Skream: Skream!

VA: Dubstep Allstars Vol. 4

Tempa continues to assert itself as one of the definitive dubstep imprints with its latest Allstars volume and an hour-long artist release by Croydon prodigy Skream (Oliver Jones). It's probably no coincidence that “Tortured Soul,” the opening cut on Skream's eponymous outing, begins with a string motif markedly like one Bernard Herrmann used in his seminal Psycho soundtrack. That's merely the beginning, however; Jones adds bongos, a few well-timed synth and horn figures, and a lethal snare whipcrack to the song's lurching pulse. Yes, Skream's wobbly dubstep can be menacing—deliciously so—and his album offers repeated proof of his mastery of the form. Adrian Revell's serpentine flute dances hypnotically alongside the woozy sub-bass and snare cracks in “Rutten” while “Midnight Request Line” knits electro arpeggios, razor-sharp handclaps, and a skeletal dub bass into a commanding snake-charming groove. But, to Skream's credit, instead of 14 variations on the theme, he broadens the template with horn-driven dub skank (“Blue Eyez”), ragga (“Check-it” starring Warrior Queen riffing on “My Guy”), grime (the marauding “Tapped” featuring a tough vocal by JME), and even soul-jazz (“Summer Dreams,” primarily a showcase for trumpeter Martin Shaw). And, notably, Skream's sound is not solely lugubrious; a surprising amount of sunlight offsets the darkness. It's not all fantastic—“Auto-Dub” sounds like one-note filler next to the stronger cuts—but such moments are rare. More typical are infectious pieces like the dub-ska workout “Dutch Flowerz” whose singing bird-like melody gets deeply under the skin, proving that Skream's equally adept at tackling genres in addition to dubstep.

Skream appears throughout the double-disc Allstars volume, as do Loefah, Digital Mystikz, DI, Headhunter, Benga, and Kromestar, making it a ripe overview of the scene. The release—two dread-filled, bass-throbbing hours of oft-reduced dubstep—is split between heavyweight DJs Youngsta and Hatcha, with the two deftly splicing 18 and 26 wobbly cuts respectively into ultra-potent mixes. For the most part, the mood is so fraught with tension and rife with impending threat, you'll be darting glances over your shoulder even when listening safely in your living room. Skream's “Dub Period” eases the listener into Youngsta's set nicely with a skeletal pulse bolstered by slamming snares and dive-bombing synth sputter before segueing into Loefah's equally hypnotic “Ruffage”; peak moments include Loefah's venomous mind-number “System” and Headhunter's creeped-out “Descent.” Among the highlights of Hatcha's slightly more uptempo and dubby mix: Skream's “Dutch Flowers,” “Blipstream,” and “Me Love It” (a vocal-less “Check-it”), Benga's jazzy “Broken Step,” and Digital Mystikz's wiry “Clash.” Poisonous in the best sense of the word, the discs' material infests your psyche like a cockroach scooting around inside your cranium.

January 2007