Dubstep without boundaries
Like all genres, dance music moves in phases. The sound of the moment is dubstep, a brutal British movement led by faceless blokes with names like Caspa and The Bug, and characterized by wobbling basslines that hum like a moving lightsaber. It’s a menacing sound, an oscillating drone that pounds you into submission.
The U.K. beatsmith Rusko is a titan of the genre, having broken through with the 2008 single “Cockney Thug,” which piled syncopated drums atop that furious drone, punctuating the whole thing with shrill whistles that might as well have been criss-crossing bottle rockets. At one point the whole song stopped, and a British-accented voice blurted out “I ’avent got a clue what’s going on.”
Released on Diplo’s Mad Decent label, Rusko’s new album is even more disorienting—in a good way. Refusing to bend to its own genre’s conventions, it plays like a mash-up of every major dance movement of the last 30-plus years. “Feels So Real” warps a disco beat. “Kumon Kumon” is a straight-up jungle track. “Rubadub Shakedown” chatters like reggae, then downshifts into a funk groove. “Got Da Groove” dabbles in hip-hop, with vocals from ubiquitous Atlanta rapper Gucci Mane.
Rusko is big on unexpected sound effects; he also implements laser guns and shattering glass and the telltale squawk of a connecting fax machine. But the glue that binds the album is that signature dubstep beat, which takes on a surprising number of forms and conjures an unexpected array of emotions. It can underpin a diva, as it does for Dirty Projectors’ Amber Coffman on “Hold On.” But it can also do what it does late in the album on “You’re On My Mind Baby”—pulse way down in the mix, a low thrum holding steady like an idling engine, ready at any moment to crank up.