Blow Your Head: Diplo Presents Dubstep
(Mad Decent; 2010)
By Colin McGowan | 23 November 2010
Diplo’s eminently accessible Blow Your Head compilation confirms that dubstep benefits, generally and considerably, for those not entrenched in the scene, when it is removed from the live venue. I know purists will turn their noses up at that statement, but let me explain: this compilation is largely delightful, but it owes a majority of its delightful nature to Diplo, sporadically great producer and masterful curator, more than it does to the genre itself. It sounds great on headphones and during small gatherings. It’s varied without sounding fractured. It’s as genial as the genre gets without losing its teeth.
Dubstep is a toothy genre, after all. At its pinnacle it blends abrasion against itself until it splendidly births amelodious piff. Of course, I stand only adjacent to a rather adamant group of dubstep aficionados, through whom I have learned nearly everything I know of the genre. I think I get it: exceptionally affable guys and gals who smoke weed, skittering electronics, hallucinogens, aggressive bass, irregular and often minimal drums, and, um, more drugs, helping said affable folks fill in the music’s blanks to complete the experience. I’m fine with all of this; though I’m not one to habitually pop up at the shows they frequent, I respect their ethos. And I like Burial.
Yet, while watching Major Lazer’s performance at the Pitchfork Festival from afar (waiting for Big Boi, duh), a sneer crept across my face. There were nubile ballerinas jumping off ladders; there was Skerrit Bwoy, on the brink of transforming the stage into his own personal sex-palace or something. I balked like National fans must at OJ Da Juiceman. Of course, the bloated festival performance of an act that nods at dubstep, but also at dancehall, R&B, and a mélange of other genres, isn’t necessarily indicative of the genre as a whole. But it is indicative of a compilation like Blow Your Head, which, by its very nature and care of the celebrity status of its compiler, only succeeds when removed from the environment which made it possible, only succeeds when it attempts to surpass its genre to seduce a broader audience under more accessible, rowdier means.
A handful of tracks on this collection nod towards that transcendent accessibility without fully realizing it. James Blake lets wooziness bleed into soul and creates something that sounds like a Q-Tip beat on board a turbulently sinking ship. Little Jinder’s “Youth Blood” takes ’80s radio pop and smothers it in a wash of oscillating fuzz. Those are two standouts, but the signature trait of most of the compositions here is utter listenability. Blow Your Head is a solid companion to toweling off in the early morning hours. Tracks fit together snugly, commingling to the point where individual songs become irrelevant: Blow is, contrary to many of its genre’s conventions, an unstymiably smooth stream of pleasurable cacophony.
But what’s most remarkable about the seamlessness of the compilation is that Diplo labors to display the myriad sounds contained under the dubstep banner. He reveals the perceived narrowness of the genre to be fallacy; he takes the auto-condescension of the curator’s role and elevates it to genius-like status. While most dubstep producers are working with the same ingredients, Blow Your Head reveals how those ingredients can yield beautifully varied results. A track like Rusko’s “Cockney Thug” reverberates with swaggering menace where Diplo and Borgore’s “Sunset” is delicately arresting. In collecting compositions from a diverse smattering of producers, Diplo illuminates the breadth of the genre.
Niche genres are, by nature, difficult to address. Most tack an implicit warning sign to their exterior: dive in head-first or keep out. So, we who exist outside these scenes, hesitant to perform the former and sift through hours of mediocrity, depend on intermediaries to deliver digestible, neatly packaged “best of“s for the benefit of our casual interest. That’s one of the main benefits of genre blogs: Blogger A is a connoisseur of Genre X; s/he sifts through the minutiae so we don’t have to. Diplo’s sort of like the best genre blogger ever, consistently assembling sterling collections of esoteric music and passing them along to those of us standing outside the double-doors, be it Huntsville hip-hop or obscure Gucci Mane remixes. Blow Your Head is yet another example of his expertise, benevolently dispatching dubstep from the clubs into our living rooms.