The Digidub Conundrum


It’s mildly interesting, if not a little disappointing that the dubstep massive at large has started leaning so heavily towards the structures and codes of digidub. I haven’t listened to any “proper” digidub in years (the Zion Trains, Irration Steppas et al. and to be honest I’ve got no desire or interest to) so I can’t say how (or if?) they in turn have taken anything from dubstep?

But then as long as the producers continue to puff away on the weed I suppose this is a given, especially as digidub (in recording and over the sound system) was always a surgical tweaker and booster of a potent THC buzz. I always considered it the more beery and lary cousin of original ‘Roots’ if you like. Something to wash down with copious red stripes, several fat ones and then get your skank on, preferably on one leg.

When I was a regular down at the Brixton Rec. Centre Aba-Shanti parties, (and in the days when the air was so heavy with ganja smoke you could almost cut it with a knife!) I always used to walk home in the small hours reeling from the bludgeoning I had received from essentially incredibly cheesy, repetitive and almost kindergarten-simple melodies played out sometimes on what seemed to be the most obvious cheap midi brass pre-sets: a thousand digital off-spawn imitations of Augustus Pablo’s innocent melodica lullabies.

The records perplexed and irritated me. Clearly they worked, the dance floor would go off, multiple rewinds, the full clash vibe etc. I’d hunt out the odd tune on vinyl here and there and low and behold, out of the sound system/party context, they sounded just awful! Plastic, tinny, unimaginative.  A lot of it childishly simple techno 4/4 “steppers” (and a dedicated reggaehead mate of mine once told me he didn’t rate Irration Steppas because “they’re too techno!…got no roots”). So what was going on in the translation from vinyl to these speaker stacks? Was there some secret harboured by the digidub producers that only they knew about? enabling them to fine hone their tracks for maximum dance floor devastation? Were the irritating and easy to criticise characteristics a deliberate disciplinary rigour in themselves? only for the headstrong producer able enough to hold the line in the studio? I never worked it out myself.


For sure I hear a lot of this probing and affiliating going on in current dubstep now (and it has to be said the likes of Coki were always flirting with that borderline irritating silliness back in the day). Deep Medi, Mala & Co. can obviously be singled out as overt collaborators in this area (see their Weekender party last November in Bristol with Jah Shaka and Channel One) and where they go others will inevitably always follow…. Releases are now touted as “steppers” as a (surely not new?) style itself, but what I don’t get is tunes labelled as ‘old school’ if they get dark and supposedly ‘dungeon’? as on Compa‘s latest 12″ particularly the tune “Noctule” (see the review). To be honest I had no idea there were days when ‘dungeon’ was considered an aesthetic in its own right, but then what do I know? It was/is surely more interesting than a shift to digidub formulas?

Likewise Sleeper‘s latest release is an almost wholly digidub affair and an almost complete abandonment of his earlier filtered sci-fi vibes, although much, much heavier and more confident and skillful than Compa in my opinion. And then who can forget Jack Sparrow‘s unapologetic populist smasher “Hold and Pull” last year? (also no coincidence on Deep Medi). I have to concede, if that tune doesn’t have you spraying your can of ‘stripe all over the place in sheer abandon there’s no hope for you!


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