(XOYO, Shoreditch, 31st October 2011. Review by Adam Tait)
As I stood, happily sipping, among the expectant crowd in XOYO in Shoreditch, I wondered how many of the people around me were aware that the incredible, genre morphing, act they were waiting for was the result of an Arts Council commission. It seems almost bizarre for a project launched by the Arts Council, for performance in York Minster, to be so aware of the youth culture as to attempt a live dubstep project. It seems even more bizarre that that project has found such tremendous respect and success.
Perhaps Submotion Orchestra’s level of accomplishment is not so surprising when you consider the constituent parts of this six-piece. Most of them are glowing alumni of Leeds College of Music. They all play in multiple bands, for the most part stretching across numerous genres. The band was formed around DJ Dom ‘Ruckspin’ Howard and drummer Tommy Evans back in 2009. Both are incredibly prolific. Howard is ridiculously in demand as a DJ and producer, and is a classically trained viola player. Evans has a bit of himself in more pies than he has fingers. Drummer not just with Submotion, but also with rising stars of the English reggae/dub scene Gentlemen’s Dub Club, Evans also plays with jazz group IDST and runs Leeds’ infamous jazz night The Spin Off. His jazz credentials are further reinforced by the fact that he was commissioned by Marsden Jazz Festival and Jazz Yorkshire to produce a special suite for the 2010 festival. Vocalist Ruby Wood, another graduate of Leeds College of music’s jazz course, also lends her honeyed voice to hiphop/funk group Extra Curricular and a capella group Solaris, as well as pursuing her own solo project Loopology (not to mention being an accomplished steel pan player). Perhaps bearing all this in mind, your expectations might get somewhere close to adequate. But still not quite.
Submotion Orchestra are far more than the sum of their parts. Coming together they are an incredible, cacophonous, sonic force. A concussive blast that stuns audiences into a hypnotised stupor. A beautiful contradiction between an astonishing delicacy and a brutal, sub-bass heaviness. Wistfully jazzy pauses, punctuated by blast of brass, dive into long anticipated, truly ground shaking, bass drives. Exceptionally intricate hi-hat patterns sit nonchalantly behind layers and layers of synth-generated sub-bass and enchanting keyboard runs from Taz Modi, concurrently dipping toes in fast paced jazz and indulgently bass focused dubstep. The casual and entirely fitting segues into the samba-esque beats of Danny Templeman’s percussion provide yet another, almost not needed, demonstration of this band’s musical genius, both as individuals and as a collective. It’s not just the sonic detonation issued by the bass bins that confounds the audience into a hypnotised sway, but also the incredible talent on display.
This group might have got together with the aim of developing a live dubstep act. But it’s unfair to call this band dubstep. Not least because of the remarkably well informed forays into countless other musical genres – jazz, soul, ambient electro and dubstep’s forefather dub – but also because this group are so many leagues ahead of everything else that’s going on within dubstep at the moment. ‘Head and shoulders above’ doesn’t even come close to being an adequate description. They are, as an entity, a remarkable musical achievement, a skilful blending of a myriad of musical disciplines. This band are truly a band that have something to give to everyone, from all musical backgrounds, and it is important that people from jazz and soul and classical backgrounds are not put off by the ‘dubstep’ tag that is commonly attached to them, because they are so much more than that.