Few people are more aware of the potential of high-quality dubstep collaborations than the guys behind Hydra Records. The Japanese label, still in its infancy, scored a massive coup in September when they secured Japanese distribution of the latest album by dubstep pioneer Skream (who also experienced huge success this year as part of dubstep super-group Magnetic Man, a three-piece collaborative effort with long-standing fellow producers Benga and Artwork). Hydra Records’ follow up release, “Deepsketch” by AZZXSSS, is unlikely to achieve similar mainstream crossover success anytime soon, but could yet prove to be an important addition to the flourishing Japanese dubstep scene.
AZZXSSS, as well as presenting pronunciation problems to radio DJs worldwide (it reads something like “Azzuks”), is the official name of the collaboration between Japanese producers Azzurro and Solid State Soul. The former will be familiar to fans of hip-hop as a past member of Japanese group Mellow Yellow, while Solid State Soul is a new moniker that techno producer Shigeru Tanabu has taken on for his recent foray into dubstep. Though the two come from different musical backgrounds, they were united in 2007 during the recording of Azzurro’s “Nagisa” release, at which point they recognized they were both heavily influenced by dub and decided to begin producing tracks together.
The belated result is an album full of polyrhythmic beats and subtle chord textures that will have purists harkening back to early releases by the likes of 2562 and Distance. Huge, atmospheric soundscapes are the order of the day, with eerie synths floating in and out of title-track “Deepsketch” evoking a futuristic alien desert. Other tracks conjure up a distinctly urban ambience, laced either with threat and menace (“Silver Lake”), or plain melancholy (“Break It”). The 10 tracks are split half-and-half, with five tracks produced by Azzurro and coproduced by Tanabu, and vice versa. As such, you can pick up on the individual traits of the two producers, be it Azzurro’s raw, purposely unprocessed drums, or Tanabu’s jazz-fusion-inspired instrumentalism. Indeed, an accomplished guitarist himself, Tanabu hopes to add live guitars to the pair’s performances — something that has recently been used to great effect by postdubstep acts such as Mount Kimbie and Becoming Real in Britain.
“Deepsketch” is chock full of the sort of complexity and attention to detail that fans of the earlier days of dubstep will undoubtedly relish. Whether it can convert listeners new to the genre is another question. Japanese contemporaries such as Goth-Trad have been somewhat overlooked in their home country, instead choosing to carve out their own niche in a U.K. scene that still has great reverence for original dubstep stylings, and it would be easy to see AZZXSSS follow suit.