With Margins Music, Dan “Dusk” Frampton and Martin “Blackdown” Clark join a long lineage of artists who’ve let the world know how London gets down. From London Posse’s “London Posse” to Tek 9’s “A London Sumting” to neighborhood-celebrating dubstep and grime cuts (Burial’s “South London Boroughs, Wiley’s “Bow E3”), the British urban underground has a tradition of proudly and defiantly associating its music with the place it was made.
Margins Music avoids rallying cries and posse cuts for tracks that evoke the ambiance and atmosphere at the edges of London, the “margins” of its title. The concept album ambles through West London with a string of heavily layered percussive cuts that dance under the weight of Punjabi and Hindi vocals, then veers East for more traditional moody grime and dubstep numbers featuring MCs Durrty Goodz and Trim; ambient interludes of car engines starting, rainfall, and MC chatter at a pirate radio station further add to the overcast feeling.
Dusk and Blackdown crafted each track around what they call a “keysound” (also the name of the duo’s record label). “It refers to a sonic process,” Clark explains on the phone from his home in Northeast London. “It [refers] to a surrounding sound that you embed the music in.” Confusing, yes, but album opener “Darker Than East” gives a clue as to what he means. Built around a sample of a 1994 Roll Deep interview done by Clark, who is also a noted journalist and blogger, it evolves into a stark symphony of detuned bloops, trilling synthetic harps, and minimal claps, but quotes from MC Target and background chatter remain heavily woven throughout. “I just wanted to find a way of getting a lot of the sound of London into tracks, blurring the line between journalism, music production, and documenting our surroundings,” says Clark.
Margins Music has a more serious, introspective feel than many recent dubstep records–it’s more suited to headphone train trips or night drives than peak-time speaker worship. “There’s always this one-upmanship, trying to get a little bit faster and a little bit harder with successive genres,” opines Clark. “I know that some dubstep guys are at 145 [bpm] now. It’s what [journalist] Simon Reynolds calls the ‘zone of fruitless intensification’ and it’s a little bit pointless. You can achieve a sense of momentum without really needing to go faster and harder. Our album feels faster or slower or uptempo or quite stripped back, but actually every track on the album is the same tempo, which is 138 [bpm].”
Though Clark can intellectualize about dubstep like the best of critics, don’t get it twisted–he and Dusk are still deeply indebted to the dancefloor. “I’m not really interested in headspace music–floaty, hippie stuff,” says Clark. “On the other hand, when stuff is straight physical music it also tends to bore me. It needs to be both.”