Sub Swara :: Coup d'Yah
There exist a few nocturnal venues on earth where the extra-terrestrial bass forms the essence of the soundsystem. These venues, underground dance clubs if you haven't caught on by now, are few and far between and usually serve as home base for genres and acts that they seem custom made for. Techno heavyweights, both German-grown and foreign, operate out of Berghain, formerly Ostgut, in Berlin. Vienna's Flex is where Stereotyp, the G-Stone crew and Dub Club residents regularly bring their rattling bass, while London's immense, labyrinth-like Fabric is sure to be the spot where electronic music's next big thing is unleashed on the rest of us, as it always has. The city of New York has such a venue, one where the stalwarts of the bass-loving, electronic sub-cultures of drum n' bass and dubstep will undertake cross-Atlantic journeys to make an appearance at. Love is the black-light filled, subterranean monthly home to two of the city's most ground-breaking parties - Dub War and Sub Swara. A shared love of everything bass-heavy has brought the two crews to the venue. While Dub War is the States-side headquarters for live dubstep, a relatively young scene that evolved from the UK garage/2-step/grime landscape, Sub Swara (held on the first Friday of every month) takes on virtually every bass-centric genre of dance music in a single night. As Thomas Friedman or the globalization gurus might say - the world is certainly 'flat' where these boys come from.
If the name Dhruva Ganesan sounds familiar, it's because as a member of San Francisco based electronica collective Dhamaal Soundsystem, he had a hand in creating some iconic Asian breakbeat tracks ("Twilight Creeper" and "Z-Motion"). As Sub Swara's founder and unofficial head honcho, the Brooklyn transplanted Dhruva now forges a sound that takes its cues as much from dub, ragga and dancehall as it does from electronica. Finding like-minded souls in Haj (producer and DJ) and Sunder Srinivasan (turntablist and DJ), both residents of New York's tribal-breaks bastion Freek Factory, Sub Swara - swara is Indian classical music speak for the seven basic notes - was born. Trinidadian native John Lashley, better known as Dub War's MC Juakali, and Sharmaji (Dave Sharma - producer, percussionist and DJ) rounded out the bill perfectly. Each brings his own inimitable cultural and musical identity and influence on the path to a common objective - destroying any preconception of what urban dance music should sound like in 2008 only to resurrect it in a low frequency style all their own.
While Coup D'Yah is largely a Dhruva produced affair (he is credited on 10 of the album's 12 tunes), it is a culmination of two years of studio engineering and live experimentation that lucidly informs the listener on all the roles played by each member. "Hi Fidelity (Shambhala Riddim)" is the opener and it's easy to see why - a rumbling, glitch-ragga inflected monster of a tune, its booming bassline is only intensified thanks to the baritone vocal delivery of MC Zulu, previously heard on Kush Arora's From Brooklyn to SF. "The Balance", one of the first Sub Swara tracks ever recorded, is a creature in a similar vein - dread bass (a cross pollination of ragga, dancehall and electronica) at its finest. MC Juakali first made splashes 'round these parts after his vocals on Bristol dubstep producer Pinch's refreshing Underwater Dancehall LP where he brought the reggae aesthetic to a genre obsessed with instrumentals. "Qawwali" was the murky, Sufi-inspired, slow burner that made Pinch a household name for those who liked their dubstep of the Eastern persuasion. It was almost inspiring how easily Juakali gave the original track an entirely new outlook by beginning his vocals with the chant, "Push that negative energy aside, Rudebwoy-lookin' for the light on this one."
A contemporary to "Qawwali", in both timing and style, was a track making the rounds of DJs and taste makers worldwide, called "Koli Stance". Deep claps of bass, as weighty as we had heard yet, and a shehnai, an instrument usually associated with cheerful proceedings like weddings, lent themselves ominously to what Martin Clark (a dubstep producer, writer and blogger) called "a master class in swirling subcontinental tablas and warping dubstep bass." You know you've hit the big time, at least in underground dance music circles, when Blackdown himself, known to have something of an affinity for Eastern sounds in his own productions, gives you props like that. Thankfully, "Koli Stance" is here, in all its resounding glory. Dhruva and Sharmaji repeat the live percussion-fuelled Indian dubstep magic again with the dizzying "Alabaster Dub" and "Backwater Dub". As trained percussionists and bass aficionados, in equal measure, both Dhruva and Sharmaji bring a sense of rhythm and beat knowledge to club music, in rare supply these days.
DK aka Bollygirl, DJ and bass maven of AVAAZ fame and her production partner Cenzo, are peers to Sub Swara in their guise as GOONDA. Dhruva takes "Infiltrate", a raging breakbeat anthem from GOONDA's debut album Third World Radio, and flips it on its head with a dancefloor-perfect dread bass remake that soon unfurls into the ubiquitous dubstep 'wobble' effect halfway through. Haj and Dhruva team up for "Belgrade Riddim", a mid-tempo, sinewy, tribal-dancehall instrumental, featuring playful marching band horns, that as the title suggests veers deep into Balkan territory.
Of the two solo Sharmaji productions on Coup D'Yah, the hypnotic "Insh'allah" is the one that most dubstep and bass heads, looking for their next fix in Eastern rhythms, will gravitate to. Having heard this, along with his upcoming "Radha Prepares" and "Skank Ethics", I can safely lay to rest the entire buzz around this young producer. He, along with UK based Sukh Knight and Nuphlo, is the future of Asian electronica.
Fans and followers of Sub Swara, either as individuals or as a collective, will recognize some of the tracks here, which are by no means brand new or exclusive to the album. Both "The Balance" and the remix of "Infiltrate" appeared earlier on the Freek Factory Volume 1 compilation and "Yeah (Ina Dravidian Bombstep)" which has Dhruva and Juakali at their finest, was one of the first tracks I remember hearing thanks to MySpace, albeit in a different form, when Dhamaal first disbanded. Nevertheless, the 12 tracks that comprise Coup D'Yah speak volumes of the five individuals (six if you count Bass Society, previously known as Nasha, and now of the newly formed Order of the Essence with Bandish Projekt's Udyan Sagar, who holds down the sub-continental side for Sub Swara, but that's another story or another review...) who have truly come into their own as producers and bass heavyweights.