Montreal promoters don’t book enough drum and bass heavyweights, so I was busting with anticipation for a night of massive beats and dubwise business at Blizzarts last Thursday. I’m old enough to remember a time when the city’s venues were rammed to capacity with drum and bass fanatics, but those days are a distant memory. Now, it’s rare to find anyone willing to book world-class artists because odds are high for a disappointing turnout at the door.
It’s no surprise then that two local drum and bass promoters joined forces to split the cost of booking Amit, one of the most innovative artists in the UK’s bass music universe. I spoke with the guys behind Levels and Artefact, the two crews responsible for the event. They both said they were fully prepared to lose money on the night, but neither seemed to mind.
“If you get into (throwing drum and bass parties) for the cash, you’re in the wrong business,” Artefact’s Scott Walker explained. “It has to be for the love of the music, and to give something back to the scene,” he said. Walker took a chance on booking Amit because he wanted a “personal concert,” a night to hear the kind of music he loves but that other profit-minded promoters usually avoid.
The few drum and bass heads that showed up early caught fine opening sets by Levels residents Knox and Comfort Zone. The local selectors warmed up the thin crowd with deep drum and bass killers, including an uplifting version of Bob Marley’s summertime classic “Sun is Shining.” Clearly frustrated by the apathetic crowd, the MC awkwardly urged them to “Get the fuck on this dance floor right now!”
By the time people finally began to stream into the club shortly after midnight, Levels boss Subtone boosted the sound, and wheeled up some dark rollers and liquid drum and bass. Levels has been throwing weekly drum and bass nights at Blizzarts for about eight months. With Amit in town, this was arguably their biggest event to date.
When Amit took control of the sound-system at 1:30, the dance floor was relatively packed with sweaty young “bros” camped-out in front of the speakers. The UK-based DJ-producer, and founder of the Amar record label, is also a pioneer of the “half-step” style of drum and bass. Tracks like “Fatty Batty,” featuring his signature slowed-down tempo and heavy dub skank, sounded big and bad on the Blizzarts system. Amit’s sound champions dub, especially legendary Jamaican innovator King Tubby, and tracks like “Fatty Batty” pay homage to the classic dub sound of deep, drone-like bass, horn stabs, and melodica.
The rest of the set was an eclectic blend of complex beats and cinematic rhythms—hard, driving, and slightly scary. Tracks like the robotic “Acid Trip” reflect the artist’s interest in darker, early rave styles. Amit mentioned to me that one of his biggest influences is the director David Lynch, especially his cult-classic films Twin Peaks and Eraserhead. “Lynch’s sounds in his films,” according to Amit, “aren’t really musical as such, it’s more about tone and atmosphere.” His set, like Lynch’s films, was threatening, dark, and hauntingly cinematic. Tunes like “Killer Driller” were like the soundtrack of a terrifying nightmare. Not for the faint of heart.
Amit’s overall sound was experimental and difficult to classify, and that’s what made it special. He effortlessly blended hard drum and bass, jungle, electro, and early rave beats with Middle Eastern and Indian soundscapes. This hybridity, virtually a melting pot of styles and influences, reflects his own cross-cultural background as a Londoner from a South Asian family. It’s not every day that Montreal is blessed with such a mind-bending musical experience. Respect is due to the promoters who curate “personal concerts” out of love for the music, not profit.
Written by Rob Coles
*edited by Kate Erickson