Dusk + Blackdown Dusk + BlackdownDasaflex
Four years ago, Dusk + Blackdown’s debut album sounded like a crepuscular ode to the marginal neighbourhoods of London—hence the explicit title, “Margins Music” (Keysound Recordings, 2008). To those metropolitan areas where races and sounds mix, and where hybrid genres and mutants of the rave tradition such as dubstep, grime and funky house are born. That multicultural, ragingly urban breeding ground was suggested by the cover art, a nocturnal shot of a fruit and vegetable stand that could have been anywhere in East London or the neighbourhoods of South London, with Dan Frampton (Dusk) and Martin Clark (by the process of elimination, Blackdown) in the background, blending into the scenery, camouflaged like a chameleon between the pavement and the telephone box. Time having passed, it is understood that this geographical idea, of “glocal” reach—–global + local—has been explained well enough to move onto something else, and this is why “Dasaflex” looks and sounds less evident, more abstract, even though it stands on the same pillars and forms a part of the same tradition. The cover, a play of lights and drops on what appears to be a fragment of pavement behind the rain (which in turn plays at being a Jackson Pollock composition), once again alludes to London at night, in the winter, with neon lights lighting the street. It is all suggested, very delicate, like the interior of the album.
Inside is the expected: grime –in “Wicked Vibez” and “Next Generation” GQ offers his rhymes (dipped in a pool of synthesizers that barely allows him to raise his voice, he sounds distant and muffled) and Shantie offers carnival beats from the funky tradition, springy dubstep bass and a prolongation of the influence of classic Detroit techno that was seen for the first time in “Focus”, included on their first album. Dusk + Blackdown haven’t changed the components in the chain of their musical DNA one bit, but they have been skilful at reorganising the genes and following up in a way that can be recognised as belonging to the same family, but with enough nuances not to sound exactly the same. According to each phase of the album, it either sounds sinewy and bouncy, or it has a studied subtlety that encourages one to take the leap and say that “Dasaflex” is better than “Margins Music”, as if they had moved up a step in the evolutionary scale of their sound. “Margins Music”, was in fact very focused on dusk or dawn dubstep—the dominant sound of that moment, things have changed a great deal in less than five years—but now the range of options is opened to new territories. “Lonely Moon (Android Heartbreak)”, which opens the album, for example, is a romantic fantasy for solitary, cross-cultural hearts in the big city. It is a mantle of ambient accompanied by the vestal voice of Farrah and by a bass sound that is somewhere between Talvin Singh’s Asian underground, a beatless version of Jessie Ware’s new soul (almost vocal-less as well, if it weren’t for the final upturn) and little explosions of primitive grime cuts like Musical Mob’s “Pulse X”. Dusk + Blackdown’s archaeological work leads them to connect two decades of history in one piece. Then comes “High Road” , the heavily commented-upon collaboration with Burial, whose only problem is that it sounds too much like Burial. For the third act, there is “We Ain’t Beggin’”, one of the twosome’s forays into an unstable borderland with traces of both techno and grime, which is to say, techno with monstrous basslines and grime with airy synths and virtuoso basslines, skilfully alternated.
Once these parameters are defined, Dusk + Blackdown play with the possibilities of combining the ingredients. “Apoptosis”, for example, has the rigid structure of a grime cut, alongside vocal scratching, insistent claps and a bass that holds up the entire framework of the eight beats repeated martially. In “Dasaflex” (the title song) the fissure of funky music is introduced to get a more flexible beat that marks the rhythm of the pirouetting vocal samples and the summery drum-machines. If you read between the lines, the album is full of tributes: “R In Zero G” seems like a floating deconstruction of Skream’s “Midnight Request Line” with R&B echoes; “Hypergrime” is a new cosmic abstraction of Wiley’s Eski instrumentals; “Don’t Stop (Give It To Me)” sounds like an anabolic steroid version of King Midas Sound’s urban soul and “DeFocused” is located in a vague no man’s land between Roll Deep and Carl Craig, until the album finishes with the necessary (and until then, hidden) tribute to drum’n’bass in the form of “Fraction”. So, “Dasaflex” is the narrative supplement to “Margins Music”: if that was a geographical album, a sightseeing tour of the streets of London, this is a historical tour of their music, sounds, and styles, an encyclopaedic compendium (if you’ll excuse the oxymoron) of the before, during, and after of dubstep. This is the album that Skrillex and his fans should listen to so that they stop mixing up things that have nothing to do with each other, or – to put it another way - confusing their asses with their elbows.