Review of Outside The Box Album by Skream

As any movement transitions from lowly origins to mainstream recognition, there are always discernible turning points. For The Sex Pistols it was that drunken appearance with an even drunker Bill Grundy, whilst in 1989 thousands of manc disciples of The Stone Roses almost dismantled Blackpool's Empress Ballroom. Five years later, few who witnessed it have ever forgotten March 18th, the night of the now legendary TV debut of Oasis on The Word.

Skream Outside The Box Album

For the coming of dubstep there were also signposts, the obvious first being a 2008 Mercury Prize nomination for Burial's Untrue album (The favourite, he would first refuse to perform like his fellow artists and then ultimately even bother to turn up to the ceremony). Continuing to gain momentum with devoted patronage from the likes of Mary-Anne Hobbs, it finally spilled overground last year, in no little part courtesy of a menacingly bass-heavy remix of pop's moment of the year, La Roux's In For The Kill. The architect responsible was one of the scene's more recognisable beacons, Skream.

For Oliver Jones (As his mum knows him), the exposure was hardly the result of overnight success, but one realised through nearly a decade of DJ'ing and production work that started even before he left school at 16 with little else in mind other than writing and performing. His second album after 2006's Skream!, Jones has also found time to create the genre's first supergroup in Magnetic Man, working alongside fellow maven Benga and "Master laptop" operator Artwork.

Given the highly amorphous nature of Dubstep - which takes in influences that range from King Tubby to Kraftwerk - instead of sticking to any kind of formula, Outside The Box is like a calling at all stops ride through the last fifteen year's of London's musical underground. It's unlikely that this cosmopolitan backdrop is due to a lack of original material - this is the man who once claimed he has more than 8,000 tracks in various stages of readiness - but probably hints more at the sheer diversity of the movement's roots, and future.

More than anything, Dubstep purists will need to be patient, as it's fully half a dozen tracks in, on Fields of Emotion that anything remotely like an archetypal drop surfaces. That's not to say that the distorted, alien loops which are one of the genre's facets are completely forgotten, but they're only here in fractions and undertones, and only the monothematic Wibbler could rightly be hailed as absolutely prodigal.

Much of the rest is - dependent on your perspective - a true soldier selling out or a talented artist spreading his wings. How Real for example partially resuscitates two step, the long forgotten metropolitan cousin to UK Garage, whilst in contrast A Song For Lenny features a laptop string section and an austere piano line. That this switching, apparently without effort, between genres is so effective is largely due to the inherent quality of the material, as with Murs electric delivery on 8 Bit Baby being dropped over a burbling Amiga, whilst closer The Epic Last Song is a resoundingly uptempo piece of space age drum n' bass.

The final word though goes to Elly Jackson, hardly where it all started, but for people who don't have an opportunity to hang out in a sweaty basement youth centres in South London, where they first became aware of dubstep as an idea. Her contribution on Finally perhaps carelessly disregards ten years of backroom history, with the familiarly atonal voice bristling with a typical sense of melodrama, whilst keening synths threaten to drag the whole thing into the abyss. Betrayal or valedictory, whatever it signifies, it means that both Skream and dubstep have reached a point of no return, a full stop after which sheer critical mass will carry it forward. Whether him and it subsequently ends up a relic like many other previously lauded offshoots of British urban music, only time will tell.

Andy Peterson

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