Dubstep producer tries aligning his output with Jamaican originals, with muddled results.
Melissa Bradshaw 2012-03-28
Rusko’s attempt on this second album to realign his music with a Jamaican inheritance is something that some people might find problematic. Songs opens with a reference to King Tubby, and tries to make a point out of using reggae styles and vocalists. Yet it has nothing of the mind-opening space and texture of any Tubby dub. And since Rusko is one of the original drivers behind dubstep’s mutation from deep frequencies studiously engineered by people who understood bass into belching, aggressive, resolutely macho electro, this move is more than a bit ironic.
If Rusko is an innovator, as the reference wants to claim, his innovation has been to further remove dubstep from the roots soundsystem culture, as signified by King Tubby, and to make it more accessible to pop practitioners like M.I.A. and Skrillex. (The extent of the influence of mid-range wub-wub is presently demonstrated by a widespread tendency for dancefloors to resemble mosh-pits more than, uh, floors on which people actually dance.) Thus Rusko tries to reclaim his foundational status from his imitators while being completely blind to the paradox therein. Indeed, the head-banging, saw-like riff of ‘Skanker’ is prologued by echoes and bleeps that only achieve a parody of dub.
That said, the attempts on Songs to close a diasporic gap, as it were, could be argued to be in line with the more plastic/cheesy style of current dancehall: witness the breezy vocals of Be Free or Mek More Green. There are also summery garage and global trance inflections on tracks like Pressure and Opium, which indicate Rusko’s awareness of himself as a commercial dance artist. But there’s an overwhelming failure to attempt syntheses: the wump is just stuck on top of things, a lairy, generalised interruption, like a crowd of drunken football fans shouting on the underground. There may be arguments for Rusko’s moves here; it’s just that they’re not very well executed.