Now that musical styles can spread miles from their native habitats in a matter of hours, as if they were pieces on a Risk board, we can imagine a low-frequency version of the legendary board game. If we focused on the North Atlantic, this would be the status of the war: dubstep disappears from the islands and emerges on the other side of the ocean having lost its bass, attracting pop stars with those monstrous middle-frequency burps; there is no bass, there is no dub, and the only “steps” in sight are headed towards the grave, when the style ends up becoming the multinationals’ broken toy. On the other hand, footwork, which started out as guerrilla warfare among ninjas with skilful feet in Chicago, already has an enclave in London thanks to Paradinas and the Planet Mu mothership. And in the centre of the transatlantic hubbub is the UK, where critics only talk about bass, the island’s indigenous music par excellence as brit-pop never was (however many Union Jacks you may see at Oasis concerts). The myriad styles that it is made up of receive the same treatment, whether it’s UK funky, post-dubstep or grime. It’s really a relief for fans, since so many labels were starting to look like the various factions of Monty Python’s People’s Front of Judea: call it bass, then. And it works on the turntable, whether in the form of “bass-vassals” (footwork) or “basstardisations” (Skrillex).
In such an eclectic atmosphere, everyone does whatever they feel like doing: Bok Bok now includes grime songs; Bass Clef, house with booming bass; Shackleton and Actress have gone and headed for outer space. But they all do bass. Simpler. And then we finally come to Roska. His first release, the renowned “Rinse Presents Roska” (Rinse, 2010) combined a syncopated clean, minimal UK funky with sensual, urban, house music for night owls. It was an irresistible hybrid, set out on an excellent album that stood out from the crowd. So as far as the continuation goes, we have to give the good news first: Wayne Goodlitt doesn’t repeat the formula of the first volume, and he throws himself into experimenting with other styles, influenced by the eclecticism around him. The bad news is that this album doesn’t live up to his debut for Rinse and it has ups and downs that make it a lesser work. The tone of the album, in general, is much more riled up: here, there is none of that savoir-faire and the free and easy quality of songs like “Wonderful Day” that invited us to “have a day with no regrets”. In this new Roska we have the author breaking his teeth from chewing on so much gravel. Urban tension. Not in vain, his point of reference is the early days of Wiley and grime in general: tough bass and squeaking synthesizers, as if he were emulating an ecosystem of prehistoric 8bit creatures.
The result is nothing to sneeze at: songs like “Onrinsesincezeroeight” – dissonance, syncopation, suspense – set out ideas that are primitive, but which have a good rhythmic shell. Now where the Brit has fallen a bit flat is in the vocal tracks aimed more at the dance floor: neither “Memories” nor “Do You Like This” are the bangers that we expected. No. They’re too flaccid: the choruses aren’t very inspired, the sound isn’t very spacious, and the keyboards are a bit coarse. He didn’t take note of DVA. It’s strange that the album improves considerably in the second half, especially with the UK gangsta anthem “Badman”, aided by the rough voice of Sweetie Irie, British dancehall veteran. The old-time grime of “Go” is also worthy of mention, with the multitalented Mz Bratt abandoning pop this time around to spit out snakes. “Eleven 45”, for its part, reminds one of the bassline niche, that raw, thuggish sound that moved the dance floors of Northern England a few years ago. And finally, closing the album, there is that weird “Spanner In The Works”, which at times seems like a jazzy jam by Carl Craig and then at other times turns into a noisy version of an electro house tune. There are definitely new sounds that keep him on-board, but we miss the more relaxed tone of the first album.