Magnetic Man’s debut album carries with it a certain weight of expectation. The brainchild of dubstep’s finest producers: Skream, Benga and the lesser-known Artwork – Magnetic Man is being touted as in the UK as the release that will break dubstep into the mainstream. But the truth is, dubstep has been quietly seeping into the mainstream over the last few years. Skream’s remix of La Roux’s ‘In For The Kill‘ was the first big radio hit to get a huge amount of attention. Chase & Status provided some dubstep productions on Rihanna and Snoop Dogg’s last albums. Labels have been commissioning dubstep versions of pop acts ever since. Add some low end “wub wub” bass and voila, you’ve got a dubstep remix. While many of the resulting tracks were shoddy at best (hey at least the producers probably got paid), Magnetic Man appear to be the first act with underground credibility to attempt to burst the niche bubble.
In theory, Magnetic Man doesn’t stray too far from the nascent dubstep scene that was born in Croydon about 10 years ago. There are hallmarks of the genre here: an emphasis on low-end, clipped dub beats and the pervasion of a darkness commonly associated with nightclub-orientated music. What it sacrifices largely, is the “stomach churning” all-encompassing bass that would rattle your ribcage, the heady sense of synthlines controlling your brain and innovative arrangements. Instead, Magnetic Man draws from drum and bass, trance and UK garage to transfer those internal effects into big stadium ones.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing. If you’re looking for something in a similar vein to Benga’s 2008 album Diary Of An Afro Warrior or Skream’s 2006 self-titled Skream!, well you largely won’t find it here. What you will find is an album that uses dubstep production and techniques as backdrops for pop vocals. The first single ‘I Need Air’ is a great example. It won’t please dubstep purists as it lacks bass but more mainstream audiences will be taken by its trance chords and Angela Hunte’s delivery. In fact, the 3.5 million views to date on Youtube tell you all you need to know.
Elsewhere, Katy B provides the pop on ‘Perfect Stranger’ – a jungle-lite dance anthem of something that sounds not too dissimilar to ‘Toca’s Miracle’, ‘Boiling Water’ is drum and bass dance by numbers, ‘Crossover’ is R&B with dubstep beats and John Legend features on the forgettable ‘Getting Nowhere’. What works the best are songs like ‘Fire’ featuring Ms. Dynamite which goes for the jugular in the same way producer The Bug does. It’s a facekick, an exhilarating usage of bass with Ms. Dynamite in Warrior Queen mode. The instrumentals fare better overall with ‘Anthemic’, ‘Ping Pong’, the skittering ‘K Dance’ and the robot menace of ‘The Bug’ recalling those aforementioned effects that dubstep thrives on.
Whether to see Magnetic Man as a dilution of dubstep or the addition of the genre into an electronic pop album with its speakers pointed at the charts, is up to the listener. However, it’s hard to escape the feeling that Magnetic Man went for the easy option in using tried and tested ’90s drum and bass or garage productions a little bit too often for its big moments rather than attempting to make true future pop music.