OUTSIDE THE BOX
Dub•step \ dub-step \ n + drum & bass \drum-bas \ n
Four years ago, when Croydon’s Oliver Jones released his self-titled debut and bass heads the world over, well, lost their heads for “Midnight Request Line” I too was impressed. But not that impressed. If I were a betting man, I would have lost my ass on the wager of whether or not dubstep would have grown to the worldwide phenomenon that it is currently. Similarly, I would have lost a second handsome sum had I put money down on whether or not Skream would release a sophomore record as confident, uncatergorizable and as listenable as Outside The Box.
Earlier this week, Skream’s partner in the epic dubstep act Magnetic Man, Artwork, contributed a ‘brief history of dubstep’ for the U.K. Guardian. New styles of music rarely fall from the heavens, and Artwork traced dubstep lineage from the U.K.’s vibrant bass music scene. It’s equal parts garage, grime and even a bit of drum ‘n’ bass, just with half as many drum hits. And Outside The Box is merely a progression of this. It’s comprised of all these same genres, but for this outing Skream has twisted them in new and even more forward thinking ways.
Following him on Twitter (@I_Skream) and seeing him respond to feedback about the record in real time, I got a sense that many in his legion of fans were none-to-impressed by how far “outside” of the dubstep box this latest record went; to them I say simply, grow up. Recognize that an artist will never be satisfied standing still. Once you come to terms with this, you’ll realize it’s a good thing when your favorite artist’s new record doesn’t sound like the last. And in Skream’s case specifically, this is a really—I repeat, really—good thing.
If you were still unsure after the two and a half minute ambient opening “Perforated,” the half-time stomp of “8-Bit Baby” with American emcee Murs proves that Outside The Box is a decidedly more mature affair than Skream’s 2006 debut. But that sound isn’t altogether absent, “CPU” is a haunting dubstep affair. If you thought the rogue man versus machine themes of films like Alien, 2001:A Space Odyssey or I:Robot were pure fantasy, you’ll think again after giving this cut the once over.
Often, though, it seems that Outside is showing off Skream’s lighter side. “How Real” deviates from his traditional formula, preferring a 21st century take on the garage and 2-step framework: all ominous bass, rave-y synths and soulful vocals. It’s his own swirling-hybrid interpretation on the most forward thinking sounds bubbling up in the U.K. The track signals a new phase in Skream’s interests as a producer and one that prevails over the next few tracks.
The Inner Life-sampling “I Love the Way” makes for one of the strongest moments on the record, He flexes the dubstep-turn-drum ‘n’ bass trickery that we first saw on his remix of La Roux’s “In For the Kill” and it sounds as potent now as it did then. Then we plow straight into the uplifting slo-mo d&b roller “Listening to Records on My Wall” which has already seen strong praise in the digi-pages of this blog.
The record continues on this path almost uninterrupted. He hearkens back to his earlier self on cuts like “Metamorphosis” and “Wibbler” but really he’s more interested in exploring his interests in the new paths being carved in drum ‘n’ bass (see his collabo with dBridge and Instra:Mental “Reflections," his brooding pairing with La Roux "Finally" and the storming finale “The Epic Last Song.”)
Over the past two years as I’ve watch the dubstep scene explode in the Midwest I’ve been very vocal about my disdain for kids who show up to hear these prolific Eueopean and British acts only to deride them for “not playing dubstep.” Sadly they’re a solid decade behind, as the scene continues to develop in its homeland, it’s already morphed into something completely know, in large part thanks to originators like Skream, who persist with thinking Outside the Box.
—Joshua P. Ferguson