Pinch - MIA 2006-2010 Album Review
It feels weird calling music old skool when it's little more than two or three years in the can, but dubstep's blitzkrieg colonisation of popular culture means that anybody taking even a glance backwards can find the view like a lost world.
Pinch - aka Rob Ellis - can probably have more justification than most in claiming a major part in the genre's incredible rise from metropolitan underground to the mainstream. From Bristol - importantly the twin epicentre of this explosion alongside South East London - his Tectonic label has released work by a host of the movement's pioneers including Skream, Benga and Flying Lotus. What's possibly less widely acknowledged is his role as a remixer/producer, a personal injustice that MIA 2006-2010 should go a long way towards addressing.
It's been a long time coming as well, after his début - 2007's Underwater Dancehall - was released to critical approval. Given the limitations of the compilation format, there are plenty of things MIA could've been - disjointed, unfocussed and subject to fluctuations in quality - but it's testimony to Ellis' talents that all of these pitfalls are avoided. Arranged in chronological order to appease the 'spotter nature of its potential audience, the hand-picked contents are full of enough tics and self-expression to keep everyone interested. Opener Qawwali drips with all the archetypes we've become so familiar with from the movement; stuttering rhythms, gut wrenching sub bass, and a synthesised air of menace and regret.
These are facets you would expect, and in that sense both Chamber Dove and Cave Dream succeed in living up to the listener's dark, wobble-obsessed expectations. There's also a highly legitimate nod to the elementary reggae threads of dubstep's beginnings, via the skeletal, understated reworking of Henry & Louis Rise Up.
What makes MIA fascinating is where you don't get precisely what you would expect on the tin, an area where Ellis plays the game in more diverse ways. In this version of his reality, Motion Sickness bleeps like a scion of an obscure Berlin techno dub plate, whilst Emika's Double Edge find itself re imagined as discombobulated krautrock, it's ghost radar signature wailing counter to an anonymous diva whose sampled voice comes seemingly from behind a veil.
Genuinely creepy is good, but MIA's finest moment is again something from a totally unexpected vector. It was undoubtedly a far from straightforward job to take the late Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan & Ghaudi's Qawwali epic 'Dil Da Rog Muka Ja Mali', (Qawwali being a Sufi devotional music originating from Northern Pakistan) and to straddle the musical sensibilities of several centuries, retaining the original aesthetic poise and spirituality whilst updating its backbone with contemporary motifs. It's an unqualified triumph though, and demonstrates how with deftness and understanding, that dubstep is capable of moulding itself successfully on to almost any other form.
If this is a movement at a crossroads then, it's a literal one. Pioneers like Rob Ellis could circumnavigate the globe to all points should they want to, drinking in its cultural piquancy and using it to accelerate dubstep's growth and increasing diversity. Whatever they choose, MIA marks some of the principal leylines of its journey to now, and deserves not to get lost in the avalanche of its peers.
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