Tonight: Mary Anne Hobbs at Low End Theory
The digital age has deluged our listening habits as much as it has democratized them. With a glut of options instantly available at the touch of an iTune (or torrent), the possibilities are empowering and overwhelming. As such, we need people like Mary Anne Hobbs more than ever. The BBC Radio One DJ based in Sheffield has stepped into the void filled by the death of John Peel with aplomb, serving as a crucial factor in breaking not merely dubstep’s biggest artists but the once-fledgling dance sub-genre itself. Indeed, her January 2006, two-hour “Dubstep Warz” special is widely credited with introducing the world to scene linchpins Kode 9, Benga and Skream.
Her championing of dubstep spawned the “Warrior Dubz” compilation and its sequel, “Evangeline.” Along with the “Box of Dub” collection and Hyperdub’s forthcoming, “5: Five Years Low End Contagion,” you could receive a genre primer sufficient enough to pass inspection at Lincoln Heights’ Low End Theory, which has emerged as a local locus.
Light-years ahead of her peers, Hobbs broke the likes of Flying Lotus, Nosaj Thing, Gaslamp Killer and co. from 5,400 miles away, while the hometown press ostensibly still thought they were superheroes from “Mystery Men.” Credit the marvelously monomaniacal devotion of a person who claims to research emerging music for 10 hours a day in preparation for her show that airs every Wednesday night from 2-4 a.m.
In town to spin a set in promotion of her latest anthology, the wonderful “Wild Angels,” Hobbs spoke to Pop & Hiss about the Low End Theory, the most vital movements in England, and the future of dubstep.
Despite living halfway across the world, you’ve been one of the Low End Theory scene’s biggest supporters. What is it about it that you think makes it so unique?
It’s a completely incredible place. I visited for the first time in January because even an ocean away I’d heard so much about it. I had to go there; it literally was stepping across the threshold to enter some utopia. The way that [Daddy] Kev and the residents book is very much on a parallel with what I want to do on the Radio One show. We’re kindred spirits. The musicians there have so much energy and originality and have such a complete disregard for genre.
When I played there in January I had come to the West Coast to see what you guys were doing in person, as I’d been supporting many of the artists in isolation, inviting people like Flying Lotus to do mixes on my show and play my stage at the Sonar Festival in Bercelona. What I saw was an incredible surge of energy and momentum, the way I felt towards the end of 2005 and 2006 when Dubstep started to take off. I thought it would only be a small handful of producers, but I was totally overwhelmed. The crowd was incredibly intelligent and hungry for music and clued in. It was the single greatest club experience I’ve ever had. I’ll never forget it on my dying day.
One of the things that struck me about your “Wild Angels” compilation was how liberally it strayed from the conventional definition of dubstep. Was that part of its intent?
I think it's quite interesting that in some places, the perception of dubstep is quite narrow. People perceive it as a very particular heavy wobble sound. I see it as a myriad of different flavors and styles, and that factors into the type of sets I’m playing in America. I’m really trying to open people’s perceptions to the fact that there is an incredible rainbow spectrum of sound under the dubstep umbrella.
What artists or sonic movements in the United Kingdom are you most excited about currently?
I’m fascinated by what’s happening at the fringes of sound. Joy Orbison just put out a wonderful first album and Ramadanman who goes by Pearson Sound is making some deep funky sounds. I also like Appleblim and Martyn and pretty much everyone recording for the Apple Pips label. James Blake and Airhead are both really incredible. Right now, they’re all creating something very unique and very different. I never look inwards towards the core, I’m always looking outwards towards the fringes. My whole thrust is progression, I’m always about finding the new people who are building a new edifice brick by brick. I never become disillusioned or hang in suspended animation. The nature of my job is to constantly move forward.
What sort of set can the Low End Theory crowd expect tonight?
As many conveyable textures and flavors of sounds that I can fit into a 45-minute set. It’s a high hurdle to do much in that time frame but I like that Kev sticks to short sets. On my show, I’ve been sticking to that principle, typically giving the guest artists 15 minutes for a mix. You should be able to mark your identity within 30 or 45 minutes of a set and that’s my agenda—to travel through as many textures and flavors of sound as possible, and make it cohesive.
-- Jeff Weiss
Mary Anne Hobbs tonight, Sept. 23, at Low End Theory @ The Airliner, 2419 N. Broadway. 9 p.m, $10.
Photo: Shaun Bloodworth