Homegrown talent makes a bold statement at Invasion Festival
At the UBC Thunderbird Sports Centre on Saturday, June 25
Since 2006, Vancouver has been one of dubstep’s critical international outposts, its DJs, producers, and promoters championing the English-born genre in its most artful and uncompromising form. Kelowna, too, has become a world-recognized dubstep hotbed, thanks to a pair of beatmakers who’ve taken Van City’s marijuana-scented trademark sound and injected it with lethal doses of caffeine and speed. In doing so, those producers – Excision and Datsik – have dragged the music out of wilderness and warehouse parties and into high-street nightclubs and hockey arenas, making dubstep B.C.’s first mainstream electronic style since rave went bust.
His headlining set last Saturday at the UBC Arena was a coronation of sorts for Excision (aka Jeff Abel), a former concert promoter who’s on the fast-track to becoming dubstep’s Deadmau5, minus the mouse costume. Like that Toronto-based producer, the Kelowna native is prone to grand gestures, but where the former paints in neon colours, Excision exaggerates dubstep’s baleful greyscale tones, his every track refracting the kind of menacing glint typically found in death-metal.
There was no mere head-nodding on Saturday; this was a headbangers’ ball, two thousand skulls snapping forward and back to what sounded like a fleet of helicopters buzzing through the room. The bass frequencies were so punishing, in fact, that the spray-on insulation lining the ceiling started disintegrating, fibrous chunks of chemical snow dusting the dancers as in some unmade Wachowski brothers film. Writhing and orgiastic, those who tasted the stuff seemed to relish it.
Where Excision scored the apocalypse, Datsik took a more musical approach, foregrounding the strains of reggae and hip-hop coded in dubstep’s DNA. Critics of the Kelowna sound call it “brostep”, but Datsik in particular has recently taken his tunes in a more feminine direction, layering pretty synth pads and diva vocals over his wobbly bass line and cavernous one-drop beats. He opened his set with a song precisely in that style, a remix of Fragma’s “I Need a Miracle”, featuring a vocal from a gospel singer with a gallon of Red Bull coursing through her veins.
With the 19-plus crowd teased to a rolling boil, the producer born Troy Beetles hammered away, sprinkling in rap vocals from Biggie Smalls, Dr. Dre, and Jibbs, the latter’s subwoofer boast (“I got King Kong in my trunk.”) tailor-made for the DJ’s bass-worshipping disciples. The dancers reserved their biggest cheers for a remix of Doctor P’s “Tetris”, a jokey tune built around that video game’s 8-bit theme; otherwise, Datsik struck a difficult balance, delivering a crowd-pleasing set that even a sceptical genre purist would have to admire.
Sandwiched between the Kelowna boys was the Crystal Method, a pair of over-tanned Southern California relics half-assing it through the final stages of their career. The duo’s set, marred by technical snafus, wasn’t so much a palate-cleanser as a buzz-killer, their date-stamped skipping rave rhythms at odds with the B.C. producers’ intricate skank-and-stomp approach to beat science. Call this one Canada two, USA nil.