Our Favourite Dispatch Recordings Tunes
Words by Matthew Scott
Dispatch Recordings is one of our favourite labels here at OHOD. And to celebrate the imminent arrival of their milestone hundredth release, five of our writers tackle the agonising and thorny question of their favourite three tunes in the history of the label. Read on to see what we picked…
First on the list for me is Octane, DLR, and Survival’s ‘Transition VIP’. I’m still not sure what makes me love this track so much. The subtle delicacy of the drums as the hats dance around the finely honed punch of the snare? The rolling, thumping wobble of a dark moody bassline that ebbs and flows like no other? The perfectly selected vocal samples? Or is it the masterful pauses sprinkled here and there, giving it a swing like no other? Maybe it’s because it was a free release? Either way, it’s seen more plays than almost every other track I own. Next up is Survival’s ‘Dub Soldier’. One of the deepest rollers around, fusing dub sensibilities with Dispatch’s unmistakable dark yet melodic signature sound and concrete evidence that Survival has got some truly enviable talents when it comes to low end engineering. It’s one of those tracks that still makes every hair on the back of my neck stand up when I hear it, the atmospherics are perfect and the way that bass line fills a room is utterly ridiculous to behold. Finally, I’ll plump for Silent Witness’ ‘Ballistix’. What does it for me with this one is the unlikely union of the warmth of it’s vocal croon and atmospherics alongside a truly space age rippling sci-fi lead and possibly my favourite ever bit of low frequency engineering (seriously listen to the way the first bass note undulates and distorts and wobbles on the start of every 16, it’s orgasmic). All topped off with drums that are as crisp as they get. Deep, dark and exquisitely crafted.
Right, first from me is Skeptical’s ‘Fluctuate’. As dark and moody as you might expect, this track is among Skeptical’s best, meaning it is necessarily also among contemporary DnB’s best. I’ve never understood how his percussion can sound so ‘drum-machiney’, but still work so well. It is so unmistakably Skeptical in how it manages to be as heavy as it is eerie, marking the point where he genuinely became one of the scene’s best, and for that reason it has to be in my three. Second I’ll go for Villem and Mako’s ‘We Can Help Each Other’. There’s not much else to say about this track apart from how incredible it is start to finish, the perfect opener from one of the best EPs the label has released (I almost found myself putting ‘Planet Physical’ in as well). The track sublimely flows from euphoric, vocal-driven Good Looking-esque jungle to a roller as heavy as any of Dispatch’s releases – impossible not to include for me. Lastly, Sabre and Cern’s ‘Pinch Me’. This one had to be included for sheer weight from two of the finest. For me it encapsulates Dispatch, in that it is just a no-nonsense, percussive, dark, built-for-club track, with immaculate sound-design and production. As Sabre went on to great things with Ivy Lab and Cern continued to be one of Dispatch’s most prolific contributors, this track cannot be forgotten as the definition of a roller.
In my opinion, Octane and DLR were probably the hottest property to release on Dispatch, and since the split, DLR has maintained this level of quality through his solo productions. With this in mind, picking an Octane and DLR tune for the list was pretty much a given, but picking exactly which one was a very tough task indeed. The collaboration with Break, ‘Murmur’, was certainly considered, not to mention ‘Back in the Grind’, ‘The Walrus’, and a host of other tracks from their ‘Method in the Madness’ LP. I finally decided to go with ‘Rawness’ ft. Cern from the aforementioned album. The tune has a real late 90’s techstep vibe to it; stepping drums, snarling bass, short vocal stabs, but what really sets it apart for me is how the tune, quite subtly, morphs and transforms, keeping the concept fresh throughout. My second pick is taken from the B side of a particularly solid 12” release, considering that the A side is Sabre’s ‘Halo Danger’. I decided to go with Halogenix’s ‘Laika’ effort for a couple of reasons. It was probably the first tune of his that really caught my attention, and I’ve since played this out many times. It’s now a favourite go to tune for warm up sets; simple enough to feel like you’re “SMASHING IT M8!!!”, but also hectic and percussive enough to keep the energy of the dancefloor ticking along nicely. An absolute masterclass in ‘less is more’. Finally, and in contrast to my previous pick, I defy anyone who likes techy drum and bass to not throw their gun fingers into the air when Silent Witness, Survival, and Cern’s ‘Tracer’ drops. Taken from their 2013 album ‘In From the Wild’, this tune is futuristic tech funk at it’s finest. That drawn out rising bassline is meaty enough, but when it makes way for those bass stabs it would be wise not to be standing next to me on the dancefloor. Basically, it’s like Skynet from Terminator’s attempt at making drum and bass. Also, honourable mention to Cern for sneaking into the list twice.
Dear me this was harder than I thought it would be. In fact, the bronze medal was actually the most difficult to pick, since my top two choices were pretty much nailed on right from the start. But after much deliberation and agonised listening and relistening, I’ve gone for Zero T’s ‘Roxy Music.’ I love those distressed vocals combined with a slower tempo than usual and most of all that deep, tunnelling bassline which also manages to sound mournful in some inexplicable way. It’s such a gorgeous tune and, for me, is right up there with the best of Calibre or, more recently, Ivy Lab. Second place goes to Spinline’s ‘Artificial’. Such a wicked tune to mix with, and I love how the melody in it is primarily percussive; like tapping the amber on the end of John Hammond from Jurassic Park’s cane along a xylophone. It’s also, how do you say, a bit clownsteppy, but in a way that sounds quality and not comical. Brilliant. First place though, without question, goes to DLR, Hydro, Mako, and Villem’s ‘The Formula’. I actually didn’t think too much of this when I first heard it, but it grew on me like ivy grows up walls, and even now the intro – with those chords man, those single chords, and that bassline that sneers at you like Severus Snape – makes my face crumple like a neutron star has materialised in my nose and all my features are gravitating towards it. It says a lot about how good a tune is when, in my opinion, a remix by Break seems a bit pointless, and I’ll take the original ‘Formula’ over his re-lick every time. What a tune.
‘Ever Clear’ by Survival and Silent Witness is one of my all time favourite rollers. It has a perfect balance of menace and musicality that make it impossible not to dance to. Survival and Silent Witness have always been great at making rollers but this is something else. I first heard this being played by Doc Scott, way before I knew it what it was or who made it and I couldn’t get enough. Not blisteringly hard and not really a liquid tune either, this is just perfectly executed rolling drum and bass at it’s absolute best. Next I’ll pick ‘Banton’ by Tactile. Ten years ago, the reggae tinged sounds of dubwise and jungle were just as popular within drum and bass as they are now. Tactile came up with this tough but funky skanker that I enjoyed playing out in many warm up sets at the time. It’s one of those tunes that gets people’s attention. The melody and the offbeat chords take you straight to the beach or the mountainside on a blistering hot day, and the bassline reminds you just how closely related dub and DnB really are. This is a lesser known classic that deserves a place in your collection. Last but not least, Skeptical and Fokus’ ‘Structure’. Skeptical is up there with some of the big names in drum and bass now but, like James said about ‘Fluctuate’ above, this was a relatively early track that made me really start to take notice of him. I bought the 10″ version of this and still dig it out regularly. Those crisp, minimal beats and the bass that changes the air pressure in the room are part of it, but that beautifully dark atmosphere and the pitch shifted vocals from MC Fokus take this tune beyond your average stepper and in to the realms of a genre defining classic.
So there you have it. Join us in raising a glass to one of the best labels in the game, Dispatch Recordings. And of course, you can purchase the tunes mentioned above from their shop by clicking here.