From Bristol – the counter punching early nexus of the genre along with Croydon – Pinch, label boss at Tectonic and known to his friends as Rob Ellis, has more reason than most to still see a bright future for the movement.
This is because his imprint as players not only hold many of the cards, having released work by such luminaries as Skream, Benga and Digital Mystikz but because, as this compilation emphatically proves, as a producer he’s been heavily involved in some of the best moments of its past.
Part of its early appeal was the sheer depth of material which surfaced briefly and then disappeared again without trace, leaving only (sometimes) a pirate radio half life and/or desultory YouTube signature as proof it ever existed. ‘MIA‘ acknowledges the crate digging facet of dubstep junkie culture, embracing it, and Ellis delivers a clutch of rarities and mixes that explore many of the stylistic byways into which it’s diverted since emerging in the early Noughties.
Sequenced in chronological order, the nature of its component parts might have led to inconsistency, but compilation syndrome here is another artist’s problem. Instead they reveal Ellis as an auteur at the top of his game; ‘Chamber Dub‘ and ‘Cave Dream‘ are both full of low end rumble and droning menace, whilst ‘Motion Sickness‘ bubbles with an insane techno morse code signature, nixing accusations that this is essentially music for people who are simply pining for an anaemic scion of Jungle.
At times the results are stunning. Taking any conventions its core base of acolytes may have had around ‘World’ music and shredding them, Ellis’ remix work on the late Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan & Ghaudi‘s ‘Dil Da Rog Muka Ja Mali’ retains the original’s core, awe inspiring aesthetic fascination of Qawwali, the Sufi devotional music from Northern Pakistan, and draws an eloquent line between its spiritual context and that of Rastafarianism, via the singer’s hauntingly fragile, ethereal vocals.
Even when not re-writing the rules on how modern and ancient music coalesce, there are numerous moments where ‘MIA’ escapes what could’ve been a stiflingly narrow conceptual event horizon. The clumsily titled ‘Attack of The Giant Killer Robot Spiders‘ shrugs off in-joke connotations as noir, cinematic references lift it free from the ‘Wobble’ cliché, whilst in the same pitch black vein a reworking of Emika‘s ‘Double Edge‘ sounds like a collection of distorted thousand year old echo transmissions from the deck of the Nostromo in its final moments. Released in 2010, it’s proof that Ellis has been not so much pushing the music’s envelope forward constantly so much as skilfully re-drawing it.
It’s a frequent lament from true believers that dubstep has already lost the identifiable soul it only gained a few years ago; such is the nature of the commoditisation of art on those who fail to recognise it’s benefit in a wider context. ‘MIA’ should form a prop to that community, but it shouldn’t be considered as just an exercise in elitism.
The King is dead. Long evolve the King.