Digital Mystikz at The Plug, Sheffield 21st April

Digital Mystikz’ set last night was the best thing I’ve witnessed in a very long time. I’m just going to tell you how it went and what it felt like. What I will say up-front is that Dubstep played live by a good DJ is just the most exciting music on the planet right now and Mala is an absolutely fantastic DJ.

It was a really sweet crowd and they just got better the longer the night went on. There was a massively friendly vibe, a real sense of community, and the same kind of atmosphere you get at a really nice reggae event, or like it used to be at old underground dance music nights. As you can see from the pictures the crowd was nicely mixed too, with plenty of women soaking up the bass vibes. I have to say I think the Mystikz bring this sort of inclusive, friendly atmosphere with them; it’s like they almost insist on it. Julian C90 did a very good warm-up set. When we got in D1’s Degrees was playing and he went from there to some really very sparkly tuneage. Tight mixing too.
Julian on decks
Sure, there was a bit when he was dropping some very downbeat tekky halfsteppers and I couldn’t help thinking that I could see how people could be turned off dubstep if seems too, well, gloomy. I could see where the accusations of it being low in energy come from. But this didn’t last long – Julian rocked it, built up to a really cool climax, finishing with Rhythm & Sound – I think it was King of My Empire.
Julian C90's crowd
While bobbing around during his set I met Mala when he was coming in and we chatted for a while. Such a sweet, dignified, focused man. I broke off from talking to him to go dance when Julian played Loefah’s mix of Search & Destroy’s Candy Floss.

Mala came on at midnight. He dropped a bunch of reggae to start, which as you can imagine made me very happy indeed.
He and Space Ape were bouncing around in the booth in sheer joy but before long Space Ape got down onto the floor and started toasting from within the audience, and he stayed there the whole night. It was such a great way of hyping the crowd.
Space Ape declaims
When Mala started, it was as if a whole range of subs had been added to the sound system. It was monstrous, but they were fiddling with the sound for much of the set, getting the sound guy in every now and then. I actually thought the sound was pretty good. It might not have had the cavernous, round, world-defining bass you get with Iration Steppas or indeed DMZ, but it was still low, full, and loud – excellent really.
The dubstep kicked off with a bunch of incredibly banging, high-energy tracks that were just stripped down noise-weapons: one-note bass lines in lock-step with the kick that were all about working the bass. It was minimal and slamming but incredibly funky. Then there was a long section of bouncy dubstep rockers, including what has been my favourite tune for the last year, Coki’s Mood Dub – the tune I had most wanted to hear him play.
DMZ Crowd
After the bouncy stuff there was a very long and unbelievably intense section of hard steppas – sufferah’s tunes, in the sense that Mala seemed to be challenging the crowd to go with these incredibly heavy, deep, hard tunes, to endure the sweet punishment of the low-end. And go with it the crowd absolutely did. The heavier the dub, the bigger the response, people were just going mad for it, and the pay-off was this sublime sense of being transported, a really deep sense of spiritual release. And Mala was driven, almost possessed, turning down most requests for rewinds, intent on making the journey ever more intense.

But never to the point of being torturous or worse, dull; there was always a finely honed judgement at work. And at just the right moment Mala relented, dropping an absolutely amazing, slow-burning almost jazz-funk dubstep tune, that I absolutely MUST have. It was a DJing masterstroke; build it right up to a peak of almost unendurable intensity and then drop it right back to nothing, just Space Ape talking you down. Mala is both technically and creatively a superb, almost supernaturally gifted DJ. It wasn’t just that his mixing was tight, it was the whole flow of the set – it reminded me of the flowing, artfully-constructed sets of the great house DJs.

Then it was time for some more up-ful tracks. The crowd was still thick and baying for more, and when Mala dropped Loefah’s Root they went wild. The sense of intimacy and recognition was extraordinary; the crowd were screaming at tunes they obviously had never heard before but were immediately captivated by. It was just awesome.

The last section featured a whole heap of devastating 4×4 steppers that was like really evil, groovy but wonky house, which was just fantastic. And maybe my favourite moment of the night was this massively long, extended mix out of (I think) the VIP mix of Request Line into Kode 9’s Seven Samurai – it seemed to go on forever with wave upon wave of EQ action twisting the sound while Space Ape declaimed over it. Just magnificent.

Finally the lights came on and the roar was vast. I’m not sure that the Sheffield audience was quite as demonstrative during the set as the Mystikz might be used to – that’s Sheffield for you, sweet, soft and laid-back – but the crowd really showed their appreciation at the end. The lights still blazing Mala pulled out one last tune and everybody, as Simon “Whistlebump” Haggis said of his visit to DMZ, “Having it right off really slowly”.
Mala pon deckle
And that was it. I was just overwhelmed by that point, staggered over the booth and mumbled some thanks. It was one of the best musical experiences I’ve had for a long time. Regular readers will know how much seeing the Abyssinians meant to me, how utterly transported and deeply moved I was by their performance. Well, it wasn’t as good as that, but then again, it was a very different kind of musical experience, albeit one with a similar spiritual core. Regular readers will also know how much l love Jah Shaka; for me, at his best and with his system in the right room, he’s the best DJ in the world. Well, Digital Mystikz are very, very nearly as good as Jah Shaka – which is extremely high praise from me – and the music is pretty similar to the more savage steppers’ sections of his performances.

For what Digital Mystikz share with both the Abyssinians and Shaka is that to go see them play is to experience spiritual healing. In my opinion, the Mystikz and Shaka in particular are not just fucking around when they drop relentlessly hard, pounding, one-note bass skankers; it’s not just some metallic testosterone work-out; they’re deliberately putting you in a different spiritual place. It’s like there is SOMETHING LIVING IN THE MUSIC, something really good and strong and powerful.

Dubstep is doing something very special right now and I don’t know how long the beauty of the current scene will last – two years? Three? Forever? – but if you have any opportunity at all to go and experience it, you should seize it.

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