SUBDUB 17th Birthday / DMZ / Exit vs Headz / Outlook Festival Launch Party
Saturday 2nd May
West Indian Centre, Leeds
Despite being 1 year away from legal adulthood, SUBDUB has been putting on grownup parties for the past 17, with this year being far from an exception. Having put on a run of nights featuring some of the best bass music producers out there, it's to no one's surprise that their 17th birthday bash was nothing short of huge. By making full use of the bank holiday weekend with a 3 day spree at the West Indian Centre, SUBDUB has three times the usual line-up to pay homage to the multiple kinds of music that it's been pushing for almost two decades. However, thanks to the common problem of deadlines I could only risk one of the nights for the sake of my degree, and as a big 140/Drum & Bass fan, it was clear which night it had to be: Saturday's DMZ & Exit vs. Headz session.
DMZ is a name I've typed countless times, mainly because when it comes to the subject of Dubstep, where it's been and where it's going, it's hard not to refer to it in some way. One of the original and (according to many) greatest Dubstep nights, DMZ has become increasingly absent in part due to the differing paths of the artists behind it (Loefah's change in direction being the most obvious). This was especially apparent last year after the absence of a 9th DMZ birthday, as well as the absence of their traditional stage at Outlook Festival. As a result, to see it rear its head on any occasion is special. This is all on top of the fact that it would be joined by Exit vs. Headz in room 2: A combination of two of Drum & Bass' most influential labels, both more than worthy of their own nights.
After some annoyingly customary cab problems, we arrived at the venue just before the end of Distance vs. Pinch. The venue was already packed at this point, making full use of the extra space in room 1 which was a nice change (at the 15th birthday it was in room 2). I was initially worried - given how relatively early it was - about being boxed in on the dance floor, but once I actually moved in it was surprisingly spacious, with the usual annoyance of getting jogged for half the set not really apparent. At this point it was time for Youngsta; a man who needs no more of these "needs-no-introductions" (many which I have written myself). After seeming to have some trouble opening a fridge in the artists area (Mala helped him in the end), he put the incident behind him and showed that for what he lacks in manipulating small doors, he more than makes up for in manipulating vinyl. SP:MC and LX One's "Hunted" met the usual response, but there wasn't time for too many reloads, its DMZ after all. Amit's "Acid Trip" as well as Youngsta's own "Destruction" followed soon after to similar effect. The rest of the set was interspersed with classic "Minimal Monday's" material, old favourites and dubs, really setting the tone for what was to come.
Digital Mystikz & Loefah - who are in basically the same boat as Youngsta (if not more) when it comes to introductions - stepped up next. As the founders of the night, they naturally took the prime slot since for many they were easily the main event. Despite the many times I've seen them, they still seemed more on-point than usual. They still played the classics, but not just the most obvious ones. After a short dancehall intro, they followed with Mala's "Jah Power Dub" which I haven't heard out in a long time. The same goes for Skream's "0800 Dub", Benga's "Skank" and Horsepower Productions' "Fat Larry's Skank", which were all a sound for sore ears. With regards to the "major" classics: "Anti-War Dub", "The Goat Stare" and Loefah's remix of "I" are all obligatory mentions, while the Skream remix of "Ancient Memories" brought me back to the early SYSTEM nights when Mala was still a part of them. There was also time for the contemporary, in particular when Kahn's "Abattoir" and Novelist x Mumdance's "1 Sec" got dropped. DMZ may be a time to celebrate the "olden days" but it is also equally a time to showcase the new.
Unfortunately, the main draw for me in room 2 (dBridge vs. Goldie) was scheduled for the same time as Digital Mystikz vs. Loefah. I did manage to find some time in there, and I was unsurprised at how it was going; the two giants of the Drum & Bass scene were veterans long before their room 1 comrades, and their experience as DJs is always evident when they play. It was the dose of expertly mixed authentic Drum & Bass you would expect, and I use the word authentic selectively. This is not to insult other labels or kinds of Drum & Bass (many of which I am a fan of), but it is the fact that many of their individual releases have served as a foundation for the current generation of producers.
Kode 9 tied up the night with a set reminiscent of his DMZ 8th Birthday appearance, playing trappy, footwork infused tracks which felt really cohesive with the atmosphere despite his set's proximity to Digital Mystikz vs. Loefah. 140 was present too of course, with Kode 9 playing what was potentially my favourite track of the night: Joker & Ginz's "Stash", which I hadn't (as far as I can remember) heard out yet. The Bug and Warrior Queen's "Poison Dart" was also up there. However, as token as this sounds, one of the best parts of the night was the atmosphere (or vibes if you don't mind the word). It was so good that I almost didn't notice it, if that makes sense. What I mean, is that it was only the next day that I realised the usual things that irk me (even at good nights) hadn't really been issues. The room was full - but there was enough space to dance. The crowd was hyped - but there weren't any moshpits and no one was being particularly "aggy" or annoying. In essence the night felt right, and with the upcoming DMZ 10th Birthday in July, I certainly feel like it's a good sign of things to come for those lucky enough to be going. While I may have had to pay the forfeit of writing an essay with a less than ideal amount of sleep the next day, I regret nothing. Given I have another year at least in Leeds, you can bet I'll be at the big 18.
Words by Arthur Seaward
Images courtesy of C W Photographics