Tom Ford's Punch Drunk label wasn't Bristol's first big dubstep imprint—that honor goes to Rob "Pinch" Ellis' Tectonic Records, established in 2005 to release material by Moving Ninja, Loefah, and Random Trio—but the label's commitment to broad musical diversity has unquestionably impacted dubstep's demeanor. Punch Drunk first entered the fray in '06 with Monkey Steak's spooky "Lighthouse Dub" 12" and Ford's first release as Peverelist, "Erstwhile Rhythm," but ensuing years have seen a varied output, including Rob Smith's reggae-influenced sounds as RSD, Gemmy's lumbering, sharp-edged beats, and Guido's grimy bass concoctions.
Worth the Weight: Bristol Dubstep Classics brings tracks by PD's roster together with local producers from associated labels Hench, Tectonic, and Applepips. Big-room dubs like Jakes' ashen wobbler "3kout" and Joker's shiny synth-led "'Holly Brook Park" share space on the two-disc set with subby classics like Pinch's sparse "Qawwali" and Komonazmuk's driving and garage-leaning "Bad Apple." Dubkasm represents for Bristol's reggae soundsystem culture, Appleblim and Peverelist merge techno with dub, and new names Hyetal and Wedge offer future rhythms to slap speaker boxes silly. The sounds are diverse, but dubstep's predictable ruts are duly sidestepped.
The collection's 26 tracks strike a cool balance between spacious and minimal bass numbers like Headhunter's "7th Curse" and epic grime instrumentals such as Joker's "Stuck In the System." New material like Guido's jazz-minded "Mad Sax" or Forsaken's melodic and steppy "Hypnotised" remind us that Bristol has always had an artistically and culturally diverse dance community. As the genre's popularity expands in conjunction with its increasingly derivative productions, Worth the Weight proves that Bristol remains a city committed to heavy lifting.