It’s been almost a decade since dubstep lit up the UK scene, and in the intervening period we’ve had no comparable innovation, nothing as groundbreaking or as community-orientated. But dubstep didn’t make such a splash just because artists had come up with new ways to configure time signatures or plumb uncharted frequencies of sub bass. What set the scene alight was the sudden explosion of imagination and creativity in dance music, helmed by a crew of distinct, singular producers. These artists, such as Peverelist, Ramadanman, Shackleton, or Untold never stopped exploring, each release marked by a new colour, concept or playful invention. And it is telling that, though dubstep as we knew it is long gone, these producers remain, restlessly pushing boundaries and toying with sound. It is to them, rather than a 140bpm count or lashings of bass, that we owe much of the UK’s most exciting electronic music of the last decade.
Jack Dunning’s output as Untold is the work of a relentless shapeshifter. His early bass experiments swapped their colour for muscle and grit on the techno-focused Change In A Dynamic Environment series, before the inky Black Light Spiral LP crossed into increasingly unnerving, unhinged terrain. To inaugurate Hemlock’s Black sublabel we have Doff, two stripped techno compositions that show how Dunning’s work continues to mutate with unerring confidence. The title track pits hollow flurries of kicks against bass hits that sound like they’re being crushed out of existence. The militaristic tone, clean drums grafted onto distortions, is held in thrall to an unexpected guitar twang, isolated in the darkness and reverbed into oblivion. It’s cerebral yet brutalist, the abrupt halfway break leaving us disorientated by silence before those machine-gun kicks strike the listener right back into line.
B-side Phive is a more meditative cut, here the roles of melody and percussion inverted as the drums become a light rustling accompaniment to subtly interwoven guitar samples. There’s more of a sense of progression here too, an uneasy synth wash leading the latter half into uncharted scifi territory. These might not be particularly dancefloor friendly cuts, but their stark execution is challenging in the best way possible, midnight folk crossed with surgical techno experimentations. It’s bold and brutal, which is more or less exactly what we’ve come to expect from Untold.