Sub Swara :: Triggers
2009 ended on quite a high note for the New York, by way of Brooklyn, collective of Sub Swara. Their debut, Coup d'Yah, achieved exactly what it set out to – 12 of the most soundsystem friendly dubstep, dreadbass and dancehall inspired cuts created outside of the reigning birthplace of urban music – London. In their first full-length, the 4 pivotal characters outdid just about everyone in terms of creating something iconic and truly global in their love for its bass and electronic roots.
Seems like much has changed by way of the young lads. Sub Swara is now down to 2 central producers – Dhruva Ganesan and Dave Sharma, who anyway were the pilots the first time around. Triggers, while squarely landing in proper Sub Swara territory, is a different natured beast than Coup d'Yah was. The inspirations are largely hip-hop this time around as opposed to the dancehall leanings of the first LP. Gone also is the gruff vocals of the omnipresent Juakali, now replaced by the stalwarts of the underground US hip-hop scene, Dead Prez and Lyrics Born, among others. The beats are harder, more focused, and still as dancefloor oriented as ever – perhaps a testament to how confident and prolific the two have become as producers. Sub Swara isn't for the faint of heart or for headphone jockeys. It's for ravers who can appreciate the hip-hop history of drum n' bass and the low-end frequencies of dub and its much more recent incarnation, dubstep.
Singles "Bend You" and "Steam" are full throttle genre-blurring bangers which go from A to B and tempos within so few minutes that you're clearly left wondering where the dub left off and the breaks began. This isn't your run-of-the-mill bass heavy electronica – it's the thinking man's version of it. One of the reasons why these tracks work so well is because of the musicality involved with each note – both Dhruva and Sharmaji are percussionists and the beats are reflective of that. The tribal and jungle (the precursor to drum n' bass, not the tree kind) inspired "Steam" is a marauding of drums that switches to dubstep three minutes in and just as easily discovers its jungle heart before the track winds down. "Tambores" is a fusion of baile funk, the frenetic rhythms born out of Brazil's favelas but more recently made famous by M.I.A., and percussion heavy dance beats.
A personal favorite and obvious future single, "Vagabond Knowledge", is all rattling bass and echoing electronics that suggest Photek with more dance sensibility, it's also perhaps the one time on the album where Sub Swara's South Asian-ness is on display. Clearly one of the more innovative electronica tracks of our time.
Turntablist and former Sub Swara cohort Sunder provides his trademark scratches on the electronic hip-hop of "October" and showcases a Sub Swara element essential to its live avatar and one that's given it a cult following amongst the alternative dance festival circuit. The boys are no strangers to far flung and exotic sounds – Coup d'Yah had "Belgrade Riddim", a Balkan centric beat-fest and one that led up to, in our opinion, perhaps their strongest remix to date – Balkan Beat Box's "Balkumbia". "Bird of Paradise" is its closest relative with its live instrumentation courtesy of the much praised, with good reason, global funk band, Antibalas.
The astounding guest appearances continue with Shamik Bilgi's beatboxing on "Schemes", an intense, menace of a track rounded off by the sickest electronic squelches heard this side of Bassnectar.
To call Triggers a dubstep LP, as most journalists are bound to when it releases, would be doing a severe injustice as "an electronic hip-hop opus" would be a more apt description. Of course, one can argue that this kind of bass heavy music borrows liberally from every low-end genre coming before it but as compared to its predecessor, this album is more b-boy than raver. Which works just fine for us as it shows just how critical Sub Swara is to keeping urban music alive, radical and rebellious into 2011 and onwards.