But first, a personal moan. Of all the many sub genres operating under the umbrella’s of Reggae and Dub music Digital Steppers Dub aka Digi Dub has been one of the longest serving especially in Western Europe in England, Germany, France et al. It is also at times the most (after many years in existence) the most monotonous and repetitive sub genre ever created with only a handful of real classic underground releases from the producers and players of the scene during this time, indeed the genre drowned itself many moons ago yet it still continues to trundle on year after year due to support of various ‘small tribes’ and underground DJs/Soundsystems that embrace this sub genre.
Don’t get me wrong, there are a handful of albums within said genre that have given my ears absolute pleasure on rare occasion, artists like Don Fe, El Bib, and a handful of Conscious Sounds releases amongst others from the first wave digital dub underground innovators arena not forgetting of course some of the originators like Messian Dread, Mixman, Alpha and Omega et al and the second wave movers Doktor Lond, Panda Dub, Switchy Dub, Dog Dub and others who are known to push boundaries within their digi dub mixing and offer a progression with their works, moving forward and innovating with some attitude whilst keeping the faith to the style, yet so many times whilst searching for the new I have discovered artists or shall I say ‘producers’ as they like to call themselves on various platforms and profiling sites where their music I have to say is on the whole tedious, a robotic samey to the point of it being basically ‘dub by numbers’ and that’s the shame, there is so much of the weak stuff out there swamping the rare strong stuff and unless you’re in the know or have hundreds of hours each week to search for the rare strong stuff chances are you’re unlikely to come across much of it. So much of it has been published online and also pressed onto vinyl especially between 2010 and 2014 and for every cool Don Fe and Doktor Lond tune there are a hundred others who offer no experimentation nor push boundaries just offering safe and boring by numbers loop music and it’s all of those type of creators that make it difficult for me to appreciate this sub genre fully simply because it has drowned itself by repetition shall I dare say by wannabe musicians.. Believe me I have heard over the years some absolute awfulness within this sub genre, It’s like panning for gold. Well, less christmas cards for me this coming Noel I suspect. I wont lose sleep over that however.
A bucket load of ‘producers’ utilizing paid for drum loops, bass lines and sounds pre made and available in (and I’m told easy to put together) ‘pay for’ packages… Well is that real musicianship? Of course one has to instinctively know and feel the riddim to be able to put these things together which equals a studio technician, a musician of sorts? I’m not wholly convinced. A die-hard defender could however state that this digi dub steppers style is really made just for soundsystems and radio DJs so the musician element doesn’t really need to be discussed, it’s not of the same sentiment, it’s not for the same audience?
I guess I just appreciate people playing instruments by hand if possible either in a band setting or by multi overdubbing by a duo or trio, it’s the real hands on vibe I dig , mistakes, bum notes and all which makes it real music, a feeling, not airbrushed. There is something about digi dub steppers style that doesn’t sit well with me, neither does making music solely by computer and programmes, it never has and then there is that awful childlike instrument that seems to permeate 80% of total output ever published throughout this sub genre; the ear hurting Melodica and to be frank there really isn’t a great deal one can do with a Melodica other than filter the hell out of it, a bit like those horrible little tinny flutes at school, it’s OK for a minute but for years.. OK now I’ve had my chucking the toys out of the pram moment and with this next album to review do we have another yawn or a nice break at dawn..?
Here we have an album by Germany’s Jah Schulz, a 6 tracker plus 2 versions, and the track listing is presented as if from vinyl and in traditional vinyl running time which is always a plus for me with albums.
A Side 1 to A4 and B Side 1 to B4: A pretty standard affair kicks off the album with what sounds like a heavily filtered or synthesised melodica with a very bass heavy riddim on a piece called ‘Dub Sensor’. A piece called ‘Go See The Dub’ has the (once) obligatory Yabby You snare drum fill samples helping to keep the riddim rolling along and has some nice bass tone manipulations and echo effects leading into a synth wash bridge conjuring up an eastern atmosphere, well put together yet I’m positive I’ve heard all this exact same thing countless of times even down to tempo and the chords chosen, well trodden ground. ‘Rise Up’ has cool percussive elements rolling through its mix and synthesized trumpets providing the backdrop over a laid back groove with some nice reverbs, this piece reminds me of French dub producer ‘Jahno’ from the end of the first wave era. The saving grace for my ears on this album is its last piece B Side 4 entitled ‘AfriKan Powa’ featuring Sirius Soulboy which is an eclectic sonic fusion, a percussive led minimalist work and it is with this piece that I am reminded that there is still some hope for original thought when constructing music with pure digi dub.
Overall a well executed mixing using tried and trusted parts, effects and synth noises and settings that have been in use for over 10 years now so where is the attitude?, the progression? the new? it’s like it has its own rules sometimes and one as an artist must not sway and upset the apple cart.
I usually decline in reviewing digi steppers dub albums just because there isn’t much one can really say (on the whole) about them in an in-depth review other than the words Hypnotic, Loops, Computer, Melodica and then bigging up the sound crew and whoever did the mastering with a steady diet of this for the ears day in day out? well… I’ll take a bit of lo fi Messian Dread with mine any day. Check out the Hypnotic album by Jah Schulz entitled ‘A Railroad Session’ you may dig it. It rolls with the bassline and has a warm production. A heavy 2 from me. 2/5 Could it be a nice yawn at the break of dawn?