Dusk & Blackdown’s Keysound label is an outfit that people are probably already a little bit familiar with if they’ve had a passing interest in the roots (or the rise) of the dubstep movement over the past 6 or 7 years. As a journalist, Blackdown, aka Martin Clark, documented the rise of dubstep and grime quite pertinently through his recently retired Pitchfork column (which he’s kindly archived here) and that desire to chronicle and record shifts in underground music, bled visibly over the course of their first ten releases into what they were trying to do with their label.
Their debut album as a production duo, Margins Music, played out like a virtual tour of London, recalibrating field recordings and the outsider sounds (Punjabi, Hindi and Urdu) of the capital’s boroughs into standout tracks like ‘The Bits’; which featured an emerging vocal talent in ex-Roll Deep emcee, Trim. His distinct flow and purposeful word placement remains a distinct departure from the hyper-kinetic, repetitive spraying of a lot of his grime contemporaries and ‘The Bits’ was a pertinent marriage of concept - letting this incredibly individual and marginalised emcee ride a beat whose sample material comes almost entirely from the outer regions of city living.
And that’s always been one of the overriding features of what Keysound does; there’s been considered thought behind every single release. Whether that’s in releasing lost Skream dubs, giving a home to grime tracks like Geeneus’ ‘Knife & Gun’, Ballistiq Beats’ ‘Yardman Riddim’ or Scratcha’s ‘Bullet A Go Fly’ or introducing the wealth of talent they have access to thanks to their regular Rinse FM show, Dusk & Blackdown are content to push their own agenda rather than toeing a line of familiarity.
When Starkey dropped the ‘Gutter Music’ 12” on Keysound in late March of 2009 it cemented the crossover appeal of the work he’d been doing on Planet Mu (the instrumental appeared on the CD version of Starkey’s Ephemeral Exhibits album). That combination of wild synth work and Stratford MC Durrty Goodz’ self toting vocal line stuck out like a sore thumb at the time when dubstep was evolving in a million different directions at once.
It’s telling that at a time like that, when dubstep was fracturing to incorporate such wildly different influences as techno and R&B, Keysound looked at artists like Bristol’s Kowton, Sheffield’s Grievous Angel or Norwich’s Sully (or even archival classics from Skream) to define their outlook. Kowton’s first 12” for the label ‘Stasis (G Mix)’ b/w ‘Countryman’ was one part clipped garage, one part swooning techno and was a good indicator that heads were turning away from grime a little, but the projects that have followed since suggest that Keysound has matured into much more than a label that tries to fuse grime and dubstep; it’s evolved into a home for likeminded artists and collectives alike.
Over the last two years Keysound has released four albums from shadowy collectives LV and LHF (though LHF’s Keepers of the Light is more a compendium of 3 EPs and more) and solo artists Sully and Damu; and while the projects don’t really share a direct correlation or common sound, they all seem to be the products of people who breed creativity. LV’s Routes was a collaboration with vocalist Josh Idehen that built on the vividness of his poetry and the work they’d already done together on the 38 EP creating an colourful opus that produced tongue in cheek highlights like ‘Northern Line’ (above) and ‘Primary Colours’. Sully’s debut LP, Carrier, shone the focus properly on a producer who’d previously been low key but was solidly proving himself to be one of the most dependable characters out there who was applying that heralded garage swing to his music.
Similarly Damu’s Unity album followed a natural curve from Dusk & Blackdown supporting his music on their Rinse show to them releasing his music. As Clark himself put it “in the primordial soup that is the space often referred to as “130bpm,” there lies a lot of dull debris and dirty detritus, but amidst the scattered grey asteroids lies a small but glittering phuture-star.” Damu’s music may have come at a time when Clark was losing faith in the slowed up sounds of the dancefloor but his staunch dedication to synth glide and gloss made Unity another key piece in the evolution of the label that’s seemingly come full circle with their ongoing partnership with the members of LHF…
Amen Ra, Double Helix, No Fixed Abode and Low Density Matter are the four composite producers of the LHF and together, their debut album proper - the 2 CD, 27 track monster compendium that is Keepers Of The Light - is a work that makes total sense to be on a label like Keysound. Clark’s been very vocal in the past about why their individual directions resonate with him: “they've got this sound like Sun Ra's hijacked Rinse FM and is using it to communicate with the heavens,” he told FACT when news that the clandestine group had signed exclusively to Keysound. “Buried inside one corner of the LHF collective is a junglist fighting his way out: these guys have got drumz. Then there's another part of them that is lost in LA, their wonky beats falling off of the grid. Other members of the collective remind me of Horsepower's ability to transport you to lands far, far away: to Bollywood films or damp Brazilian riverbanks....”
Without trying to tie this introduction, to a label that’s served as a powerful gateway for me personally, off too simply; that’s one of the things that continues to make me interested in Keysound’s output. As an entity it’s always growing, willing to take a risk on something that it collectively believes in. Something that’s as wildly different as Margins Music, dubstep’s first real concept album, was back then or a something that’s as diverse, splintered and yet, as superbly well rounded as Keepers Of The Light is today; their releases are simply a great barometer.
With Keysound taking over Room Three to Keepers Of The Light on Friday 20th April we’ll be profiling some of the artists appearing on the bill (people like Dusk & Blackdown, LHF, LV, Sully, Logos, Vibezin) in the run up, over the forthcoming fortnight as Keysound take over our blog space.