Mala, founding member of the South London label and nightclub DMZ, is one of relatively few figures who could lay legitimate claim to inventing dubstep. His potent, hollowed-out bass music points back to sound system culture and steppers’ reggae, even as it engineered its low end into something pristine and impossibly heavy. When EDM blew up, Mala could have cashed out. Instead, for his debut album Mala In Cuba, he went to Havana, tracked down local musicians and refined a distinctly Afro-Cuban take on bass futurism.
His new album Mirrors takes a broadly similar approach: this time we find Mala traveling with his laptop through Peru, visiting Lima, Cusco and the Sacred Valley, and winding Afro-Peruvian percussionists and grassroots tap dancers into his insistent sub-bass. The music is sonically robust and rooted in low end, but decorated with unlikely musical detail. On “Kotos,” the pan flutes of marching band Asociacion Juvenil Puno weave through Mala’s hopping pads and echo-soaked snares, while “They’re Coming” and “Shadows” seamlessly meld cool synth washes with clacking hand percussion.
There is little sense of gimmickry to Mirrors. Indeed, Mala at times seems too taken by his subject matter, yet two understated tracks—“Cunumicita” and “Sound Of The River”—peel away the bass and percussion, hanging on the gorgeous vocals of singer-songwriter Danitse and soprano Sylvia Falcón, respectively. And if Mirrors can feel a little Buena Vista Social Club in places, that’s far preferable to another bass music record limply rolling out 30-year-old Blade Runner tropes. Besides, when a record can come up with something as plainly beautiful as “The Calling,” it has much to recommend it. You probably never thought you’d come across a dubstep track that reminded you most of the sparkling guitar miniatures of Vini Reilly’s The Durutti Column. And yet, here we are.