7 Of The Best Dubstep Albums Of All Time

7 Of The Best Dubstep Albums Of All Time

It's a sub-low starter pack...

There's something in the air.

6Music's Mary Anne Hobbs recently re-ran her epochal Dubstep Warz show, in line with the fabled broadcast's 15th anniversary.

Kept on the BBC website for fans to peruse, it's sparked a huge wave of warmth towards that generation of producers, who traversed the outermost depths of bass abstraction.

A genuine London underground sound that captured the world's attention, it began with just a handful of studio technicians, operating between - at best - a half-dozen club nights.

Yet somehow it caught hold. A remarkable story, the sounds from that era still resonate - as fate would have it, there's a fantastic, in-depth portrait of dubstep pioneer Mala on the cover of this month's DJ Mag.

Having been shunted to the sidelines after its commercial burn out, it feels as though old preconceptions about the genre have fallen apart.

Sure, dubstep never went away - vital pockets of innovation have been peppering soundsystems with crucial sounds every summer - but there's definitely a change in mood.

Perhaps it's the end result of being locked down for so long - turning inwards, we're learning anew to meditate on bass weight.

With that in mind, Clash decided to honour some of the foundation stones of dubstep.

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Dubstep Allstars Vol.1 – mixed by DJ Hatcha

Dubstep emerged from the experimental, bass-driven flips found on UK garage releases, spaces for production talent to assert their own passions and identities. Stretching 2-step rhythms into expansive new half-step formulas, this sub-low murk was initially incredibly niche, only truly afforded space at a handful of London club nights.

The first instalment of Dubstep Allstars captures the sound as its most nascent, a cross-section of bass innovation pieced together by one of the era's most influential selectors, making room for future anthems and complete rarities alike.

Horsepower Productions and Benny Ill claim the lion's share, with Benga and Skream uniting on their super-heavyweight anthem 'The Judgement'. Kode9's stunning insights into futuristic soundsystem sculptures also come close to stealing the show - the mix opens with his Daddy G collaboration 'Babylon' while also pin-pointing his seminal Benny Ill partnership 'Fat Larry's Skank'.

With only his instincts to guide him, Hatch constructed a potent time capsule from a period in London club culture when - sonically speaking - anything seemed possible.

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Skream - Skream!

Skream came of age through dubstep. Still a teen when the sound began to coalesce, he cut his teeth an era where the dubplate still reined supreme, you could still smoke in clubs, and the amount of 'official' dubstep releases could just about be counted on the fingers of two hands.

Working with Tempa on a series of phenomenal club-focussed EPs, his 2006 debut album gave the producer the width he needed to truly express himself.

Grime homage 'Midnight Request Line' remains one of dubstep's defining tracks, but it's useful to hear the track in its initial context - Warrior Queen and Jme both appear on this full length, further indication of the cultural conversation between dubstep and adjacent sounds.

There's rather more nuance here than his reputation as the mixer shredding enfant terrible of clubland would suggest - sure, bass rig rip-outs such as 'Stagger' are a punch to the guts, but there's an emotional resonance in 'Summer Dreams' and 'Emotionally Mute' which would presage his later work.

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Kode9 + The Spaceape - Memories Of The Future

Seven years on from his ascension, The Spaceape remains one of the most remarkable figures conjured by the dubstep era, a wandering spirit whose intense lyricism recalled the dub poetry of Linton Kwesi Johnson, for example, but in a shatteringly different content.

'Memories Of The Future' is a full length interlocking of this one-of-a-kind MC with Kode9, and it collects much of their earlier work. With dubstep stretching the UKG formula until it cracked, ghosts of the future seemed to emanate - check out their 2004 Prince-indebted 'Sine Of The Dub' for a glimpse of the shattering possibilities that resulted.

The work of artists operating with absolute freedom, 'Memories Of The Future' is inhabited by an incredible sense of atmosphere, a heavy duty foreboding that seemed to capture the psychic stresses of a post-Millennial London.

Tracks such as 'Portal' and 'Nine Samurai' bristle with taut illustrations of scarcely restrained emotion, while Kode9's production absorbs hefty elements of sino-grime within the cavernous dubstep skeleton.

A quite singular work, it stands as testament to The Spaceape's continuing legacy, and Kode9's role in constantly pushing the envelope during dubstep's molten gestation.

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Benga - Diary Of An Afro Warrior

Let's put this as simply as possible: Benga is one of the most talented, innovative, and straight-down-the-line enjoyable British electronic musicians of his generation. Magnetic Man may have taken him (alongside close friends Skream and Artwork) into the charts, but it's these early solo releases that find the London artist at his most inquisitive and experimental.

2008's 'Diary Of An Afro Warrior' was actually his second LP, and it is perhaps the most solidified representation of dubstep captured on the album format. Using the London sound as his codex, Benga was able to sluice through elements of The Neptunes digital futurism, Baltimore club sounds, aggy hip-hop vibes and a lot more besides, all while remaining true to the sounds and aesthetics that first forged his imagination.

Listening back, it's an absolutely titanic achievement - a real milestone for bass music in this country, every single song sounds like a manifesto. Gathering together such highlights as the immortal Coki collaboration 'Night' and his own soundsystem wobbler '26 Basslines', 'Diary Of An Afro Warrior' offers riveting testament to the sheer genius of Adegbenga Adejumo.

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Pinch - Underwater Dancehall

While largely gestating in South London, dubstep's formidable mission soon found fellow travellers in cities across Europe, with Bristol becoming a key sister city. An area with a deep and profound bass culture that exists on its own terms, the city would soon begin to rival London in terms of the sheer weight of ideas oozing forth out of those speakers.

Pinch led from the front, and his debut album 'Underwater Dancehall' - as fate would have it released the same week as Burial's 'Untrue' - is a real milestone in the producer's artistic growth, foreshadowing more modern developments while giving insight into his potent roots.

Pivotal dubstep moment 'Qawaali' is re-born as 'Brighter Day', and while moments of 2-step drenched light permeate the darkness, it's the tendency towards paranoid intensity that makes 'Underwater Dancehall' such a formidable experience.

The eerie 'Gangstaz' is followed by the swamped glow of 'Lazarus', while 'Airlock' utilises some stunning sonic engineering to glimpse interstellar sights. More than 15 years on, 'Underwater Dancehall' stands as one of dubstep's totemic lessons.

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Digital Mystikz - Return II Space

Digital Mystikz - Mala and Coki - helped to define dubstep's skeletal framework, impacting modern post-UKG sounds with hints of older iterations of bass music. True believers in sound system culture, the two would allow tunes to exist in the ether, finding their role in mixes or radio sets, often evolving in live-time across a period of years before finding a full, official release - even now, their digital footprint on streaming services is minimal, and misses much of their most important work.

'Return II Space' finally arrived in 2010, and while it only contains six songs the album works as a portrait of the creative chemistry that saw Digital Mystikz scale such supreme heights.

'Eyez' is an obvious standout, a sheer bass saturated rinse out that hasn't aged a single second; 'Mountain Dread March' is driven by a singular sense of purpose, while the title close is a truly inspiring closer.

Also holding down seminal dubstep rave DMZ during this period, 'Return II Space' helps to pin down the essential yin and yang of this production team; the Zen of Mala, and the more aggressive sub-low explosions of Coki, working together in synchronistic fashion.

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Fabriclive 37: Caspa & Rusko

Initially, dubstep releases could be hard to come by outside of London. Distribution was scant, and mixes took an absolute age to download on shoddy wi-fi. 

The impact of Caspa and Rusko's Fabriclive mix, then, can scarcely be understated - globally distributed, it was supported by a London club whose peerless status within the underground lent a degree of unrivalled credibility to anything its name was attached to. 

As such, FabricLive 37 is the end of one phase, and the begin of another. The DJs lean on the bruk out physicality of Caspa's own 'Cockney Violin' or Coki's 'Spongebob' - subtlety isn't a strong point, with the duo aiming to create a sheer adrenaline rush, packing in 29 dubstep bangers across its breakneck span.

There are signs of the sound being codified - already, those cliff-face drops and tell-tale wobble have become firm hallmarks - but it's not yet been hollowed out by the saturation that commercial success would begin. Listening back, it is sheer, unrivalled enjoyment - UK bass music as its most rugged and adolescent, tracks like 'Cockney Thug' or Caspa's 'The Terminator' are indications as to the EDM appeal that would follow. 

Almost punk in its sheer rejection of club orthodoxy, FabricLive 37: Caspa & Rusko stands out as an ear-bleeding, goofy smile-inducing glimpse into dubstep's cartoonish side.

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If you've come this far, you're probably wondering where Burial is - well, we've covered his work extensively in the past (and interviewed him, too) so made a conscious decision to look past his work, as undeniably vital to this story as it is.

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