It seems like every decade or so the stars seem to align in the world of art and culture to create a defining era for a generation of youth. From the free love and psychedelic sound of the late 60’s and early 70’s, to the ecstasy of the acid house scene of the 90’s. Music more often than not plays a significant in role shaping the sub-cultures of modern youth, and recent decades have been no different, particularly a short period just over a decade ago that had all the hallmarks of a legendary era – a sound, a vibrant music scene and sprinkle of substance abuse to enhance the whole experience.
Prior to the Shoreditch boom of the early “Teens” – particularly after ‘Box Park’ arrived – this part of London was the home to a diverse range of overlapping underground scenes. Art galleries, dingy bars, a couple of “Streetwear” stores and skate shops were the cultural hubs for the bands of young people that frequented the area. A healthy blend of Art school students, writers, designers, DJ’s, MC’s, skaters, photographers, off-the-wall creators and their wayward friends were the faces that came to the clubs, populated the pubs and decorated the streets.
The legendary club night FWD>> which was held at the late great basement club ‘Plastic People’ was the type of place these young faces would find themselves. The club was famous for it’s weighty sound system, and was the home to an underground community of bass heavy music enthusiasts that had come to exist around the ‘Dubstep’ genre and the various “Bass Music” derivatives of the late “noughties” that were being championed at the time – Grime music being one of them. The soundsystem, “Smoker Friendly” smoking policy and the sheer amount of world class DJ’s that passed through over the years have become the stuff of legend.
The culture of coming out to listen to new music and meet like minded people that was facilitated by the small basement club had a profound effect on the broader underground scene. Not just because so many of the DJ’s and Producers who went on to achieve success running their own club nights and labels used to be regular punters at FWD>>, but because the “forward focus” attitude – that gave the event its name – cultivated the integrity and passion that was common among the community at Plastic People. The music was designed by the artists often with their specific soundsystem in mind as an experience in itself which also informed the nature of the culture that surrounded FWD>>, and arguably the broader Electronic Muisc Culture across London in the years that followed the 08 and 09 hey days to an immeasurable degree. “I saw FWD>> as an incubator of new ideas.” Says DJ, Producer, Label Owner and FWD>> regular ‘Ramadanman’ via The Guardian  “As the sound system was so good, there were no worries about your new tune not being faithfully reproduced, which I think led to more experimentalism.”
More insight into the life and times of Plastic People via Fact Mag: An Oral History of Plastic People
With the Dubstep mantle making it’s way over to the likes of Skirllex to be bastardised and ultimately ruined in the states in the decade that followed, the progressive Electronic Dance Music scene in East London had moved into what was simply described as ‘Bass Music’ at the time, with various sub-categories like UK Funky and Grime’ associated with the renewed interest in Bass driven music and soundsystem culture in the UK. However, the sound that many came to define as ‘Future Garage’ or ‘Post-Dubstep’ was one that really stood out. As mentioned by Ramadanman, there was a strong air of experimentation during these years – and this year in particular. Unlike today, the hangover from the FWD>> era that permeated the creative landscape at that time, with greater emphasis on the “new sound” among artists and listeners. This, too a lesser degree was even spilling over into the production elements of the music coming out of the Grime scene, with labels like Butterz beginning to introduce a distinctly different flavour to the game around the same time.
There was atmosphere was palpable in this region of London’s underground music scene. Things were evolving and the likes of Boiler Room and Tim & Barrys ‘Just Jam’ Sessions were launched just in time to capture the magic of moment. Where the Dubstep sound, scene and hardcore community had lived in Plastic People, the wave of diverse “bass music” in the burgeoning digital world was living on platforms like the Boiler Room and on the dancefloors of bars like The Alibi. Over the course of this year and beyond both of of these institutions in particular consistently championed the sound of the underground in all it’s forms.
The internet’s influence on popular culture was also growing around this time which played a huge role in influencing the creative direction of this interesting period for UK Music, particularly in terms of its effect on the fueling the slew of independent labels that were leading the charge at this time. Vinyl was still a popular medium during this period – the sweet spot between the switch to the streaming market we know today and the customs of the analogue world we knew before meant that small labels dance music labels were doing reasonably well – in fact vinyl sales went up 55% in the UK 2011 – a testament to the time. CD sales still declined, so rappers and MC’s suffered in this respect, but DJ’s and Dance music producers were thriving regardless. Vinyl was still considered a normal way to DJ, with Serato and CDJ’s only just started to take off in the industry. DJ’s, their independent labels and their producers from the fringes of the underground were able to capitilise on the benefits provided by the internet at this time. Hessle Audio, Tempa, Local Action, R&S, Hemlock, ,Hot Flush, Deep Medi, Numbers, Eglo, Young Turks and Butterz that successfully carved out a cult following and contributed to writing the soundtrack of this remarkable era.
There were many labels and many trailblazing DJ’s that came up during these days, but not many will be recognised as a key figure in the “Post-Dubstep” era like DJ Oneman’s who’s popular Rinse FM show, seasonal mixes and skillful style were all a cut above the rest. His ascent came along side the rise “Bass Music” culture and his reputation for mixing UK garage, Dubstep and Grime along side the evolving and experimental sound of the “Future Garage”/”Post-Dubstep” variety perfectly married the contemporary sounds of modern UK Dance music at the time. Oneman, along with the likes of DJ’s like Mary Anne Hobbs who retired from 14 years on 1Xtra in 2010, were at the cutting edge of a lot of the overlapping, expansive and exciting underground music during this period.
The popular DJ’s and club nights of 2010 and the years surrounding it all had there own distinct sounds, but not many songs had the quality to transcend the various cult club nights to achieve a highest tier of cult status. ‘Hyph Mngo’ by Joy Orbison will go down as THE song to define the era. The echo’s of UK Garage and UK Funky laced together in a spacey, yet rhythm and bass driven package to strongly the reflect the times it was made in, without sounding dated. You can argue tho whole concept of “Future Garage” came about because of this song, I don’t recall that name being banded around it this tune dropped – which speaks to the songs impact. There were a few particularly poignant releases like ‘James Blake – CMYK’ – which similarly sounds of its time, or the heavily Trap influence on the track ‘Girl Unit – Wut’ – which was quite ahead of its time and the Chicago Juke stylings of ‘Addison Groove – Footcrab’ which were all undisputed anthems of time in their own right.
The music was good, the club scene was vibrant and the popularity of Shoreditch and Dalston as destinations for colourful night life fueled by the opening of the East London Line – at this stage at least – was yielding positive results. Box Park hadn’t arrived yet, so there was plenty of good music, plenty of to spots to got to, new ones opening all the time – like XOYO which came along in September 2010 – and just the right amount of people about to share it all with. 2010 had been a good year to those of us who’d spent it frolicking around East London and indulging in the products of London’s vibrant night life, the times were special and legendary the status of this electrifying era couldn’t be more apparent than when a new “legal” drug burst onto the scene in the latter months of 2010 sweeping the nation and sparking a drug craze of epic proportions. MCat to many, Meow Meow to the tabloids – and ‘Sheng’ to my circle of friends.
It was the gift and the curse to a generation of party goers in the winter of 2010. A gift because it was cheap and legal – ideal for hoards of young ravers living on a student budget. However, the curse came in the for curse of the soul destroying comedowns that would often start kicking in while you were still out – which wasn’t ideal, but like I said, ir was cheap. When people talk about when Ecstasy hit in the 90’s they’ll tell you about how good the pills were and how great the music was. And although the music was great – and to a certain extent the drugs enhanced the experience – the brutal comedowns are often the first thing someone will mention when the topic of Mephedrone comes up, which really speaks to how horrible they were.
That being said, many will look back fondly because despite the impending doom of brutal comedown, the MDMA like effects meant that you didn’t really care until it actually started happening. So the first few hours were pure bliss, entranced by the captivating sounds of the all the “future” music that was out at the time, makings friends with equally strung out strangers was extraordinary experience to share with the thousands of people who were also indulging in this new party drug, but I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t bitter sweet. 2010 will be fondly remember for the music and everything that was happening in London at that time, but the winter of 2010 will always be remembered for the drugs – every legendary period in clubland history needs its own drug scandal after all.
The winter of 2010, the exciting electronic music that was the soundtrack, the East London club scene and the legal drug taking that is fondly remembered by those who experienced it is a story that should be shared. We often talk about FWD>> and the magic of Plastic People, but possibly neglect a lot of what happened around and after the Dubstep lost it’s relevance. Outside of the global success of UK Dance Music during that time, fashion brands like Trapstar and Palace’s arrival on global stage, and the London Graffiti renaissance were all cemented in this era which speaks to how profoundly significant this period was for Art & culture in the UK, and a year that should go down in recent history as one to remember
POSTED BY: @TIMI.WATSONROSE