The first six volumes in Londoner Young Dot’s (now Dot Rotten) ‘Rotten Riddims’ series, released within the space of a little over a month back in the summer of 2008, were, in retrospect, some of grime's most pertinent but, perhaps more significantly, overlooked instrumental works.
Checking back five and a half years later, with instrumental grime flourishing both on the radio and in the clubs, there is little doubt that ‘Rotten Riddims’ set its own benchmark for production styles of the time and, more importantly, those of the future too.
From seminal, hardbody rididm ‘Bazooka’ (Vol 1), recently reinterpreted by Visionist on his self-released ‘Crying Angels’ EP, to off-kilter, broken-beat jams like ‘F*ck Your Click’ (Vol 4) and melancholic, string-laden tracks like ‘Popcorn & Coke’ (Vol 2), here was a producer single-handedly challenging the rigidity of grime's traditional instrumental structure.
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Dot Rotten, ‘Bazooka’
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There are countless examples across all six volumes that illustrate Rotten's brazen, genius approach to making grime. He incorporated melody in ways that only the likes of Ruff Sqwad before him had ever been willing to, toying with patterns, sounds, FX and vocals with real, tangible purpose. But perhaps most crucially, he was capable of challenging his fans on an emotional level.
At a time when the MC was still considered the genre's heartbeat, Rotten, also incredibly talented on a mic, was busy making instrumental grime music that served its own purpose. That's not to say that he was the only producer out there making instrumental music, but he was certainly one of the first to push a sound that could stand up on its own, a sound that could move people in a different way.
Today, the genre, although awash with influences from all over the place, is still moving people in that very same way. In fact, alongside the more traditional 140 club cuts that still do the damage in the raves, it's grime's emotional side that's caused the biggest stir in music's wider circles.
From paradisiacal eski flutes, floaty bubblegum synths and sickly-sweet melody lines to dark, dank orchestral strings, murky basslines and muffled bleeps and screams, instrumental grime's ability to channel emotion has been a key factor in its resurgence.
So, in late January 2014, when Dot Rotten released a surprise seventh volume of ‘Rotten Riddims’ for free over Twitter, it was a shock to see how few picked up on not only the story, but also the instrumental gold mine that it ultimately represented.
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Dot Rotten, ‘Rihanna Voice’
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Compiling tracks made throughout 2010, Volume 7 is by no means ground-breaking in current climates, but it is a solid indicator of just how far ahead of his time Rotten was. Although a master of the self-taught production techniques touched upon earlier, it's the channelling of raw emotion, combined with a willingness to tread a whole host of unique structural paths, which again takes centre stage. Considering that each volume of the series is just a collection of instrumentals, rather than a cohesive, album-focused body of work, it makes the seventh edition seem all the more impressive.
On that very basis alone, for all Dot Rotten's commercial failings, it’s hard to look past referring to him as one of the genre's most unlikely visionaries. His legacy, still present in the sounds of today's biggest and best new producers, shouldn't be overlooked.
On the release of Volume 7, Visionist said Rotten should be regarded “like Aphex or Burial”. The biggest compliment Clash can give him? Well, we’ve not even got started on Dot Rotten the MC...
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Words: Tomas Fraser (Twitter)
Download Dot Rotten’s ‘Rotten Riddims’ Volume 7 from wherever you can find it (good luck). Maybe try Twitter. Dot’s second album proper, ‘Interview’, is due for release on May 26th.
Read previous Life At 140 (grime) columns here.