At nearly 2 a.m. on Sunday morning, U.K. dubstep womperkind Zomby is onstage, but he is not making any noise. “We’ve waited years for this, dude, years,” calls one fan as another boos. And indeed, the crowd who attended Zomby’s set at Glasslands had been waiting years to see it, as that night marked Zomby’s second appearance in New York since entering the bassosphere in 2007, and the first one open to the public. Now, after years of consuming his releases from across the pond and hours of slogging through jam band opening acts and faceless DJs that night, Zomby was onstage and silent as a stupid dead lamb who deserved to die for making everyone wait so unbelievably, mind-numbingly long. “Where’s the music?” demands another fan. When the first note trembles through the venue and the crowd unleashes a collective noise of assent, all is forgiven. Zomby, that diva bastard, is worth the wait.
The man DJs tenderly, for crying out loud. He doesn’t jump around like a character in Super Smash Brothers (or Super Mash Brothers, for that matter), nor does he affect the same VIP smoothness as SBTRKT at the controls. There’s just something about the way Zomby works and the sounds he produces that seems sensitive, tender, fluid. His first few tracks are expertly chopped and screwed R&B beats with dollops of syrupy bass that would bring a low end angel to tears, but his set progresses manically. From behind a Guy Fawkes mask Zomby mixes womp into house into eskibeat grime into delirium reminiscent of tracks like “Dripping Like Water,” occasionally lifting the chin of his mask to accommodate the neck of a beer bottle or a smoke.
In those moments that he lifts his mask, Zomby reveals a pointed chin, the only peek behind a demented beatmachine persona. He DJs with a six pack of Heineken at his right hand and three friends bobbing along in approval behind him, nodding especially vehemently at tracks that showcase U.K. grime rappers. Zomby is very clearly not an American; his dubstep is a no-drop zone and his pants are too short—American men do not wear capris. His is music that is felt as much as heard, as the bass makes the walls and benches tremble and teeth rattle in skulls.
Always stay for Zomby.
Zomby plays Bowery Ballroom on Saturday, October 22 as part of the 4AD showcase during CMJ 2011.