We don’t cover dance and electronic music all the time on Pigeons & Planes, but when we do, we bring you the best of the best. Each month, Plugged will take a look at certain aspects of the electronic landscape, filling you in on the artists, scenes, and music that you should be paying attention to, whatever your taste.
Being an American who follows the machinations of the UK dance music scene can be tough. Most of the time, you’re being exposed to sounds that won’t find their way into the American market properly for a few years (or more), and even then, the sounds will be mutated, trimmed to the elements that will make an American crowd go ham, and repackaged as something new.
That’s what happened to dubstep.
I remember neglecting the entire world (except for a 40 of OE) while poring over Mary Anne Hobbs’ ‘Dubstep Warz’ program in 2006; for myself and many others, this is where dubstep was truly introduced to the world at large. While I love what Skrillex has done and where he’s gone, there was nothing like the raw sounds that Skream, Hatcha, Distance, and others stepped up to the decks and delivered
Truth be told, those Dubstep Warz changed my life. And one crew who’s name turned into three seminal letters was the start of it.
Digital Mystikz, AKA DMZ, was not just a dope club night that’s celebrating their 10th anniversary on the 10th of July with a sold-out massive in Brixton, but they were one of dubstep’s most iconic labels. Of course, labels like Hyperdub and Tectonic and many of the other imprints that came through helped elevate the sound, but DMZ was the bridge that brought me into the 140BPM tempo, with the more roots-infused dub reggae-influenced sound that Mala was producing mashed up with the heavyweight, infectious bangers from Coki, and the more spacious, enticing bits from Loefah. With the vocals of Sgt. Pokes to liven up the place— this is what I think of when I hear the word “dubstep.” It’s the roots of what got a bassline-loving freak like me into the scene, and with DMZ turning 10 in style, it’s only right that we look back at some of the most important music from their decade of dominance.
While the “Haunted” / “Anti-War Dub” single was released two years into DMZ’s reign, it’s quite possibly the biggest statement regarding their place within the scene. First up is the instant anthem “Haunted,” one of the catchiest bits I’ve heard from the dubstep scene. There’s something about how sure the tune is of itself; at the heart it’s a memorable bassline with crispy drums, but that simplicity turns into a defining moment. Pairing it with “Anti-War Dub,” which brings forth the dancehall-tinged toasting from Spen G over a steppy, dub-wise number that’s calling for peace among all, was a thing of beauty.
While the Digital Mystikz group is primarily known as Mala and Coki, the man like Loefah has been there since day dot. DMZ 001 featured another unforgettable gem, “Twisup,” which might not follow what you’d consider to be “typical” dubstep tropes. It can mix into “regular” dubstep with ease, but Loefah makes sure that he’s incorporating much more on the way of the drums, breathing life and truly playing around with the stereotypical patterns.
Speaking of Loefah, one of his most important tunes within the DMZ imprint was “Mud,” which might even get some of you trap-loving heads into the fold with the way he layered those 808 drums over the vibrantly eerie track.
For DMZ’s 10th release, Mala went on a solo kick, which started off with one of the most pure, rave-ready bits on the imprint, “Left Leg Out.” From the opening seconds of this tune, you can almost feel it cutting through the entire party like a ginsu. There’s something about that repetition sticking throughout the track that makes the accents (of which there are many, from the dub-wise sub to the smattering of percussion) stand out perfectly. It’s a wall of sound transports you from this earth into the cosmos.
Always there to counteract Mala’s more grounded dubs was his partner in crime Coki, who never had a problem providing some tearing dubstep business to the proceedings. Coki wasn’t messing about: he honed in on those intergalactic sounds, turned the volume up to 11, and bashed your brains in with relentless bangers like “Spongebob”:
In the years that went on, DMZ the imprint ended up falling to the wayside. Mala started focusing on his Deep Medi Musik label, Loefah went exploring with Swamp 81, and Coki turned his two part Don’t Get It Twisted EP series into his own Don’t Get It Twisted imprint. They get together annually (at the very least) and celebrate the memories they’d had at that first DMZ dance. Those memories that they tried to recreate and elevate with each successive DMZ release, and an ethos that bleeds into everything they’ve accomplished since. To leave you on any note other than the emotional “Ancient Memories” would be blasphemy.