The results of the annual Dubstep Forum awards for 2012 have finally been announced, so it seems like a good time for me to give my picks (only 1/6 of the way into 2013!). I can’t say I’m too satsified with the way it turned out. Most of my nominees didn’t even make the final ballot. A lot of the winners are overhyped in my opinion, and a lot of worthy candidates were overlooked. I’ll skip over categories that I don’t have a strong opinion on.
Best Producer: For me, this clearly has to be Biome. He released banger after banger in 2012 and was well ahead of the competition within the “dungeon” scene. A couple of my favourites from him, though I could really pick almost anything he put out in 2012:
Kahn, who won the award, is someone I like a lot, but I thought his success in 2012 had more to do with marketing than the quality of his releases. 2011 was actually a better year for him — I’m pretty sure I voted him as best artist. The Margeaux Pts. 1 & 2 and the Soul Motive 12’s were both excellent; the other releases were good, but not great. The “how we roll to Nando’s” video for Percy and making an actual phone hotline for the Hotline release were clever but I don’t think the tunes were as amazing as everyone else seems to.
Best New Producer: How NDread didn’t make the final ballot I don’t understand. I voted for Kaiju based on the track “Silverfish” (Osiris), but I’ve hardly heard anything else from him.
Best DJ: This category should probably be retired, because Youngsta wins it almost by default. I voted for Biome on the strength of his Osiris/Cable mix (see below), but mostly just to vote for someone besides Youngsta.
Best Label: Smokin Sessions. SMOKE017 -020 are all masterpieces. (The NDread track above is from SMOKE019.) I would put On The Edge just behind Smokin Sessions, but ideally I should really count them together, since they’re both sublables of Z Audio and they release mostly the same artists. On The Edge is for the more techno-leaning releases, and Smokin Sessions for the house-leaning/soulful ones.
My next pick would be Cosmic Bridge, which is almost the only label doing what I think “post-dubstep” should be: tough music that takes the sub-bass and general aesthetic from dubstep into different tempos and styles, rather than oh-so-sophisticated house/techno/trap hybrids. EAN’s EP is practically the only decent footwork I’ve heard (Kuedo and Ital Tek use footwork rhythms in very non-footwork tracks; there were some good footworkbits on Sully’s album last year). There’s an overall hip-hop feel to everything on this label that I like a lot; I think EDM could use more hip-hop and less house at the moment.
I can live with Deep Medi winning again though.
Best Track: Burial “Kindred” (Hyperdub) and Biome “Shadows” (New Moon) are almost neck-and-neck for me. I’ll put “Kindred” ahead just because it’s more ambitious, and because the usually-hyped Burial isn’t getting much attention recently. Burial is quite different than most of the other music I’m posting on here in that it’s decidedly human. I don’t think inhuman music is somehow in itself better than human music; conceptual interest and musical quality don’t necessarily coincide.
Biome “Shadows” is a good example of the biotechnology motif that recurs constantly in his work (even in his name). The bassline in the second drop (~1:55) sounds like Cthulhu rising from the depths and fits perfectly with the vocal sample that asks “Who sends monsters to kill us?”
Kahn “Dread” (Deep Medi) is decent but overhyped; Mala “Stand Against War” (DMZ) is benefitting from nostalgia and the overall Mala effect (ie. people assuming that it must be great because it’s by Mala).
Best Remix: Distance gets my top two picks. The first is his remix of DJ Madd’s “Life You Chose” (Black Box). This version brings out the potential of the vocal sample that I don’t think the original really uses fully. (I’m not much of a DJ Madd fan in general.) This is one of the best example sof the motif of the inhuman in EDM. “The eternal refrain of humanity… pleading ignorance, begging for mercy: ‘Please help me, I don’t understand’… This is the life you chose.” This track goes on the playlist for the annihilation of the human race for sure. (This brings up a problem I’ve been thinking about recently: how is it possible to enjoy music that is about our extinction?)
The second is his remix of Submotion Orchestra’s “Blind Spot”. Distance is very good at remixes of pop songs because he has a strong sense of dynamics and of the rise and fall of tension within a tune. He does a good job here too of reinventing the tune (a different chord progression) rather than just switching some of the sounds like more straightforward remixes. I almost got an iTunes account just to buy this track, until I discovered that it was available on Beatport.
Best Album: 2012 wasn’t as good a year for albums as 2011; I only had a few real candidates. My top pick goes to Clubroot III:MMX (Lodubs), followed closely by Reso Tangram (Civil). I give Clubroot the edge simply because his album was the more polished product. The vinyl version in particular is a classic: the mastering and cutting sounds great (especially the extra crunch on the 808 claps in “Left Hand Path”) ; the tracklist is leaner (the only track I miss off the digital is “Inviolable”); and the artwork is very nice too (it even looks like a classic album). The only complaint I have is that it’s basically the same as the first two Clubroot albums; but he’s so good at what he does that it’s hard to be mad at him.
Tangram is definitely more adventurous, mixing aggressive dubstep basslines, chopped up drum breaks, and prog-style synth leads. It doesn’t take the top spot simply because it doesn’t quite gel into a coherent whole for me. The last side of the 2 x 12″ the best, featuring the tempo-shifting “Ishimura”, previously released as a single; “Check 1, 2”, my personal favourite; and “Tabris”, which is a sort of digital prog-metal epic that has to be heard to be believed.
Some other very good albums were Submotion Orchestra Fragments (Exceptional), Ital Tek Nebula Dance (Planet Mu), and Planas The Long Game (Exceptional). I’ll also mention the Japanese combined CD release of Burial’s Street Halo and Kindred EP’s; I’m not sure if it should count as an album, but it is album length, and it is very good.
I was disappointed by Mala In Cuba. Really it just sounds like Cuban music at 140 with sub bass and dubby FX. I had another listen recently and I liked it more than I remembered liking it so maybe it’ll grow on me.
Best Mix/Podcast: Biome’s- Osiris / Cable mix
BIOME- UNTITLED [This is actually “Future Past”, out on Deep heads]
KRYPTIC MINDS- IDIOM
PLASTIKMAN- ASK YOURSELF (SLEEPER REMIX)
VERSE, LX ONE & YOUNGSTA- DIFFERENT WAY
BIOME- BLUE GOLD
LX ONE- LOSING CONTROL