The force of the bass at SA Dub .2 is more like a physical presence, penetrating you in waves, vibrating your vital organs like an internal Sharper Image massage chair — a not-unpleasant tingling sensation they could probably sell as a black-market cancer cure.
Maybe a dozen people hang out upstairs, sipping beers, occasionally chatting during Tommy C’s DJ set — the first of the night for local label Eye-Ten Recording’s second show centered around dubstep, an offshoot of UK garage electronica, distinguished by its half-time beats and dominant bass lines. The distinctions between dubstep and sub-genres with similar elements such as 2step, drum and bass, jungle, and — this is where it gets tricky — good old-fashioned Jamaican dub, are extremely nebulous and subjective, so I’ll just admit I’m not an expert and move on before I walk into the music-nerd equivalent of a Kirk vs. Picard fight.
What’s also hard for non-DJs to determine is what exactly Tommy C’s doing behind the turntables. He’s constantly pulling records from the crate behind him, spinning three at a time, synching them together, manipulating them via knob twiddles and the ubiquitous scratching. Unless you’ve got an intimate knowledge of the exact records he’s playing at a given time, in other words, it’s much more difficult to determine his actual impact on the music being produced while he digs through crates and smokes cigarettes than it would be if he were, say, playing a guitar. What is clear, though, is that he’s creating something by interpolating and looping these records that wouldn’t have existed otherwise, and the result is much more than just bottom-heavy racket.
Strangely syncopated, snare-happy beats frame those jaw-rattling bass lines to provide a constant backdrop for an ebb and flow of other elements. While Tommy C seems content to let the beat ride solo for minutes at a time, he’s most often gradually building up to an impossibly dense climax, stacking layers of disparate textures. Kung-fu pan flutes, electronic wood blocks, orgasmic dolphins, and what sounds like a glockenspiel made from the crystals in Superman’s fortress of solitude, don’t so much intertwine with the beat as exist in the same space as it, creating that dissonant wobbly effect Animal Collective exploited so effectively this year, and forcing your brain to reconcile the rhythms until they match up like turn signals at a traffic light. Outside on the River Walk you can hear the bass rattling Bond’s windows from blocks away, echoing off the river and startling the tourists.
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