Set up in 2005 by producer Pinch, Bristol's Tectonic records has quickly become one of the most admired labels in dubstep, the bass-centric sound that emerged in the aftermath of London's jungle and dark garage scenes. On Tectonic Plates, Pinch has compiled tracks from the first ten of Tectonic's vinyl EP releases, featuring some of the biggest and best producers in dubstep; Skream, Loefah, Distance all appear here. The collection brings home how aptly chosen the name of his label is; the tracks here sound huge, great slabs of bass-pressure colliding with each other until the sparks fly. This is, simply, some of the hardest-hitting, steeliest dubstep out there.
The artists here take a wide variety of approaches to the problem of hard-as-nails bass detonation. Skream and Mark One, on “Bahl FWD” and “Slang” respectively, employ the distinctive square-wave synths first heard in Wiley's pioneering grime tracks; an alien, hollow “whump” that moulds itself round beats like molten plastic. “Bahl FWD” is particularly heady stuff, with a wandering, hypnotic Eastern melody played out on bleeps, while sampled tabla drums skitter like a roulette wheel. Tablas reappear on Loefah's “System” to frame a startlingly reductive track; here, the bass is stripped down to just a growling, one-note buzz, dragging itself forward, hungry and implacable. It's a thrilling, brutal track, made all the more ominous by being so devoid of ornamentation. Remarkably, things then get even heavier; Armour's “Iron Man” splits thunder-crack beats over insanely evil drones of bass distortion, sounding like avant-metallers Sunn O))) gone dubstep. The compilation reaches its frothing peak of intensity with DJ Pinch and P Dutty's “War Dub,” in which the bass seems to stagger around punch-drunk after being pummeled with the swarming Hoover synths that were popularized by Joey Beltram and formed the bedrock of the near-mythical Belgian techno sound in the early '90s.
These tracks are monumental but never cumbersome; the lineage to jungle and garage remains intact in the swing and funk of the beats, however ruthlessly they're stripped down to the bone. Indeed, DQ 1's “Wear the Crown” slices a jungle break-beat into split-second fragments and then scatters them into a whole new skank, while the nimble syncopations in Moving Ninja's “Murky” are 2-step garage given a minimal techno sheen. As viscerally exciting and hardcore as dubstep gets, Tectonic Plates is a hugely impressive compilation.