He has the ability to create dancefloor-consuming monsters.
Chris Power 2009
If it’s subtlety you’re after, look away now. Sub Focus, aka Londoner Nick Douwma, isn’t here to intrigue or puzzle, but rather to stimulate and stun. The sheer audaciousness of his maximalist approach can reap some adrenalized rewards, but can also leave you suffering the musical equivalent of a carb hangover.
Before the crash, of course, comes the rush, and Sub Focus has been packing drum & bass dancefloors since 2003. For that reason his debut LP has been long-awaited, and begins with a suitable fanfare: an arpeggiated ripple of sound rises up only to be gusted away by crashing, epic chords, tolling bells, kettle drums, and a grinding synth line leading into the savage break. It’s ludicrous, but hear it on a big rig and it’ll make you feel immortal for at least 60 seconds.
Earnest vocal numbers World of Hurt and Follow the Light prolong the widescreen vibe, things slowing down only with Last Jungle’s Amen break. Clearly based on Future Sound of London’s 1991 rave classic Papua New Guinea, Last Jungle is a moody piece of twilit breakbeat that distinguishes itself by eschewing full-frontal assault.
Sub Focus clearly has enviable production skills, but while it’s possible to admire his sound’s power there are times when it’s not matched by songcraft. Rock It, based around the same Breakwater sample as Daft Punk’s Robot Rock, is a leaden bit of Pendulum-style drum & bass riffage, while Could Be Real fails to intermingle its contrasting Italo-house and more fidget-like elements, leaving them to clumsily trample one another.
Elsewhere Douwma is surer of step, as when folding a percolating synth line halfway between Tangerine Dream and Moroder into the peak-time breakbeat manoeuvres of Vapourise, or crafting a convincing bit of Virus-style darkcore on Deep Space. Best of all, though, is the understandably huge Time Warp. Taking inspiration from the techno productions of, among others, Audion and Dubfire, it sees Douwma going for the jugular with a ferocious warbling synth tone that flips in and out of a half-speed rhythm, playing chicken with the relentless break.
That Sub Focus has the ability to create dancefloor-consuming monsters isn’t in doubt. What remains to be seen is whether he can convert his jackdaw versatility – house, breaks and dubstep all get a look-in here – into a coherent style of his own. Right now that’s very much a work in progress.