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Dubstep’s been on quite a journey: beginning as a critics’ darling – and one of the last truly unique British musical movements – it experienced a rapid rise into the mainstream, and a severe subsequent backlash. Classic underground dubstep was music built for tiny, dark basements, with massive sound systems. After crossing over into the mainstream, the sound began to rapidly change to main-stage festival bangers, particularly in America. However a number of labels, in London, Bristol, and the United States, are keeping alive the original sound of dubstep – a sound that sparked one of the biggest shifts UK dance music has ever seen – as well as pushing the evolution of the genre. Here are their stories, and their best releases. Be warned: these labels specialise in bass weight – they’re not for the faint of heart.
A label that, for many, won’t need an introduction. Deep Medi is run by Mala: one half of Digital Mystikz, and all-round living legend. It’s been a pillar of the deeper end of the dubstep scene for nearly twelve years, and one hundred releases. The imprint is a direct extension of the sound that Mala has been pushing for years: atmospherics to die for, interesting rhythms, and – most importantly – deep, dubby bass. The roster of artists is a who’s-who of underground dubstep heroes, with releases from artists such as Commodo, Kaiju, Gantz, Kahn, and Sir Spyro. The label also has a very strong visual identity. Each of its records bears a stylised portrait of the artist on the center sleeve, bringing together the sense of family that the label has fostered over the years.
Our personal favourite. If you’re into dub, roots, and a tight-knit community, then V.I.V.E.K.’s label System will be the imprint for you. Originally at the Dome in Tufnell Park, Mala and V.I.V.E.K. created System to showcase heavily roots-influenced dubstep on a sound system. After a wobbly beginning, V.I.V.E.K continued to put on System nights on his own, and went on to transform the party into the label that it is today. Over the years it has gone from strength to strength, with System records becoming staples in the bag of any self-respecting dubstep DJ. System releases – from artists such as LAS, Karma, and Kromestar – regularly go on to fetch much higher prices in the secondhand market. Both label and night continue to be homes for the most committed dubstep heads, encouraging a generation of fans to appreciate the extension of Jamaican soundsystem culture.
There’s been a separation between dubstep and grime, although they share a tempo, and were born at similar times in London. However, in recent years, a string of artists and labels have been looking to bridge this gap. One of the best at this is the White Peach imprint, run by Zha. The store’s a one-stop shop for all things 140, whether that be grime or dubstep, and the label’s output reflects this, with many of the tunes fitting neatly into both genres: the bassweight of dubstep, with the punchiness of classic 8-bar grime.
While dubstep’s roots will always be tied to London, the future isn’t entirely UK-based, especially when you consider the strength of American labels like Innamind. The label, run by Kursk, has grown rapidly since its first release, a digital only compilation in 2011. Seeing releases from the likes of Gantz, LAS, and Boofy – to name just a few – Innasound has become one the biggest hopes for underground dubstep’s expansion outside the UK. Along with the sublabel Blacklist, they have been able to consistently put out some of the most forward-thinking 140 music, and, unlike some UK labels, haven’t been as tied to dubstep’s history.
Sentry Records is the brainchild of DJ Youngsta, and represents the sound of one of the most unique DJs to come out of the UK bass scene. His style of DJing is reflective of his near obsession with a specific sound of dubstep, with heavy emphasis on the half step, and high impact bass. This style’s now channeled into his label, which has become one of the most important imprints in the game. Although Sentry Records is young (only four releases deep), the releases so far have been from artists such as dBridge, Nomine, and Caspa, and the label already has a reputation for absolute quality.
The sets from our Sentry Records Takeover at Rye Wax are up. If that appeals, to hear about more Keep Hush dubstep nights coming up, become a member for free here.
– Written by Joe Innes –
– Photo by Ben Donoghue –
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