While journalists, fans, and forum trolls squabble about the deleterious effects of pop and heavy-metal sounds on dubstep, Silkie and Quest have delivered a mostly melodic, uptempo crack at 140-bpm music. Overall, their palette is a surprising one to hear on Tempa, the pioneering label best known for heady, moody, and often minimalist salvos from the likes of Skream, Hatcha, and N-Type. Maybe more surprising still are this duo's affiliations with Mala's Deep Medi imprint and grime label Butterz, but this only goes to show how the vision of artists and labels stretches beyond the boxes the scene puts people in.
Dubstep Allstars Vol. 9 is primarily comprised of new tracks by Silkie and Quest themselves, alongside tunes from close confederate Swindle, a 24-year-old keyboard don who counts George Clinton and Herbie Hancock as heroes. This tight focus on the producer end gives the mix cohesion, even as it moves between influences as diverse as reggae and dub, G-funk, ambient, and jungle. Swindle provides some of the most memorable moments here: "Belfast," "Do The Jazz," and "Forest Funk" are all unusual gems that stomp back and forth between proggy keyboard arpeggios and tear-out drum & bass vibes. And he's not the only one exploring the jungle idiom: Silkie's pounding "Selva Nova" is built around a chopped Amen break straight from 1995, while Quest's "Overcome" does a Digital-style turn, boiling hardcore rave to the mere essence of sinister stabs, a ragga sample, and rolling snares.
The mix is not without its brooding moments—a segue from Mala's "Eyez VIP," a shot of square bass and ricocheting high hats, into a videogamey bit of madness from Mizz Beats & Jay Retro is bleak and black indeed. Nonetheless, Silkie and Quest return again and again to uplifting themes, pulling out of the darkness on flaxen ropes of summery synthesis. Leave your screwface at home—the songs here sound more like Snoopy dancing at Charlie Brown's BBQ than Oscar the Grouch singing inside a trashcan.
The jazzy licks Silks and Quest favor also remind of a particular era of drum & bass—the "liquid funk" of the late '90s—with nods to the easygoing flavors of Fabio's Creative Source (Quest's "The Unknown"), the soaring ambience of LTJ Bukem (Quest's "Somewhere"), and the live funk licks of EZ Rollers (Silkie's "Get Up and Dance"). When this works, it's lovely indeed, a groove that soothes and moves romance, though the mellower numbers occasionally veer into "adult contemporary" territory.
Dubstep Allstars Vol. 9 was obviously mixed live—you can hear humans at work here lightly backspinning plates—and it feels good in the age of perfectly quantized computer trickery. (Silkie and Quest are quality DJs though, so there's no clanking or clashing.) Some may feel this lacks an immersive environment or a storytelling thread; this mix skips back and forth across the playground so many times it's hard to get sucked in too deep. It's more of a club ting, so get on up and dance, dammit.