With the tense, negative-space drama of his eponymous debut album haunted by his own palpably vulnerable voice, James Blake has played the coy illusionist, transforming dubstep - perhaps the most doggedly hermetic dance music of the past decade - into a potentially open-ended haven for a new generation of singer-songwriters.
Canny trick, sure. But Blake is just one of many artists who populate a movement now loosely referred to as "post-dubstep," a term that encompasses Jamie xx's revelatory revision of Gil Scott-Heron's I'm New Here, Joker & Ginz's steely yet blown-out G-funk, Rusko's loutish "brostep," Star Slinger's hypnotic soul loops, and not least the gobsmackin' bullet-time breakdown in Britney Spears' "Hold It Against Me."
Below is a look at more of post-dubstep's prime movers:
- SKREAM AND BENGA (A.K.A., MAGNETIC MAN)
As individuals, Ollie "Skream" Jones and "Benga" Adejumo have been around since dubstep emerged from an early-2000s weed haze of chest-caving sub-bass. But both remain restless innovators, nudging the music into the pop realm without sacrificing its essence, most notably via Skream's remixes of La Roux and Bat for Lashes, Benga's eerie tracks "Rock Music" and "Night" (with Coki), his album Diary of an Afro Warrior, and the duo's ambitious, if sketchy, debut as Magnetic Man (with fellow producer Artwork), featuring sleekly soaring singles "I Need Air" and "Perfect Stranger."
LISTEN: La Roux, "In For The Kill (Skream's Let's Get Ravey Remix)"
LISTEN: Magnetic Man, "I Need Air (Redlight Remix)"
LISTEN: Benga, "Rock Music"
Scottish DJ/producer Steve "Kode9" Goodman was also a key figure in dubstep's formative years, eventually becoming an author (Sonic Warfare: Sound, Affect, and the Ecology of Fear) and university lecturer, as well as an influential label chief (Hyperdub, home to dubstep's groundbreaking enigma Burial, plus releases by Joker, Darkstar, Ikonika, and Zomby). The tracks that he's released and championed have spanned the landscape from black-hole dread spirals to rigorous rhythmic schematics, often integrating the foreboding imprecations of Jamaican dub poet Spaceape.
LISTEN: Kode9 and Space Ape, "Sine"
- GIRL UNIT
London's Philip "Girl Unit" Gamble gave post-dubstep its most spectacular boost in 2010 with the eerily addictive stutter and icy cheeps of "Wut." Nodding to southern rap, Chicago juke, the dark kitsch-glitch of witch house, ravey R&B, and beyond, Gamble's tracks promise a constant redefinition of what's considered pop.
LISTEN: Girl Unit, "Wut"
LISTEN: Girl Unit, "Shade On"
- CHASE & STATUS
Anthemic London production duo Saul "Chase" Milton and Will "Status" Kennard are the brash crossover bosses of post-dubstep, repeatedly scaling the U.K. charts while also working on Rihanna's Rated R or collabo'ing with Snoop Dogg. They can just as easily unsettle your innards with sinister bass eruptions ("Saxon") or crank out raucously knuckleheaded ragga dust-ups ("Hypest Hype") or deliver heart-stopping, rave-revival sermons ("Blind Faith").
LISTEN: Chase & Status, "Saxon"
LISTEN: Chase & Status feat. Liam Bailey, "Blind Faith"
- MOUNT KIMBIE
Buds of James Blake, experimental bedheads Mount Kimbie - the London-based duo of of Dom Maker and Kai Campos - apparently inspired the term "post-dubstep" with theirexquisitely composed ambient excursions, which lurch or dart from playful to melancholy, most remarkably on 2010's critically acclaimed album Crooks and Lovers.
LISTEN: Mount Kimbie, "Before I Move Off"
LISTEN: Mount Kimbie, "Maybes (James Blake Remix)"
In the spirit of Chase & Status, Nero's Joe Ray and Dan Stephens ache to bestow post-dubstep with its can-you-believe-this-shit? flash of stadium-size euphoria, enhancing (or defiling, depending on your perspective) the genre's bass-heavy payload with trancey synths and wailing vocals, most effectively on their dizzying remixes of the Streets and La Roux. The duo's new single, "Me and You" (on Chase & Status' label MTA), is their most outrageous plea for mass exultation yet - a UFC Disco Fight Night free-for-all of synths, guitars (and diva), in which Nero seem to be ecstatically horsewhipping Justice with their own ironic leather jackets.
LISTEN: The Streets, "Blinded by the Lights (Nero Remix)"
LISTEN: Nero, "Me and You"
David Kennedy released James Blake's The Bells Sketch EP on his Hessle Audio label, but his production under the tag Ramadanman veers away from Blake's artful toggle of trad songmaking elements. Instead, Kennedy slyly inulges his obsession with every shade and splash and scrape and pop and crack of digital percussion. Tracks like "Work Them" and "Bass Drums" are sublimely off-kilter chatterfests, with minimal beats palpitating and ping-ponging around a single question: "Can I dance to this without falling down?" But when Kennedy does craft a more proper, song-like track incorporating vocals - "Don't Change for Me" or his "Ramadanman Refix" of Jamie Woon's "Night Air" or his transcendent, footwork-inspired ghostdance all over Ciara's "1, 2 Step" - the results may not induce vertigo, but they leave you agape at his subtle, perpetual mood shifts.
LISTEN: Ramadanman, "Don't Change for Me"
- JOY ORBISON
South London's Peter O'Grady (a.k.a. Joy Orbison or Joy O) produced 2009's most revered dance track, "Hyph Mngo," a veritable post-dubstep hymn, with its lovingly assembled, almost devotional mix of house-music keyboards, giddy-up U.K. garage groove, and solemnly thudding bass. An eclectic music geek who's claimed to be a fan of everyone from Phil Spector to My Bloody Valentine to J. Dilla to GG Allin, O'Grady has been put forward as a visionary post-dubstep figure, but his output since "Hyph Mngo" has been fairly scattered. His latest track, "Wade In," is an immaculately constructed bit of funky cowbell clatter with a vaguely forbidding sheen.
LISTEN: Joy Orbison, "Hyph Mngo"
LISTEN: Joy Orbison, "Wade In"
- FANTASTIC MR FOX
A dazzling dicer of beats, and one of Blake's favorite producers, Stephen Gomberg (a.k.a. Mr Fox) briskly flees dubstep's slo-mo boom, crafting abstract R&B suites from swirls of chopped rhythms and unexpected samples like a precocious U.K. Timbaland (especially on last year's Evelyn EP). After opening some tour dates for the xx, he's now collaborating on tracks with Jamie Smith.
LISTEN: Fantastic Mr Fox, "If I"
LISTEN: Fantastic Mr Fox, "Sketches"
- BECOMING REAL
Former art student Toby Ridler, a.k.a. Becoming Real, takes great pains to create an immersive aesthetic universe with his post-dubstep spook house, arranging squishy, disorienting textures that seem to hover ominously just outside your field of vision. No matter the tempo - scampering anxiously or staggering more deliberately ï¿½- his tracks induce a distinct shiver. Ridler's new label, Cold World, is aptly named.
LISTEN: Becoming Real, "Closer" (Jam City Remix)
LISTEN: Becoming Real, "Jen's Clock"
SOME MORE WORTHY UPSTARTS TO EXPLORE:
Darkstar, Ikonika, Pariah, Jakwob, Fatima, Mosca, Untold, Flux Pavilion, Scuba