Knowledge of recording, performing and composing music is as important to the head of a record label as the startup money is. Aphex Twin, or Richard James, as his mom calls him when she’s beckoning him to lunch, exhibits this insider scope as co-head of London’s Rephlex Records. Rephlex’s Grime compilation digs up purveyors of the East London-born menacing electro-beat grime genre, and does so with industry expertise, introducing two producers and a garage crew to an audience outside of Rinse FM’s broadcasting range.
Writers have scrambled to come up with a multitude of names for this brand of instrumental dance music — grime, dub-step, what-have-you — but what it’s called is irrelevant. The word “grime” is effectively metaphorical for its urban subculture, though, in its gritty East London roots. These roots start at Rinse 100.3 FM, first existing as a pirate radio station in the U.K. and eventually climbing into the national charts. Rinse provided a platform for drum ‘n’ bass and then all of U.K. garage, showcasing emcee crews like Pay As You Go Cartel, Roll Deep and magazine cover-boy Dizzee Rascal.
Swaying toward beat records now, Rinse FM, in conjunction with Forward, an underground night in a West London club called the End, has greatly influenced Grime. First up on the compilation is MarkOne with four huge and threatening cuts, possibly the cream of the crop. He’s triumphant in achieving a multi-layered mess of electro break-beats and swirling sirens, tiring the dance-floor partygoers to inevitable paralysis. Defined here as a coarse, complex sequence of deep dub beats and hostile bursts of synths and robot bass tones, MarkOne’s pieces share some traits with the comp’s other artists, Plasticman and North London’s Slaughter Mob.
Rusty swells of bass cut in and out of “Fireweaver” as Slaughter Mob emcees Vicious and Dangerous offer short “trust no one” and “question authority” background rants in between stuttering beats. Deejays Bandit and Q-Nice provide creeping dark breaks of synths and bleeps around unsettling garage, often exercising a hip-hop influence. Forward veteran Plasticman takes a desert shortcut on “Camel Ride,” spinning mystical looped woodwinds into a barrage of incisive programmed percussion.
In attempts to keep things underground — true to its roots and the like — the Grime comp keeps within the circuit of East London’s independent grimiest, retaining the necessary non-commercial ideals that reared the culture to be where it is today: underground but inescapably on top.