Rating: 8 / Format: CD/2×12" / Label: Ramp Recordings
Zomby’s critical appeal lies in his thinking outside of the dubstep box. His earlier 12”s ‘Spliff Dub’, ‘Mu5h’ and ‘Rumours and Revelations’ were practically cartoon versions of dubstep, sativa strings over goofy student-skank. Rapturously received within dubstep, perhaps in the way that folkies embraced the earliest Bob Dylan discs, these records seemed capable of perfectly encapsulating what people wanted their scene to be.
To pursue the Bob Dylan analogy – at the risk of inflating Zomby’s ego to yet more absurd heights – what happened in parallel, and which subsequent path has come to define Zomby as an artist, was his creation of a new sound all of his own. Like the Dylan of Bringing it All Back Home he has become an artist in exile; one operating at a much more rarified artistic level than his peers. With the mind-bendingly beautiful ‘Strange Fruit’ and the stunning double EP on Hyperdub he ditched the clumsy digidub allusions, and atomised dubstep into a flurry of Super Nintendo arpeggios. A track like ‘Aquafresh’, where the lead line shifts pitch as though it were alive, raised the bar to preposterous levels. Where dubstep was almost always clunky and clumsy, these records were bright-eyed and fleet-footed.
The Zomby trademark, that halcyon sound of 8-bit trills made wet in a paradise of modern VST reverb, is a re-imagining of childhood, journalist Simon Reynolds accurately describing it as "a working-through of the music/popcult assimilated during infancy and early childhood". The vessel here is ganja, and the way it operates socially to perpetuate infantile desire, allowing the user to foster unnatural fixations, to refine and "vibe" on pleasurable effects in a way that betrays the systematic dedication of the adult. As an aside it’s simple to see how weed-smokers (when the levels of THC they are exposed to are not as high as the better formulated strains of hydroponically-grown skunk) come to use dub reggae as a gateway music, before finding it not sufficiently fucked-up to mirror their head-space.
And Zomby must certainly be very high these days, still in that deliriously wonderful state where drugs offer acceleration and an effortless symbiosis with one’s craft. The One Foot Ahead of the Other EP is one of those very special glimpses into the future, an organically avant-garde experience like Derrick May’s The Beginning EP whose busy, racing lines it often unconsciously echoes. However, overlooking untouchable masterpieces within like the title-track and ‘Godzilla’, it also reveals our hero in danger of becoming too esoteric, abandoning the vestigial cheesiness and "choons" that ‘Strange Fruit’ made manifest. Furthermore, Zomby, in deciding to "keep it clean" has missed another trick: I for one would have liked to have heard more of the squalid, ear-melting disorientation of ‘Aquafresh’. How long, like Icarus, can he fly upwards towards the sun?