Once in a blue moon, a track will come along and capture the zeitgeist perfectly. For electronic music, the most recent example is “Wut” by London’s Girl Unit, which dropped last October on Night Slugs. The futuristic laser beam synths, tweaked out siren song sample, and massive 808 club rhythm of “Wut” are fast becoming the high watermark for dubstep-garage-funky hybrids.
The man behind “Wut,” Girl Unit, is 25-year old Phil Gamble. Like many of his peers, he started making beats as a teenager armed with Fruity Loops. He went by the name Girl U No It’s True, a tongue-in-cheek Milli Vanilli reference that he eventually shortened to his current moniker.
Starting with last April’s IRL EP, Girl Unit’s star has been steadily rising. “IRL” is a nasty little banger, combining the no-frills dubstep of Benga with the UK funky sound of his Night Slugs contemporaries. “Shade On” and “Temple Keys” were further dalliances with this hybrid sound; the jazzy keys on the latter a unique touch.
Following up IRL with the Wut EP, Girl Unit amped up the hip-hop and R&B influences considerably. “Every Time,” like “Wut,” relies on an unrecognizable diva loop, while “Showstoppa” has the big bass sweeps of a Rick Ross tune. The mid-tempo songs rock with a sexy swagger that is unrelenting and unforgiving. Throughout the EP, rat-a-tat drums evoke gangsterish drive-bys more than dancing in clubs.
In addition to his EPs, Girl Unit has remixed a few tunes with the same twisted approach he uses on his own material. His vinyl-only remix of Katy B’s “Lights On” is the best take on the track yet. His remix of C.R.S.T.’s “The Bells” strips away the funky house beat and feeds it syrup until it no longer resembles the original.
The usual suspects are onto Girl Unit, and you can’t blame them. His mixes for XLR8R, Fader, and Numbers show just how tight his control over his sound is.
Last week, London radio station Rinse FM went legit, receiving an FM broadcast license. The pirate radio station (exclusively online since a government crackdown in 2005) has been a driving force in the UK underground dance scene since 1994. Garage, grime, dubstep, and UK funky have thrived with the support of the station, which has exposed the world to influential artists like Dizzee Rascal and Skream. The station also runs a record label, whose latest release is the full-length debut by UK funky producer Roska.
Roska (aka Wayne Goodlitt) is one of the foremost producers in a genre that – while sharing some influences and sounds with dubstep – has developed in response to the aggro-bro feel of the dubstep scene. The beats are closer to those of house, with a soca shuffle and tribal elements; UK funky is much better suited for dancing than for moshing.
Roska’s record is a great starting point for listeners unfamiliar with UK funky. Nearly half of the tracks feature R&B-flavored singers Anesha, Jamie George, and Nikki. These hook-based songs, especially “Love 2 Nite,” are all cross-over contenders. The first single, “I need love,” highlights the vocals and an insistent snare line over a bubbling bassline.
The album also features fantastic UK funky-dubstep hybrids. On “Time Stamp,” reedy synths do battle with a dark, minor-keyed bassline, while “Burn in Flames” pits flamenco piano against bouncing synths and some serious bass. The title of “Squark” refers to trill, bird-like synths that are met with a pulsing rhythm and slick guitar chords on the downtempo romp.
Roska is coming off a Sonar Barcelona show curated by dubstep diva Mary Anne Hobbs that also included sets by Flying Lotus and Joy Orbison. Check out the interview and mix he did for Hobbs on BBC Radio 1 back in March. With co-signs by Rinse FM and Mary Anne Hobbs, Roska is definitely doing something right.