the back end, the album feels dated.

It makes sense in context. “In the period after making our debut album Margins Music we swore we wouldn’t, couldn’t do it again," they avow in the press release. Ah, but then, then, “the sands began to change around us, and sifting through a sea of beats for our Rinse FM show, we began to be re-inspired, in many different ways.”

I’m not sure if that means some of these songs are over three years old, but the results acknowledge 10-plus years of London’s most forward-thinking musical cultures by paying tribute rather than taking a definitive stance or furthering a particular agenda (drum n’ bass, garage, footwork, etc.).

On the other hand, if you’ve been doing it as long as Clark and Frampton have, why wouldn’t you want to sound like this? Unlike some of these producers who were still prepubescent when Mala was breaking, Dusk + Blackdown carry the story with them as baggage; it’s not a surprise that Dasaflex comes off as a history lesson in that light. Hence, you get a healthy helping of tracks that sound like vintage dubstep or grime from ’05 onward: the aforementioned “High Road” for a taste of Burial’s unique oeuvre; the particularly aggro “Apoptosis” with its sampled grunt; “Next Generation” featuring a pretty bland bunch of rhymes from Marcus Nasty associate Shantie. I also hear Pinch, Akala and Ikonika in these songs.

Dasaflex may be a history lesson – even a good one – but like Dusk + Blackdown’s radio shows or even Clark’s writing, I come away remembering the overall point more than any one particular moment. I can’t recall much from their most recent Rinse show or any one line from that Burial interview, but I get a great sense of how these guys hear London and the changing sands. In their other pursuits, it’s desirable to see the forest from the trees. With Dasaflex, strangely, it feels like a handicap.

By Patrick Masterson

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Margins Music

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