Release Date: May 10, 2011
Record label: Star Time International
Genre(s): Electronic, Garage, Pop/Rock, Dance-Pop, Club/Dance, Dubstep
It’s 7 o’clock on Friday night, and you know it: that shivering rush of excitation is holding steady as you ready for the night to take you wherever it wants to go. And then you’re gone out the door, on your way, the anticipation fades a little as your thoughts drag slowly to what you’ve left behind: a bad day at work, make that a month; broken fridge, you can think about eating later. Tonight is about one thing and you’re determined to ring enjoyment out of every goddamn minute, no ulterior motives, and no agenda: tonight you just want to lose yourself.
Magnetic Man's mission statement is crystal clear: mass appeal. The group pools three producers with under- and over-ground cache: Benga, Skream and their mentor, Artwork. Together they write big tunes. And their sound emphasizes easy hooks and lush, spacious bass. The conceit of the project is to ….
To their champions who saw them perform in a 50,000-volt battle cage at this summer’s festivals they’re a superhuman supergroup who will free dubstep from the basement of Plastic People. To the ketamine-addled future-dub purists, they’re scabs crossing the picket line from anonymity to ubiquity. And to those who couldn’t be doing with this sort of racket in the first place they are, as one member of the NME team put it, “shit ’90s drum’n’bass”.There’s a noticeable generation gap between these perspectives which is worth bearing in mind when listening to [a]Magnetic Man[/a]’s eponymous debut.
Over the last decade, dubstep has been a growing movement in the trendy U.K. music scene, changing its contours as rapidly as a shape-shifter does, perpetuated by those skillful DJs who attempt to maneuver its charms and charisma. Influenced by the more mellow resonance of Jamaican dub, a sub-genre of reggae that focuses on instrumentals and heavy sampling and originated in the ’60s with pioneers like King Tubby and Lee “Scratch” Perry, dubstep began quietly in East London during the mid-90s.
Yes, Magnetic Man is the dubstep sell-out album. And in print, it’s a nightmare. Magnetic Man are not just a trio, but a supergroup consisting of members with name recognition (Skream and Benga, who are joined by the relatively unknown Artwork) wielding a superhero moniker to produce radio-friendly pop-techno that only faintly resembles the whole breadth of what constitutes dubstep these days, but which will no doubt be confused with it hereafter.
The self-titled album from the pop-oriented dubstep production trio of Skream, Benga, and Artwork features the energetic singles “I Need Air” (featuring Angela Hunte), “Perfect Stranger” (featuring Katy B), and “Getting Nowhere” (featuring John Legend). Ms. Dynamite and Sam Franke are also involved with vocal contributions, as the three producers put some polish -- occasionally to sterile effect -- on an otherwise underground dance subgenre.
Many a supergroup has proved to be a painfully bloated affair. That isn't the case with Magnetic Man, the name adopted by Croydon producers Skream, Benga and Artwork, whose debut album begins with a stab at indulgent beauty in the swelling strings of Flying Into Tokyo. This is no attack on the charts – despite the presence of vocalists including Katy B, much of the album is instrumental – but Magnetic Man lacks dubstep's sense of unbounded experimentation.
This shift was always going to happen wasn’t it? After all, year after year, decade after decade, underground genre after underground genre ends up becoming controlled and filtered out to the masses. The Prodigy’s mainstream emergence with Music for The Jilted Generation is case-in-point – having ploughed through a selection of 12-inches and underground material, they continued playing off their love of jungle and techno, but managed to find a wider audience without compromising their musical heritage or integrity. Dubstep is the next strand of the dance music whip that is being extrapolated and pushed into a more accessible lens, yet to the untrained ear, filtering it would seem to be a difficult task considering its elongated underground presence.
Dubstep in 2010 is in a similar position to drum and bass a decade ago: stylistically full-grown and perhaps exhausted, its experimental wing drifting into other niches while the remaining core wonders whether the music has already peaked. It's the perfect moment in which to launch an assault on the charts: liberated from any drive for formal innovation, and whittled down to a simple and recognizable repetitive groove formula, dubstep can now inhabit a variety of pop guises while avoiding the identity crisis such moves would have provoked five years ago. Enter Magnetic Man, which appropriately enough is something of a dubstep supergroup comprising Benga and Skream (perhaps the scene's two most broadly popular producers), together with Artwork, who've been largely silent since their trend-setting 2002 EP Red.
Dubstep supergroup produces a debut far beyond the sum of its talented parts. Alistair Lawrence 2010 Arriving on a wave of hype that would better be fitting as an undertow, Magnetic Man’s reputation as the group who could send dubstep mainstream inevitably precedes them. It also raises the question: does dubstep – a bedroom-born, after-dark genre – really need to see the light of day? Thankfully, the trio – underground veterans Artwork, Benga and Skream – have pooled their talents to produce an album that conveys the appeal of where they come from.