There are radio shows that entertain, there are radio shows that leave a legacy - and there are radio shows that change things. First broadcast on Mary Anne Hobbs' Breezeblock show almost exactly a decade ago, Dubstep Warz did all three.
It's perhaps an exaggeration to say that Dubstep Warz changed electronic music, but it certainly represents the first of many tipping points for the dubstep sound. Artists were already regularly being booked to play clubs far beyond London, with the scene rapidly becoming an international consideration. Put simply: this show came at exactly the right time, used almost exactly the right people on the biggest platform available.
It's worth considering just how far the nature of broadcasting has shifted over the resulting decade. Mary Anne Hobbs' dedicated audience – plus bemused onlookers – locked in on that fateful January night, with the Breezeblock crowd recruiting everyone from jaded club kids to veteran pursuers of the avant garde. Almost immediately afterwards, though, the show was being swapped in mp3 format – indeed, far more people were introduced to Dubstep Warz via Limewire or Yousendit, for example, than the BBC.
Pirate radio had yet to truly grasp the internet, while platforms such as Radar or NTS were a long way off. Hell, even Boiler Room had yet to become the pioneering youth brand it is today, with those infant basement sessions due to take place in 2010 – four years after the broadcast of Dubstep Warz. Mary Anne Hobbs had been afforded an all too rare platform, and played this card in exquisite fashion – recruiting some of the scene's pivotal faces for a mouth-watering waterfall of sub-low frequencies.
The impact of Dubstep Wars couldn't be replicated now, not with the enormous plethora of options available to spread music online. SoundCloud and Mixcloud were formed in 2007 and 2008, respectively, while the proliferation of online radio – itself something to be championed – means that no single broadcast can achieve what this did. It's the last gasp of an analogue system, echoing brilliantly through a digital echo chamber.
For this writer, tuning in from the Scottish city of Dundee was a revelation. From the alien sounds to the extended iconography of dubstep itself, the two hour long broadcast appeared to be quite literally beamed in from another world. Tales of a club night like DMZ – De Militarised Zone – underlined the notion that bass saturation was necessary to block out alien frequencies, to promote individual thinking and spiritual growth. It all seemed to exist in another dimension from the chart-ready indie that the provincial city had so readily attached itself to.
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Listening back, the sheer diversity of sounds on show is simply devastating. Skream is fresh from the release of 'Midnight Request Line', and there's an enormous sense of possibility within his mix. Distance has a crunching sense of bass pressure, an intense weight seeming to fall from the speaker with each drop. Kode9 works alongside the late Spaceape, a stunning set that stretches both artists to fresh extremities. Vex’d deliver a selection imbued with the sonic exactness of techno but with a sound entirely of its own, Crazy D leaps up alongside Hatcha for a frenzied mix, while Loefah and Sgt. Pokes showcase the kind of chemistry that makes them such a dynamic, flexible and creative live proposition.
Mala kicks off the show, a heavyweight selection that begins in skanking roots territory before veering out into intergalactic realms of bass abstraction. The mix comes with an introduction from both members of Digital Mystikz, and it features some illuminating quotes: “It’s the atmosphere that the beat creates, it opens your mind to where the bass can take you…”
Above all else it's the sheer camaraderie, the sonic one-upmanship that pours through Dubstep Warz. An astounding aural document, each set seems to raise the bar further, gleefully extending the borders of what is possible within system music. The scene would eventually relax into a form of stasis – the underground adopting a dark, tribal, techno dread sound, while the commercial end would become one of the most ubiquitous pop artefacts of the late Noughties. Mary Anne Hobbs once wrote about "feeling my spirit on fire in the pitch-black.. finding some kind of holy grail in the space between the sub frequencies” and there’s ample evidence of that in this broadcast, one that – to quote the broadcaster herself – “still sounds as vital, as primal and as thrilling as the night we threw it down."
Ultimately, though, what Dubstep Wars represents – if, indeed, one single broadcast can be seen to represent anything – is two hours of enthralling radio. Held together by Mary Anne Hobbs' quite yet persistently passionate style, vastly different sounds and turntable techniques fuse into something innately, yet indefinably, special. It's impossible to distil dubstep into one sound, one set, but on that fateful January night some of the greatest voices in the game came pretty close to succeeding.
Let’s finish with a quote from Mary Anne Hobbs herself: “It brings tears to my eyes. If, as a broadcaster, you can deliver one show with the cultural and historical impact of this one in a lifetime.. it's a miracle.”