Immortal dubwise dance music from the pioneering Bristol duo.
Over the years, Peverelist and Pinch—AKA Tom Ford and Rob Ellis—have cited Smith & Mighty's influence as they in turn helped shape Bristol's dubstep scene. Both have released Smith's dubstep productions, as RSD, on their Punch Drunk and Tectonic labels. It's perhaps reflective of the communal nature of Bristol's music scene that Ellis and Ford have put out this collection of unreleased tracks, nodding to the 30th anniversary of the first Smith & Mighty single.
If there's one track on Ashley Road Sessions 88-94 that embodies the prescience and legacy of Smith & Mighty, it's "Latent Energy." The spacious, half-time 140 BPM beat, the subby bassline, the dubby splashes—it could easily have been made during dubstep's peak. The mixing desk acrobatics, airy melodic splashes, crafty fills and nimble edits are astounding considering the age of the material.
Since many of Smith & Mighty's records were vocal collaborations, this instrumental-only collection highlights their rich and varied approach to production. Whether it's "Always Be There (Step Up)"'s weighty break or the tender dub ballad of "Stalagnate," the music's range and depth is impressive. "Higher Than Tempo" brings together an entrancing four-on-the-floor pulse with heart-rending melancholy, as likely to soundtrack a dreamy sunset in mid-'90s Ibiza as it would a dance in the West Country.
Jungle and drum & bass looms large. "Dub Song" is a canny fusion of deft breaks and a UK stepper's march. The finest example, though, is "Film Score," which weaves rich orchestral samples in between needlepoint beat programming. Like all great Smith & Mighty productions, it shines when stripped back to a raw beat and a bassline. That this minimalist approach could yield such spellbinding and varied material is remarkable, moreso because the results never sound tired or overfamiliar.
Thoughts about legacy and influence aside, Ashley Road Sessions 88-94 is enjoyable on its own terms. The music seems to shrug off its age, showing a vitality that hasn't dimmed at all. Like the dub forefathers they drew from, the duo created an entire mode of expression from delay feedback and spring reverb decays. That their music remains fresh is thanks the cool-headed approach Smith and Mighty took in the studio. This natural restraint, combined with the duo's far-sighted ideas, has made the music immortal.