SUB:STANCE is a monthly party at Berlin’s infamous club, Berghain, which brings together the worlds of U.K. bass music and Berlin’s austerely visceral techno scene. Since its inception in July 2008, SUB:STANCE has been curated by Paul Fowler, the founder of Spymania Records, and Berlin dwelling, London transplant Paul Rose — better known as Scuba — who DJs the Berghain paries alongside guests like Shackleton, Ramadanman, and Mala.
Scuba has made quite the name for himself as a producer navigating the watery boundaries between dubstep and dub techno, and as the man behind the forward-thinking imprint, Hotflush, the label responsible for releasing some of the most exciting and genre-melting music of recent years. Among Hotflush’s output in 2009 were Joy Orbison’s ubiquitous and much-lauded anthem, Hyph Mango, Mount Kimbie’s pair of cerebral and bewitching EPs, Maybes and Sketch on Glass, and Scuba’s own double twelve-inch, Aeseunic.
SUB:STANCE is Scuba’s first commercially released mix, though it comes after two successful and well-loved podcasts, one to promote Hotflush and the other done under the moniker of SCB for the blog, mnml ssgs, which leans harder on metronomic techno beats than the skittering percussion and throbbing pulses of dubstep. SUB:STANCE can be looked at as a consolidation of what has been happening at the Berghain parties in the past 18 months, but it is composed almost entirely of unreleased material. Four new Scuba productions appear — one a remix for DFRNT and two set to be released in 2010 on his second album, Triangulation — as well as new tracks from Sigha, Joy Orbison, Ramadanman, Mala, and Joker.
The mix also introduces some new names: George Fitzgerald, for instance, whose spring-wound, beatdown-bending chugger, “Don’t You,” slated for release on Joy Orbison’s new Doldrums label, is a highlight here. It is indicative of the experimentation and disregard for generic conventions that makes the crossover between techno, house, and U.K. bass music fertile ground for those who place reverence for their influences second to their desire to develop an individual sound. Another unknown quantity, Airhead, contributes “Paper Street,” a subtle, contemplative piece of ambient, hollowed-out atmospherics that breaks ground between Mount Kimbie’s brightly textured blend of indie, electronica, and dubstep, and Burial’s skeletal and moody urban soundscapes.
With such an array of new tracks to work with, it is simply left to Scuba to do what he does best: piece them together in a way that both showcases the artists whose work inspires him, and that creates something completely new from the parts accumulated. He succeeds deftly, threading together spirals of primal, blackout percussion, and subliminal, disorienting melodies, with moments of emotional, Technicolor bliss. The Joy Orbison tracks included — the aforementioned “Hyph Mango,” and coming attraction, “The Shrew Would Have Cushioned the Blow” — rise up out of brittle, darkened corners, their deep synth-pulses blossoming like light on a long dark horizon. James Blake’s playful, helium-injected remix of Mount Kimbie’s standout, “Maybes,” follows “Hyph Mango,” shifting things down a notch, making just the slightest space for a smile to crack before the bleakness seeps back in around the edges.
The mix from Ramadanman’s “Tempest” to the creepy but comic dread of “Voyeur,” by Instra:mental, is perhaps the disc’s most inspired moment. “Tempest” is spectacular on its own merits, its rhythmic onslaught tempered by a melody introduced at just the right moment, but as Scuba slowly lets it bleed away into the bouncing, ominous beats of “Voyeur,” he makes something completely new and brings together a moment of levity, of mediation, with the sheer exuberance of a party anthem braced to tear the room wide open. The mix closes on Joker’s mad excursion, “Psychedelic Runway,” a track that manages to connect wild, ravey synths to an undercurrent of sublime catharsis. It may be even better than his 2009 killer, “Digidesign.”
SUB:STANCE is a release to restore (or give birth to) faith in the artfulness and vitality of the mix CD. It shows that 2010 has plenty in store for those who have taken to following the currents of U.K. bass music as they become irregular and carry its practitioners into unknown territory. And at the center of it, pushing his own unique vision of future music, is Scuba, Paul Rose, poised for even better things to come.