Friday, 29 October 2010

Live Review: Magnetic Man, The Trinity, Bristol

There are numerous examples of artists who have truly transcended their genre. No-one thinks of Massive Attack as just trip hop or the Chemical Brothers as big beat. They bridge the gap between their original genre and the mainstream to breakthrough to a new and much larger audience. As yet no-one has managed this in the genre of dubstep. Despite being one of the most influential sounds of the last decade its dark, bass driven sounds are some way from a guest appearance on Later with Jools Holland.

Without any shadow of a doubt, the act that are most likely to make this crossover are Magnetic Man. Essentially a supergroup of major dubstep producers, Benga, Artwork and Skream have united to create an album which has an ear on both the dancefloor and on home listening. When tickets for their UK tour went on sale back in the spring I knew it would be a hot ticket and snapped some up - this week their debut tour hit Bristol where I caught them.

Immediately upon arrival at the Trinity (a converted church) it was clear that this wasn't a typical dubstep crowd. There were teenagers through to fiftysomethings in attendance and I spotted AC DC and My Chemical Romance T-shirts as well as the regulation hoodie. What was most apparent was the large proportion of women - dubstep is widely regarded as blokes music but at least 40 per cent of the people here were female which I think bodes well for any assault on the charts.

The early evening DJs ripped up the usual selection of bass driven drum n bass and dubstep monsters. It was particularly good to hear Benga's classic Night getting an early airing.  Support act Katy B played more of a PA than a set - limited to just a handful of tunes. What she lacked in vocal force she made up for in sheer charisma, her melting pot of crustie dub, afrobeat, dancehall and rolling bass lines were all brought together nicely with strong pop hooks and she was thoroughly enjoyed by the crowd. Katy On a Mission was arguably the most enthusiastically received song of the whole night (not surprising when you realise over 6 million people have viewed it on Youtube) - expect her to kill it at the festivals next summer.

Magnetic Man hit the stage at about 10 and it soon became apparent to me that this is an act with a real dilemma. How do you maintain underground credibility while clearly seeking to reach a wider demographic? This proposition made for an hour of both strengths and weaknesses. The combination of slow burning bass monsters being punctuated with euphoric rave anthems and 'real songs' means that the band (collective?) are able to better pace the set than a DJ simply playing a series of one dimensional basslines, but, and its a big but, you can't help but wonder if they all actually believe in all the music they are playing. Earlier in the set in particular things feel a little disjointed - just as the crowd begins to dig the bass groove they find themselves faced with japanese style instrumentation - very nice at home but it leads to a lack of pace for an enthusiastic throng in Britain's bassline capital.

Things pick up in the second half of the set. I need air, a cheesy house number on record, certainly works better live with the audience shouting back the chorus with aplomb and the reintroduction of Katy B at the end of the set for Perfect Stranger is undoubtedly the highlight as she and Benga trade vocal and MC duties respectively. Katy is without question the star of the night and one wonders that if MM had used more vocalists (they used a fairly standard MC) the set might have been better balanced rather than be focused around one guest who takes all the glory (not that they seem to mind).

I suspect the Magnetic Man concept might not be around too long. All of its members are well respected producers in their own right and I wonder whether there is enough songwriting depth (which is needed if they are to progress to the next level) to sustain a longer career. Having said that a few hundred people left the Trinity last might having thoroughly enjoyed an evening of light and shade and for them at least that's enough.  For me, I think I'll find my dubstep kicks primarily elsewhere.

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