Drive By: New York's fledgling 2step scene
Sound of the City column, Village Voice,August 30th-September 5th, 2000
by Simon Reynolds
When subcultures are exported, they usually mutate interestingly in the process. A fair few folks are wondering whether 2step garage, the hottest dance scene in Britain right now, is going to take off here, and what path it might take. Drive By, the latest in a sporadic flurry of 2step parties, featured a bona fide Yookay Name DJ, Emma Feline, plus Reid Speed (also female, and for a long while the only local DJ pushing this sound), party organizer Dinesh, and DB. Its location was the Frying Pan, but the main dancefloor was on the Pier 63 quayside instead of the once-sunken boat's fantastically corroded interior—-doubtless because its Tool video/Quay Brothers ambience doesn't fit U.K. garage's plush, lush VIP vibe.
The Monday-night party recalled the first NYC jungle clubs in late '94—-a hardcore kernel of converted fiends, lots of curious fence-sitters, and an atmosphere of tentative excitement. Hipsters seem attracted by 2step's juddering bass and hypersyncopated beats (as complex as jungle at its creative peak), but confused or even repelled by the warbly divas and r&b influences. "Serious" techno and drum'n'bass headz tend to be sniffy about vocals, and one of the engaging things about 2step is its transgression of this taboo on sheer pop appeal.
Intriguingly, Reid Speed and Dinesh both bring a "deep" sensibility to 2step's glossy-surfaced instantaneousness ("deep" being house/techno code for "not blatantly tuneful") by focusing on less songful stuff—-all plinky xylo/marimba-style B-lines and tuned percussion. DB, being an English expat and a populist, is comfortable dropping such ultramelodic tracks as Shanks & Bigfoot's "Sing-A-Long" and the 2step remake of soppy piano-rave anthem "Sweet Harmony." Feline was authentically British in playing Big Tune after Big Tune, but her mixing was often sloppy and she didn't exhibit much flair for set building or vibe escalation. Still, the sheer implacable density of Big Tunes—-B15's "Girls Like This," Shola Ama's "Imagine," Gabrielle's "Sunshine"-—kept the converts on the floor. These high-pitched melisma selections also showcased another crucial aspect of 2step: the way that extreme treble can be as intense as extreme bass. The sensation is head-spinningly effervescent, like you've got champagne running through your veins.
Speaking of which, I didn't see one sign of the U.K. garage raver's fave tipple. Other differences: The dancing was more energetic, fluid, and expressive than the taut shoulder/hip/butt shaking you get in London clubs. Most striking of all was the utter absence of we-be-the-baddest-clique snootiness. In this respect, if no other, the fledgling American scene has the edge over its Brit blueprint.
Drive By's Birthday Bashment
Sound of the City column, Village Voice, July 18 - 24, 2001
by Simon Reynolds
New York's pioneering 2step garage party Drive By celebrated its first birthday in style with a riverside bashment at Pier 63 and a bill headlined by top-drawer U.K. talents Zed Bias and Deekline on July 3. Both DJ-producers are identified with "breakbeat garage," the inevitable backlash against 2step's mainstream crossover, and a mutant offshoot that strips away the r&b vocals and treble gloss in favor of bass-too-dark minimalism. Deekline's sound has virtually no connection to garage, but instead mashes up hip-hop, a lickle bitta dancehall, and whole lotta hardcore. He played two tracks that are basically unofficial remixes of rave-era Prodigy classics: the Max Romeo-pilfering "Out of Space" and the Arthur Brown-sampling "Fire." His absolute boom tune was uncharacteristically housey—Nu Yorican Soul's fevered "Runaway"—and other New York allusions flew by with licks ripped from Todd Terry and Mark the 45 King. Once again, you had to marvel at the Brits' verve (and nerve) at taking U.S. originals like hip-hop and house, then exporting them back to America as exotic hybrids.
Zed Bias's sound has more "swing," using U.K. garage's sticky snares and crisp, skippy hi-hats more often than the rigid, jackknifing electro beats favored by Deekline. Bias also has a stronger feel for the subliminal skank that is one of 2step's secret rhythmic ingredients: Tonight he dropped a great version of Tenor Saw's "Ring the Alarm" and climaxed with "Neighbourhood," his own dancehall-infused soundboy killer. "Neighbourhood," I've found, is the one tune that infallibly sways skeptics who profess to hate this music (usually based on hearing one Artful Dodger song). In this respect, Zed Bias is the Photek of 2step. Just as Photek drew people into drum'n'bass through his techno edge, five years on Bias seduces nonbelievers with the jungalistic feel of his 2step: growling sub-bass and mash-up beats, corseted within garage's plush elegance.
What a difference a year makes: With its crammed dancefloor and amazingly euphoric atmosphere, Drive By left one convinced that New York's 2step scene, after false starts and prematurely announced demises, is finally set to EXPLODE. The city now boasts several U.K.-level DJs (two of whom, Dinesh and Greg Poole, also played tonight) and a fervent core audience who really feel the music. Indeed I'd actually say the New York scene is better than its London prototype, which is increasingly blighted by moody attitude, gangsta bizness, and violence. In the London underground there's always been this weird mismatch between the music's effervescent joy and the crowd's screwface sourness. But New York has "corrected" that discrepancy. There's never been a better time to join the party.