Sunday, June 23, 2013

Album Review: Panda Dub – Psychotic Symphony (2013)

The “dub” genre, that basscentric cosmic offspring of what we once called reggae, is expanding at such a prolific rate it seems that each passing week brings us a brand new sub-genre to contend with. And where dub was once specifically identified as the voice of Jamaica’s roots and culture movement and its wider Afro-carib diasporas, it is now very much a global phenomenon. You need only look at its recent spread across the continent of Europe for confirmation of that.

 There’s always been the odd pocket of interest in Europe of course, but beyond the obvious West Indian stronghold otherwise known as the United Kingdom, it’s fair to say the good people of the European mainland have largely been immune to the genre’s wider charms. But diversification – of scenes, sounds, and styles – combined with a whole bunch of new technologies has undoubtedly changed the game, and dub’s horizons haven’t so much been expanded, as been blown wide open.

There’s roots artists like (Sicilian) Alborosie in Italy, High Freequency in Spain, and mainstream pop stars like Gentleman in Germany. There’s also the rootsteppah styles of Radikal Guru coming out of Poland, and the digital dub of DU3normal from that bastion of roots and culture we call Budapest, Hungary. Plus many others. There’s simply no escaping the reality that genre boundaries and traditional borders no longer apply in 2013. Which has to be a good thing right?
And then, of course, there’s the subject of this review, Panda Dub, from Lyonnais, France (not to be confused with Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad). Psychotic Symphony is the latest release from this largely anonymous artist who has been quietly releasing his unique variation on dub since as far back as 2005. My own introduction to the music of Panda Dub came back in 2010 with Black Bamboo, a release that turned me on to the expansive possibilities of digital dub.

Effectively a laidback afro/electro hybrid made primarily on computers, there’s perhaps a feeling that this is some kind of software-based dub, a synthetic, lightweight or lesser version of the real thing, but Panda also includes a wide range of live instrumentation, from a variety of flutes to melodica to erhu, to create a sound all of his own.

If there is any question mark over the credibility of Panda Dub, or the authenticity of this digital form, then it’s worth noting that this former metal fiend regularly takes his live show across Europe, with a number of dates already booked during this Northern hemisphere summer. So while his music has all the hallmarks of being a fastidiously poured over homemade brew, that doesn’t necessarily mean it can’t translate well beyond the confines of a studio.
Released on the Original Dub Gathering label, Psychotic Symphony doesn’t deviate too far from what we got on Black Bamboo, or earlier work (see the Anthology 2005-2008 release for a taster), though it does seem a little more fully formed, more focused, and its themes feel more developed. Bass dominates, there’s a strong UK-steppa influence, some rhythmic dubstep, and extensive use of sampling throughout.

Released digitally right on the cusp of the New Year (2012/2013), Psychotic Symphony has been a permanent fixture on my pod right through the calendar year to date, and I can’t see that changing anytime soon. It’s proving a reliable “go to” whenever I’ve felt the need for something a little different.

Highlights: ‘Sometimes I Don’t Sleep’, ‘Crazy World’, ‘Into The Woods (featuring Poussin)’, ‘Time’, ‘No Rule In The Underground’, and the title track itself.

A free download of Panda Dub’s previous release, the 2010 album Black Bamboo, can be found here ... and here's the Horace Andy-sampling 'Time' off Psychotic Symphony:



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