Beginning with the straight four-to-the-floor kick drum of Appleblim's "Darkest Red," a typically moody house number full of roiling pads and ominous build-ups, it's obvious that Sub:Stance is meant to send a message. The brand's ethos has evolved from dubstep into an anything-goes outlook on dance music, most of which happens to revolve around house and techno. Look no further than Rose as an example—the delineation between Scuba and SCB is no longer clear. SCB's "Closer" has the big vocal hook and dramatic synth work that defines a Scuba track, while Scuba's unflinchingly bright "August" is driven by the techno impulse that was once SCB's exclusive domain.
That being said, the idea of house and techno here is anything but predictable. Trevino delivers a worthy follow-up to last year's "Forge" with the mighty "Tracer," which carries portentous techno themes over a bounding, almost playful beat. Addison Groove and John Osborn both turn in loopy funk; the former's "Forgiven" shoots off arpeggios like a fireworks display, while Osborn's "All Night Long" feels like it's somersaulting through each bar.
Martyn, one of the chief players in dubstep's marriage to house and techno, goes ballistic with "Memory Hole," a hazy hallucination through tribal drums and distorted basslines. It ends the compilation on its best note, but the sheer weirdness of it leaves a lingering "what if" over the whole thing. Known to cover everything from jungle to UK funky, at its best Sub:Stance really was more than what's on display here. As a result, its namesake box-set feels like seven very solid tracks rather than a defining statement for one of dubstep's most intriguing club brands.