Dubplate Wonder and Hard House Banton occupy a curious niche within the funky scene, almost a cul-de-sac, and one that's easy to bypass. Certain people in the know swear by their late 2008 DJ sets on Deja Vu FM as the alpha and omega of UK Funky (I've got the sets dating from 4 November, 25 November and 9 December, and based on this evidence there's a limited truth in such caims; they're pretty amazing sets, and probably good as funky DJ sets without MCs get), and of course everyone knows Hard House Banton from his monster tunes "Sirens" and "Reign". These very masculine, bass-driven tunes gave the erroneous impression that Hard House Banton was, alongside Lil' Silva, going to "grime up" funky. The truth was quite different: the vast majority of Hard House Banton's tunes are smooth, suave, girlish at times, with crisp, precise, even prissy drum programming. On some sets Hard House Banton even toasts, and his vocals are similarly prissy, "educated" sounding; he talks about how his music "floats", which captures perfectly his deliberately inculcated lightness of touch (anyone who loves the dark desire of Hard House Banton track "Turn It Around" will know this ain't necessarily a bad thing).
Ironically, his frequent recording partner Dubplate Wonder (they work together as D'n'B, amusingly) is mostly darker, heavier, denser, though not in any obvious way. If Hard House Banton's rhythms often have a startling sense of cleanness to them, Dubplate Wonder prefers busy, textured snare-patterns and thick bass and synth sounds that seem to bleed into one another like a child's watercolour painting. The two producers, appropriately, appear to match each other in talent and skill, Wonder hasn't garnered anything like Hard House Banton's level of public awareness, if only because he's even more resolutely "tracky" than his partner ("I make bangers, not anthems, leave that to..." Crazy Cousinz I guess?).
I'm tempted to describe Dubplate Wonder as a "uk funky purist", but this may give the wrong impression; it's not like he has a restrictive or pared-back or traditionalist sound, as his frankly ludicrous blend of Claude Von Stroke's "The Whistler", Donae'o's "African Warrior", Fingaprint's "The Takeover" and Rodamaal's "Insomnia" aptly demonstrates - a bootleg track that groans under the weight of its own density, its deluge of sonic information. Rather, Dubplate Wonder's productions feel "purist" in the sense that their appeals are always the appeals of funky in itself, not funky as a cipher for some other impulse - funky-as-dubstep, funky-as-house, funky-as-techno, funky-as-grime and so on. Dubplate Wonder productions never feel like anything other than funky, and while they're hardly forbidding, I can imagine the uninitiated finding them perhaps middling, not obviously delivering the thrills they associate with a certain kind of vocal, a certain kind of harsh synth sound. For the familiar though, this stuff is delectable, truly 3 michelin hat funky for funky connoisseur-bores (me and...?).
Basically, a Dubplate Wonder track stands and falls on the magical interplay of intricate, papery snare patterns, and warm, slightly roughened bass - and then the interplay of those with a vocal if present. He's not a professional remixer or anthem-crafter in the sense of Crazy Cousinz or Perempay & Dee, but Wonder appears to like basing his productions around other people's songs, I suspect because they allow him to get down to the business of focusing on his craft: check his remix of John Legend's "When I Used To Love You", and the way he frames the vocal in coils of rapidly curling and uncurling drums. Or his remix of T2's "Butterflies", with its sour three-note bass riffs and reggae piano lilt over deeper, warmer floods of bass and Ill Blu-style skipping stone snares. His remix of his partner in crime's signature tune "Sirens" is even more to-the-point, its only amendment a fluttering handclap drum pattern like a moth beating its wings at your ears and, somehow, a deepening or magnifcation of the already majestic bassline.
This may sound somehow negligible, but remember Foul Play and their to-the-point, rhythmically obsessed remixes of Omni Trio and Hyper-On Experience: this is the vibe that Dubplate Wonder inhibits, taking his productions ever deeper into the rhythmic foliage of funky's horizon of possibility, and further and further from any other possible mode of understanding. For instance his remix of Diamond's swirly, sweet-toothed "I Think I'm In Love With You" sounds as if it's being played underwater, so thick, so viscous and amniotic are the layers of bass and so lost-in-the-detail are the odd, hyperactive trebly synth patterns that might otherwise provide the hook. Wonder doesn't despise hooks by any stretch, but you get the impression that when it comes to arranging the elements in his tunes they're first among equals at best; the groove is the thing, and if you don't intuitively get the groove, don't feel the drums sing under your skin, well, what are you doing listening?
I've written about remixes of course because I can identify some of them; there are so many tunes that are simply unknown grooves, like the whistle-tune that samples TNT's "Rhumba" and features "Grindin" style backfiring noises at the end of each measure, not obviously life-changing like a good Ill Blu tune and yet hypnotically involving, a groove whose dovetailing iterations seem to conceal and only obliquely disclose a wealth of detail and mystery. Or there's the one with woodblock beats and flighty synth-strings and high-pitched bassline that sounds like it's being played on some sickly, warped glockenspiel. Or the frantic and yet oddly melancholy MC track with the ragga chat "what you know about Wonder? Bloodclaat know about Wonder??" Or that staccato string riff track, like an even more alien, evil-intentioned take on D-Malice's "Gabryelle Refix", its beats and serrated bass pulses swarming like an army of giant insects with sharpened mandibles. Or his own siren tune, closer to Ill Blu's "Blu Magic" than "Sirens", only with beats like high heels stomping on a dancefloor that are all his own.
You should track down his Wonderland '09 mix of his own productions, recorded at the beginning of the year. If any other producer recorded such a mix, in any other moderately in-vogue dance genre, you'd see excited artist profiles, formally commissioned podcast sets, breathless whispers that this guy was "the one to watch". The feel of listening to these 24 track in succession is curious for a funky set: the words that spring to mind are "enveloping" and "entrancing", notwithstanding the sudden eruptions of hyperactive drum patterns or evil-sounding bass. It's this dreamlike quality that makes me think of Jam City, or Cooly G for that matter, and wonder (no pun intended) at the media black hole which seems to engulf this producer by comparison, especially given he doesn't at all appear shy about pushing and promoting his own productions.
The only explanation I can think of is the one I offered upthread - that Wonder is too resolutely funky-qua-funky to be of much interest to anyone not closely following the scene itself, an occupation whose difficulty and (at times) perversity requires a certain religious zeal at any rate. But this mix - always astonishing me when I return to it with its range, its inventiveness, its nuance, its sheer quality - ought to inspire a certain religiosity in and of itself. Maybe the absence of critical hosannas so far is due to a simple oversight - if so, here's your chance to address it: any media types reading this, you can steal this idea for an "emerging artist" profile, and anything else in this piece, lock stock and barrel; I promise I'll be so pleased that I won't even think to gripe.