It's hard to know real talent anymore. We're gorging on product that comes at us instantly and in abundance from, well, our front pockets, where we keep our phones.
Lost in our personal electronics, drifting through increasingly noncritical space, we're unable to tell musical good from evil anymore — evil being what we want. You tell me: Is there an app for that? I don't think so.
That's one reason we seek out shapeshifters such as Paul Rose, a British electronic producer who's working the margins of at least three genre boundaries simultaneously. He has a great ear for fierce and funky territories, and makes every dubstep, house or techno record with the intention of pushing your body around — with force. Not much has gone wrong with this plan since Rose started Hotflush Recordings in 2003, releasing thumping dub-breaks-hybrid tracks by Distance, Search & Destroy and Toasty, before issuing his debut dance 12-inch — "Timba/Sleepa" — two years later under the moniker Scuba.
Five more singles came in hot succession. Scuba became swept up in a wave of well-deserved adulation along with fellow travelers in bass futurism Burial and Kode9 (Hyperdub); Appleblim and Shackleton of Skull Disco; the Tectonic and Punch Drunk crews in the tight Bristol scene, and Dutchmen Dave Huismans (2562) and Martyn, the latter trading medieval Eindhoven for suburban Washington, D.C. Rose also made his big move, from London to Berlin.
Then came an artful, meditative, somewhat misunderstood debut LP, A Mutual Antipathy, in 2008. It did what good albums always do, taking listeners on a sonic adventure into the unknown, with a trustworthy guide at the controls. Its problem was that it dared to defy category in an age of hyper-classification. If not exactly dubstep — a largely UK-based sound culture evolved from jungle, garage, 2-step, hardcore, grime and rave antecedents — then what was it?
It didn't sound like Burial's self-titled debut or the follow-up, Untrue, but it similarly explored the melancholy memories and echoes of all yesterday's parties. That's not to say more and better parties didn't lay ahead — as Scuba has proved since on a series of singles, remixes, collabs, mix-CDs and signings of enterprising innovators (Mount Kimbie, Sepalcure, Sigha) to Hotflush. Not to mention live showcases blowing up via his Sub:stance quarterly at Berlin's Berghain, and DJ gigs that have taken him to the other side of the world and back again.
In fact, trying to reach the itinerant Scuba to talk about all this hyperactivity wasn't easy. But with the help of his publicist in Berlin (many thanks, Melissa of Tailored Communications), we began tracking him in Malaysia, followed him to Melbourne and Perth while he toured Australia, kept pace on his way back west during a stopover in Dubai, and then, when he got back to his home in the German capital, were treated to news of massive jetlag and exhaustion that was "off the hook." We can imagine. All details of the travelogue come courtesy of Rose's pithy Twitter updates, though he's more likely to comment on fantasy Premier League football action or World Cup results than about what he's up to at 5 a.m. in the DJ booth.
So why the urgency in trying to find this dude, however much we love him and his tweets? He's playing here for the first time tomorrow night (Thursday, Aug. 12) at the TV Bar, that's why. An international artist possessed of the kind of talent to match up with the power, the glory and the historical weight of 25 years of Detroit techno. Welcome.
What we naturally wanted to know from Rose was how much Detroit played a part in his formative years as an artist. Nagging jetlag out of the way, he wrote back:
"I'm definitely a fan of Detroit techno, maybe not quite as much as some people might think, given what my music sounds like," he says, "but it's something I've been into for a long time. One of the first records I bought was "Eye 2 Eye" by Kosmic Messenger, so I guess that says it all!" Kosmic Messenger is an alias of our own Stacey Pullen, who recorded the track in 1995 for the UK imprint Plink Plonk. "I'm really looking forward to the gig; it's a shame I don't have more time to check out the city a bit more." (No? Well, we'll have to make sure you come back then and do it up right next time.)
How has his move to Berlin worked out? Does he notice anything different developing in his sound?
"I've been here for well over two years now, so it would be a bit strange if things hadn't changed a bit," Rose says. "The most important influences on me musically have always been early 1990s electro, like the first couple of Autechre albums, early Aphex Twin, and also mid-90s jungle, house and techno; that was the stuff I grew up with."
The fact is, from our perspective, thousands of miles away, Scuba's sound has changed — all for the better. Let's call it more mature, the inspirations and influences growing into a distinctive, original voice no one else can imitate.
From A Mutual Antipathy forward, Scuba has seemingly never come up for air, going deep with the singles "Hard Boiled/Tell Her," "Klinik/Hundreds and Thousands," "Speak/Negative" — the B-sides often as good as, or superior to, the A-sides in each case — and even deeper on "Bleach," which was collected by Stefan Betke (Pole) for his Round Black Ghosts comp on the ~scape label.
Earlier this year, Scuba released the mix CD Sub:stance, featuring tracks by another wave of promising bass artists, including George Fitzgerald, Joy Orbison, Pangaea, Ramadanman and Untold, as well as releasing Scuba's second LP of original productions, Triangulation. Critics, including this one, are calling them two of the best of 2010 — in any genre.
But there's still nearly five full months to go, and Rose is hardly finished. He's just completed a 12-inch as SCB — his more standard 4/4 project — which is due out this fall, along with remixes of tracks from Triangulation and still more remixes for a growing list of A-list clients. Keeping the Hotflush buzz fresh is Mount Kimbie, two charmingly original Brits, barely out of their teens, who have a sweet new LP called Crooks & Lovers. The group's music should attract all discerning shoegazers, space-disco-rockers and hip-hop instrumentalists out there. They're on a U.S. tour this fall (with no Detroit date announced: c'mon local promoters, jump to it).
Rose sums up the splendid frenzy of his life this way: "Doing all this takes up a lot of time. It's all pretty chaotic, to be honest. I could do with a better work-life balance." Hmmm, join the club, Scuba. You can rest when you're dead, like the rest of us. Until then, keep pouring it on, baby.
The Subterraneans is a column devoted to Detroit's electronic music. Send comments to [email protected]
Local party crews Proper | Modulation and db present Scuba Thursday, Aug. 12, at the TV Bar, 2554 Grand River Ave., Detroit; $7 before 11 p.m., $10 after; Deep Sea Soundsystem and Steve Dronez will perform before Scuba goes on at midnight.