Being the electronic music geeks that we are here at Crossfade, we've been following the "post-dubstep" confluence of house and bass music in the UK with major interest for some time now. Influences from jungle, drum 'n' bass, UK garage, and other styles are seeping into house's four-on-the-floor mold, injecting new life into a genre that was growing tiredly derivative.
Ben UFO, George FitzGerald, Skream and T. Williams are just a few of the trend's exponents that we've spoken to in the past. And another exemplary act making big waves across the Atlantic right now is DJ-production duo Dusky, dubbed "the toast of the UK underground" by Resident Advisor at the height of their meteoric rise last year.
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So what exactly is the sound of the UK underground?
"I don't think it's definable, and if it was, it would be boring," Dusky's Nick Harriman tells Crosfade. "That's where the beauty and intrigue lies. It's inherently in a constant state of flux, just like the fashion world -- things change incredibly quickly. You can trace its roots to various points in history, various cultures, like the Jamaican sound systems. But the past isn't definitive -- it's equally as much about the present and the future."
Indeed, the past, present and future of UK electronic dance music are intertwined into a single living, breathing thing -- what music historians call the UK hardcore continuum, or the evolving lineage of styles from acid house through hardcore, jungle, drum 'n' bass, UK garage, dubstep and beyond. Each generation of producers since the '80s has been acutely aware of the one before it, building on the foundations of the past, while moving in the direction of the future. And Dusky are no exception.
"Though we were both heavily into drum 'n' bass, garage, and hardcore when we first met, I think our general interest in music of all forms is what bought us together, and has continued to nourish our working relationship and friendship," Harriman explains. "Dance music was everywhere in London in the '90s, when we were growing up, as it still is now. It's been woven into the fabric of British society since the late '80s, so it's impossible to avoid its influence. As fans of electronic music, we both embraced dance culture and it's helped form who we are as artists today."
And it's not just UK house producers like Dusky taking their cues from bass music these days. You even have former dubstep producers like Skream and Pearson Sound embracing house. This cross-pollination of sounds has made the dance music scene on the other side of the pond an enviably fertile and diverse one. DJs are no longer purist one-trick ponies playing one repetitive style -- they pick and choose from many.
"The evolution of the dubstep scene has had a lot to do with [it]," says the other half of Dusky, Alfie Granger-Howell. "It seems to me that certain producers and DJs were getting harder and harder, and more and more extreme and gimmicky, until there was nowhere else to go, and that has led to the scene morphing drastically, eventually reaching a point where it now bears hardly any resemblance to the original sound and philosophy. That encouraged a lot of the producers, DJs and listeners to explore different avenues, and once people started doing that, it in turn greatly influenced the house and techno scene."
"At the same, time we have this big early-'90s resurgence going on across various styles," he adds. "And lots of those old records were very focused on 120-130 BPM melodic basslines. I'd say the return of that attitude and sound has influenced bass and house producers alike, leading to further cross-pollination."
Of course, the detractors may complain that this endless recycling of classic sounds is getting in the way of true musical innovation. But for the Dusky boys, it's all part of the ongoing continuum.
"It's difficult to say where things are going, but in any case I'd strongly disagree that the recycling of ideas is a hindrance to dance music's evolution," says Nick Harriman. "In fact, I'd say it's a crucial part of it, and UK dance music in particular has a tradition of paying homage to the past. The breakbeats of hardcore and then jungle and drum 'n' bass were all taken from funk and soul tracks of the 1960s and 1970s, for example. This occurred due to their prior use in 1980s hip-hop and electro tracks. Later on, many of the melodies and vocals in popular drum 'n' bass tracks were lifted from acid house records, and so on and so forth."
"As for where things will go next, is anybody's guess," he adds. "Maybe the old skool hardcore sound will make more of a comeback? You mentioned Pearson Sound -- he's playing a lot of stuff that feels like a really fresh take on that style."
Yes, the future is uncertain for electronic dance music, but certainly bright as long as Dusky continue banging out their delectably deep, bass-infused scorchers.
"We've got a new EP coming at the end of September on Aus Music which we're very excited about," promises Granger-Howell. "And we're working on another couple of EPs for later this year and early next year. Who knows where we'll end up in the future. We're currently really enjoying exploring our current sound, though we'd like to experiment with some variations -- working with more vocalists, for example."
Dusky. With Thunderpony. Presented by LINK and Miami Rebels. Thursday, September 5. Treehouse, 323 23rd St., Miami Beach. The party starts at 11 p.m.
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