Tuesday, October 14, 2003
Personally, I ain't got no problem with broken beat. I like a lot of Jazzanova too and I've stared at both that Bugz in the Attic mix and the Phuturistix album and pondered buying them (however my next purchase will certainly be either Ricardo Villalobos's Taka Taka mix or his album, which have arrived simultaneously on Aussie shores). But I'm not really certain what an infusion of 2-step actually has to offer it (or vice versa). A lot of the best broken beat I've heard (and this even from a few years back) already possesses 2-step's effervescent friskiness, its rhythmic joy, its glorious tension between break-out and lock-on. It largely ignores all the other stuff that makes prime 2-step loveable, but I can enjoy lush/scary ambient rainforest sonics on something close to a regular so that's not a fatal flaw.

The issue then becomes: if you're just put some 2-steppish beats underneath a broken beat arrangement, what are you actually doing that's terribly constructive? What are you giving the music that it doesn't already have? Why is this an incredibly exciting development? It's a move that strikes me as the equivalent of getting Rodney P to rap over some garage and then calling it groundbreaking. It may be great, but it's only groundbreaking if you pretend that garage's links to hip hop aren't already elaborately mapped out. But this is a move typical of a self-conscious auteur approach to genre, where allusions to other genres have to be made painstakingly, and often boringly explicit. Hence the "urban soul" tag that was floated around in 2000 to apply to MJ Cole and Wookie, which implied that garage's at-the-time soulfulness was an open invitation to turn it into soul with 2-step beats and nothing more. It's an overly deferential, self-deprecating form of tribute at odds with one of the fundamental rules of the hardcore continuum; namely, that it is always at its healthiest when it's pillaging from other genres, taking what it wants and burning the rest.

Take all this with a grain of salt - if the Phuturistix album sounds like the sort of stuff that Zed Bias played live when he was here then I can imagine it being both genuinely odd and new sounding, and pretty excellent to boot. But the (admittedly fleeting) squizz I gave to the Maddslinky release had it sounding like the most rudimentary 1+1=2 equation of 2-step plus nice jazzy influences I could imagine. And this from total hero Zed Bias! Thing was, he wasn't really doing anything that he hadn't already achieved magnificently ages ago on his remix of 2 Banks of Four's "Hook & A Line" - that masterpiece of rhythmically headwrecking aquatic garage (I think that's what Jess called it). The need to qualify the new stuff as being a garage/nu-jazz fusion is not due to there being anything actually new present in the music, it's rather just a realisation that the *2-step* part has essentially stagnated, is caught in a holding pattern... otherwise it would just be part of 2-step's ongoing progression.

But that's the whole problem of course: Zed Bias and his compatriots know that they've taken the 2-step aspect as far as it can go, that this is now essentially a dead form. Hence the fusionism; the obsession with what is ultimately superstructural tweaking as a grand distraction from the lack of a direction in which to take the basic engine of the music, the 2-step rhythmic matrix. Engaging with broken beat is quite possibly a better response to this quandary than just standing still or attempting to "smarten up" grime (I'm reserving judgment for now). But all three tactics are tied together by the same fundamental difficulty. Of course, more likely than not, I'm just frustrated that we've had a Maddslinky and a Phuturistix album but no Zed Bias album, no serious attempt to encapsulate the wonderful flux of luscious darkness and blatant pop physicality that defined the guy's string of classics, from "Neighbourhood" to "Ring The Alarm." The fact that I have always considered Zed Bias to be 2-step's Dillinja rams home almost painfully how familiar this story is.


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