The night that established Bristol’s dubstep scene is back for a one-off special at Trinity Centre this month, in honour of Pinch’s pioneering Tectonic Recordings’ 100th release. The event will see the return of some Subloaded originals like Joker and Cyrus, with hosts Sgt. Pokes and Koast back on mic duty, plus some newer faces from the Tectonic ranks like Ipman, Mumdance and Logos.
The event will see the return of some Subloaded originals like Joker and Cyrus, with hosts Sgt. Pokes and Koast back on mic duty
Founded in 2004 by Pinch and DJ Blazey, Subloaded is the stuff of actual legends; frequently cited as the night that Bristol’s next generation of producers – Kahn, Neek et al. – got their musical education. It was famously described by Mary Anne Hobbs as a night that would ‘change your life (…) as seminal as Forward or DMZ in London’.
Its early (and latter) days saw sets from the likes of Digital Mystikz royalty Mala, Coki, Loefah and Sgt. Pokes; alongside dubstep luminaries Plastician, Kode 9, Youngsta, Hatcha, Skream and Bristol’s own Joker, Peverelist, Hodge and Pinch himself.
Tectonic has been similarly influential, known for sound evolution and experimentalism, Pinch launched the label in 2005 with his P Dutty collaboration War Dub / Alien Tongue; followed the same year with releases by Moving Ninja, Loefah and Skream, and Cyrus.
Tectonic has been similarly influential, known for sound evolution and experimentalism
The next 13 years saw Tectonic push an ever-expanding roster of forward thinking, exceptional electronic artists. The label found its beginnings in classic dubstep, though in recent years has branched into different tempos – though always with the deeper, moodier sounds of dubstep and related genres at its core.
While Tectonic can be credited with helping bridge the gap between dubstep and more technoid sounds, Pinch – aka Bristol producer Rob Ellis – is keen to dispel any myths that Tectonic is moving towards techno finitely.
‘The tempo of some of the music we’ve put out has been compatible with techno and house, but it’s more about taking those moods and sounds and sonic pallets from dubstep, grime, jungle, drum and bass… and bringing it to that tempo.
Pinch (…) is keen to dispel any myths that Tectonic is moving towards techno finitely
‘For example, Logos and Mumdance did a key album on the label a couple of years ago and a lot of that is around 130bpm, but it’s not techno.
‘It’s an element that was also introduced to Subloaded. In some of the later years when Peverelist and Hodge were playing, they would bring that kind of techno influence, but it’s all done a little bit differently – I don’t think of it as having the same resonance as more typical techno and house.’
Unlike some of his contemporaries like Skream, who swore off the genre after watching it massacred by the brostep movement, Rob has kept faithful to the dubstep underworld (alongside other influences) without being restricted by it. Through his own productions and label releases, Rob has been instrumental in helping driving the sound’s evolution forward with a thoughtful and constant output that equates to 100 releases this March.
‘I’ve always followed my heart and part of the thrill comes from the unfamiliarity of the sound and territory. After several years of being very closely engaged with dubstep, if you get that close to something for that long, you can’t get the same kick out of it, simply.
I’ve always followed my heart and part of the thrill comes from the unfamiliarity of the sound and territory
‘So for me, it’s always been a case of trying to pursue and find things that interest me and engage me. After around 2011, I moved more in the direction of a slower tempo, trying to bring aspects and lessons I’d learned from dubstep and related sounds and bring it to a different tempo, where you get different grooves, you get a whole different mood out of it, and it creates a different ambience and atmosphere.
‘In more recent years, I try to be less tempo bound in sets. Sometimes there’s jungle and drum and bass, or interesting things that are happening with labels like Cylon, moody drone stuff – there’s all sorts that you can tie together. For me, there’s a mood you can capture that can cross tempos and that’s what I’ve been trying to do and present, rather than just saying I play 140 (bpm).’
In more recent years, I try to be less tempo bound in sets
The hundredth release also marks a first for the label that primarily focuses on producers, with a 6-track EP from MC Riko Dan. Due 2 March, Hard Food features collaborations with label friends Joker, Walton and Mumdance, as well as Bristol producer Ziro and two tracks from Pinch.
‘Riko is one of the most underrated vocal talents in the UK. He’s got uncompromising, very hard lyrical content and his energy is expressed in that hardness as well. He was there in the early days of drum and bass, he was there in the early days of garage with Pay As You Go Cartel and Roll Deep Crew.
‘He was involved with a lot of pivotal moments in UK dance music and I personally think it’s an atrocity that he’s not more well known as a result of it. So this EP has been a long time in the making.
Riko is one of the most underrated vocal talents in the UK. He’s got uncompromising, very hard lyrical content
‘For the hundredth release, it felt good to do something a little bit different. I’ve always had an interest in grime, but never really focused on releasing vocal grime. It helps it stand out as a more special release and also ties it all back together into the label in terms of involvement – Riko has represented in sound clashes for Tectonic, Mumdance has been a key figure on the label in recent years, Joker is someone we’ve worked with since he was 14. The associations are important for me, so I think it comes together as a cohesive package.’
There has been call for Subloaded’s return since Rob retired it in 2013 (aside from a 10 years of Tectonic special in 2015), although he explains that he began and ended Subloaded in line with what he felt was needed in Bristol at the time.
‘From the beginning it felt like a very special event. In those earlier years especially, it was new form of music and it was without boundaries. It was a very simple ethos, we just used to pack the room with as much soundsystem as we could get away with and run the kind of music that would make the best of that situation. Dark room, good selection upfront, dubplates – that was the recipe and I guess it had an impact on some people.
From the beginning it felt like a very special event
‘After 10 years of doing it, I never really thought of myself as music promoter. I put on nights because of the pragmatism of the fact that none else was doing it, so I wanted to help build something here in Bristol.
‘To put it into context, there was an event in 2009 where Subloaded was on the Friday and there was a dubstep event on the Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday. I realised maybe it wasn’t needed so much as it was. After a couple more years of putting things on, I thought: it’s cool, it’s doing its thing anyway, it’s spread and people are putting on nights; I don’t need to deal with this side of things.’
Subloaded x Tectonic 100 is being presented by Teachings in Dub and Trinity Centre, who have teamed up to bring us a series of special one-off events from friends and labels. Although they’re keeping the rest of their plans under wraps for now, if this is the opening event, it’s safe to assume we’ve got a lot to look forward to in the series.
TiD founder and longtime Subloaded collaborator DJ Stryda tells us: ‘Pinch and I joined forces in 2007 at the now bulldozed Clockwork nightclub on Stokes Croft, with Subloaded hosting upstairs and Teachings in Dub powering downstairs. These sessions were infamous and had a big impact on the city. Considering this long history, it’s very exciting to present Subloaded’s return. We’ve called in Sinai on soundsystem duties to ensure maximum bassweight is guaranteed.’
We’ve called in Sinai on soundsystem duties to ensure maximum bassweight is guaranteed
Heading up the Trinity side of things is Jamell Ackford, who says, ‘Trinity has always been a melting pot for talent, with endless artists passing through. We build many relationships within the arts, and working with Teachings In Dub for years has opened up collab opportunities across many genres. To be able to bring back Subloaded for this special event and to celebrate the hundredth release on Tectonic is an honour. Keep your eyes out for more TiD x Trinity inna combination.’
Although intended as a one-off special, it’s hard to deny Subloaded’s influence on the city and Rob hints that if the response to this event is as we’re expecting, a Subloaded 2.0 might be on the cards.
Keep your eyes out for more TiD x Trinity inna combination
Rob continues: ‘It’s something I’ve been thinking about and warming up to the idea of again, but tying in with the hundredth release on Tectonic gave me the boot up the arse I needed.
‘The music has changed and is changing, but I never saw Subloaded as a straight up dubstep event – that was the main emphasis for a lot of it and for a long time, but lots of things have changed in the last ten years musically in Bristol and otherwise. There’s room to celebrate some of the dubstep aspects but there’s also room to showcase new and exciting things that are happening as well.
‘I’m going to see how this event goes. If it really feels like it’s having a big impact and it provides a useful aspect to the music community in Bristol, then I’ll get off my arse and get on with doing something, because I think it’s a good thing to do if people respond to it like that.
‘There is an element of Subloaded having become a bit of an institution and if there is demand for it, it would be unfair to deny it. But as I said, I have to keep an element of being excited, so for me, moving forward it’s going to be about pushing really obscene, experimental bass.
moving forward it’s going to be about pushing really obscene, experimental bass
‘Bristol’s long had a wicked history of pushing the movement forward with lots of exciting developments in not just bass music, but all sorts of scenes. There’s a very open mind here and we’re all willing to take much more of a chance than perhaps some other cities.
‘This edition, there’s going to be some well established, classic dubstep label associates and there’s going to be some newer faces. One of the things I always did with Subloaded was plan not just the lineup, but how it would start from 10pm and how it would go on until the end of the night, because the narrative, the story, how it all unfolds, was important to me.
Bristol’s long had a wicked history of pushing the movement forward with lots of exciting developments in not just bass music, but all sorts of scenes
‘Starting off we have Cyrus, who was the first person to release an album on Tectonic, he’s going to open with some classic dubstep. Then we jump into Ipman, who is one of the more recent producers releasing an album on Tectonic. Then Distance, who is a dubstep king, absolutely, in my opinion. Then myself, Mumdance and Logos are going to do a three way back-to-back for two hours with Riko. After that we’ve got Joker, and then closing up the night is DJ Die playing a classic Bristol jungle set from the nineties. With Sergeant Pokes and Koast on the mic.’
Photos by Dominika Scheibinger