Most people with an interest in the darker side of drum & bass will no doubt have heard of Subtitles, the latest record label of focus for our The Essential… series. Founded in 1999, Subtitles has been a major player in the development of forward-thinking drum & bass throughout the 21st century, and today continues to build on the legacy it has created with a recent string of downright hard and nasty releases.
The label began life as the next step for TeeBee and K after they left Paul Arnold’s seminal late 90s Certificate 18 imprint. TeeBee had already made his mark on drum & bass with the dark, hypnotic soundscape he created on the futuristic LP ‘Black Science Labs’ (1999), and he progressed his sound further with a string of characteristically brooding, progressive pieces to kick-start things off for the label.
A couple of years later and a diverse array of artists had already worked with the label. Many of the underground scene’s biggest names have appeared, or even started out on, Subtitles and, without further ado, here are twenty of our favourite Subtitles tunes from many of the different producers who’ve worked on the label.
TeeBee – Daywalker (2000)
The first Subtitles release and what a banger! This is what the TeeBee at the turn of the new millennium was all about: menacing atmospheres with subtle, tight percussion shuffles on tracks that just build and build. You can definitely hear an influence from Photek and the Platinum Breaks era Metalheadz sound in those smoothly layered jazz licks that creep in.
Rob F, Impulse & Mecha – Recall (2002)
This kind of sci-fi styled techstep was huge in the early ‘00s, and remains a personal favourite sound-era for drum & bass. A wave of producers, the likes of Stakka & Skynet and Konflict, stepped things up a notch with the level of technical precision found in their production style. ‘Recall’ slots right in to this with its stabs and grimace inducing drum kicks, and for a few years Rob F, Impulse & Mecca were doing the rounds on many underground labels.
Fanu – Siren Song (2004)
The soft vocal intro in this is top class from Fanu, an underrated producer from Finland who has shown a creative brilliance when it comes to atmospheric drum & bass production. A listen through much of his music shows it to be heavily drum pattern orientated, drawing parallels to the drumfunk sound championed by the likes of Paradox, and the Amens on this one progress into a frenetic beatstorm that remains relaxing as it is driving. Subtitles shows it can do deep!
Future Prophecies – Warlords Rising (2004)
An ominous intro that sounds like something straight out of a horror flick and a kung fu movie sample precede one of the biggest, baddest drops around – destructive business from the mighty Future Prophecies.
Chris SU – Solaris Theme (2005)
Chris SU’s debut album is still in the pipeline, a top-drawer producer who has helped put Hungary, and Eastern Europe in general, on the map when it comes to Drum & Bass. He’s released across many of the scene’s top labels such as Critical, Hospital and Commercial Suicide, however ‘Solaris Theme’, with its undeniable emotional resonance, remains a stand-out and uniquely brilliant piece of music.
Noisia – Conscience (2005)
You just can’t argue with the ‘Monster’ EP and most of Noisia’s early material, which remains arguably their strongest. Whilst they’ve gone on to big things and adapted their sound to reach a wider audience, tracks like ‘Conscience’ still do the damage. The absurdly precise percussion and growling stabs bring forth a sound drenched in the brooding atmosphere Subtitles and Noisia are renowned for.
Commix – Midas Touch (2005)
Commix don’t really need an introduction, a duo who were major players across the board until their parting of ways in 2012; the ‘Call To Mind’ album on Metalheadz is undoubtedly one of the most widely respected albums of the drum & bass genre in the last decade. There’s a contagious steppy funk to ‘Midas Touch’, with its groove enhancing sirens, and the tracks shows Subtitles happily embracing something a little bit different.
Noisia & Phace – Thrillseekers (2006)
The slick mix in and out of ‘Thrillseekers’ was as a highlight on Noisia’s awesome Therapy Sessions mix back in 2006. It came out on the Subtitles Fifty E.P. which also featured Break and Calyx & TeeBee. Again the menacing intro and build-up that floats around in so much of Noisia and the Subtitles work is apparent, and the ‘corrupt… and immoral…’ vocal sample is a memorable feature of this dirty tune.
State Of Mind – Afterlife (2006)
The New Zealand based twosome State Of Mind made waves with their debut LP ‘Take Control’ (2006), which was chock full of absolute smashers. In their production one finds a powerful, energetic sound that has mainstream and underground dancefloor appeal and huge production values (try blasting any of the tracks out on a half-decent system). ‘Afterlife’ was also featured on the album but came out first on Subtitles – an example of TeeBee’s knack for scouting out talented artists from across the globe for the label at this point.
Calyx & TeeBee – The Quest (Break Remix) (2007)
Everyone will recognise this one – rinsed by all of the scenes biggest DJs and appearing on many mix compilations, this was a smasher for the Subtitles label that’s still played out today – crank the bass!
Phace – Hot Rock VIP (2008)
The chunky, gnarly riffs and bassy groove in the ‘Hot Rock’ VIP were a precursor to the polished stripped down more minimal techstep sound that would arise around the turn of the decade. Deep and dirty, Phace maintain the stamina in this furious track.
Spor – Breathe In, Scream Out (2008)
Last seen bringing out Electro-House leaning music under the Feed Me alias, it’s a shame Jon Gooch ceased working under the Spor moniker. Between 2004 and 2012 he had grown into one of the most respected names in hard drum & bass as well as being a regular feature on the (also now defunct) celebrated Lifted Music imprint. The ‘Breathe In, Scream Out’ EP on Subtitles is a great example of what Spor was all about – guttural noises you’ve never heard before and stupidly heavy builds, drops and drum switches.
Audio & Future Signal – Furyen (2009)
Audio has become the go-to man for hard-hitting dancefloor rollers these days, most notably with the punishing music he’s releasing on Virus. He started his production career working on a number of labels, the likes of Freak Recordings, and notably Subtitles where Teebee obviously saw his potential as a producer. Future Signal’s had his fair share of success in the field of hard dnb as well, and this collaboration is fast, dirty dancefloor business as you’d expect.
Apex – Inner Space (2010)
Apex, one half of Unknown Error, is a fantastic producer who has always toed the line between the melodious and the menacing. This one sees him embracing euphoric territory, with an epic build-up and grandiose half time drop that lays way for a great liquid dnb outro. Top stuff.
Ulterior Motive – Featherweight (2010)
‘Featherweight’ was another Subtitles dancefloor anthem for the couple of years surrounding its release. The vocal sample is recognisable in any mix, and its grinding bassline and steppy kickdrums helped cement rising stars Ulterior Motive as big players in this wave of more stripped down techy drum & bass.
Total Science & S.P.Y – Venus Prime (2011)
In the last few years Subtitles has successfully signed up a new roster of emerging artists who have embraced a minimal and rolling dancefloor sound and ushered in a fresh era of clinical and precise production values. The likes of S.P.Y were very much at the forefront of this. Total Science of course are very much part of the old guard in the dnb/jungle scene, and surprisingly they made their Subtitles debut with this one. On listening most would agree it’s better late than never!
Lenzman & Treez – Stellar (Feat. Jo S) (2011)
Dutch producer Lenzman always manages to inject a healthy slice of soul into his tracks, and ‘Stellar’, featuring the dulcet tones of Jo S, is no exception. The sweeping bass-line and keyboard-laden progression throughout this blissful roller is a great example of Subtitles’ rare but consistently successful forays into Liquid Funk.
Fracture & FD – Galvanise (2013)
Fracture & FD provide a classy modernised take on the classic Subtitles sound with ‘Galvanise’. Switches left right and centre and influences from across the board, this is great production here from two extremely talented and often underrated producers. It’s an example of how Subtitles has held it together and moved with the times, and the flip-side of the 12” contains a very tasty roller as well.
Optiv & CZA – Hindsight (2013)
Since fully launching as a solo producer after a lot of success with the Cause4Concern crew over all those years, Optiv has been absolutely smashing it. Recently his work with Brazilian BTK on Virus has been making waves and destroying dancefloors, as well as breathing new life into the label. ‘Hindsight’ here on Subtitles is a cracker of a tune with all the elements that make an effective dnb track, a contagious and melodic intro leading up to a massive drop and anthemic bassline. There’s absolutely no question about this one doing the damage on a top end sound system.
Brain Crisis – Hands Up (2014)
We’d say that this is the Subtitles release of 2014 to date. There’s definitely a rather significant change in style, with exciting new producer Brain Crisis dubbing things right down. He’s one to watch in fact, and just check out the blurb on the Youtube link for some more info. He also featured on 2013’s Sine Language series and this supporting of new artists and sounds is what Subtitles has been all about, continuing to deliver the highest quality music at Drum & Bass tempo – long may it continue!