Alter Echo & E3: Kufic Dub / Dub Is Not Easy

Badawi VS Ladyman: Lost Highway / In The Lady Room

RSD: Perfect Timing / No Fear Dub

These three latest seven-inch vinyl-only releases from the ZamZam production facility show how much the label's vision extends beyond the rootsier end of the reggae-dub spectrum.

Its seventh single sees Alter Echo (aka Josh Derry) and E3 (aka ZamZam co-runner Ezra E. Ereckson) teaming up for a tripped-out lesson in dub science. A head-spinner of the first order, “Kufic Dub” plunges boldly into a black sea of exotic samples and Middle Eastern string stabs in a way that suggests the echo-drenched material would be as at home on Hyperdub as ZamZam. Mix in rhythms that lope and pound by turn and sneak in a drawling voice that sounds like it's swallowed gravel and you're about as far removed from roots reggae as ZamZam's probably ever been. Lurching into view via a curdling steppers groove, “Dub is Not Easy” is a tad less out-there but still a dizzy ride, especially when Alter Echo and E3 work all manner of dub effects, rasta voice swirls, and hazy desert flutes into its hallucinogenic cocktail.

RSD, aka Bristol don Rob Smith Dubs, serves up two choice dubs on his own seven-inch. The A-side “Perfect Timing” overlays its forceful kick drum pulse with classic off-beat chords but some unusual touches too—warbly synth gurgle and a low-pitched, doom-laden flourish among them. “No Fear Dub” digs into its skanking groove with fervour, with enough room left over for the deep bass pulse to grab its own deserved share of attention. Don't miss the mid-song breakdown where the bass stands alone before Smith brings the echo-laced drums, guitar, and piano back in.

In marked contrast to RSD's release is the one by Raz Mesinai, who splits his single into tracks under two different names, Badawi and Ladyman. The Badawi cut “Lost Highway” is more techno than dub (it hardly surprises that Scuba included it in one of his mixes), with Mesinai fashioning an urgent banger tailor-made for dark, cavernous spaces. Think twitchy, fleet-footed rhythms and bass-heavy skullduggery and you're almost there. The jittery vibe carries over into Ladyman's “In the Lady Room,” where glitchy scrapes and bleepy melodies rhythmically pepper an insistently percolating bottom end to punishing effect. Call it future-dub, bass music, or simply dub-techno—if you need a label for it, that is. Taken as a whole, the releases add up to an amazing trio, but what's even better is seeing ZamZam resetting its stylistic boundaries.

May 2013