Dobie has been a significant figure in UK underground electronic music for over 30 years, first as a skateboarder and photographer in the 1980s, and then as a producer and remixer working with artists like Soul II Soul, Massive Attack and Tricky in the ’90s. His own musical career though has been strangely unfulfilled, with only one album released since his debut, 1997’s The Sound Of One Hand Clapping. This decade, Dobie has released two EPs of excellent hip-hop influenced electronica for Big Dada. He now attempts to build on the promise established on those EPs with his long awaited third album, We Will Not Harm You.
We Will Not Harm You is an album of instrumental hip-hop influenced cuts that take in aspects of all the disparate sounds that make up contemporary UK bass music and club culture. Dobie acts as a sort of sonic alchemist bringing everything together. Well versed in the history and culture of UK electronic music, Dobie aligns his experience to a pleasing grasp of new forms.
Dobie is something of a traditionalist, and the album takes the form of an instrumental mixtape in the vein of something produced by hip-hop auteur producers like J Dilla and Madlib. Dobie’s blend of instrumental beats does not hit the same heights as those exalted producers, but the best moments here have a similar idea of hip-hop beats acting as a giant melting pot for an array of sounds.
Blip 124 and She Moans are perhaps the best examples of Dobie’s stylistic fluctuations. Blip 124 is an out and out club banger, entirely led by bleeps and breaks it has a frenetic pace and energy equal to any other piece of contemporary techno. It makes for a thrilling introduction to the LP. She Moans is a more considered piece and is wildly eclectic. The track is almost impossible to pin down as it veers between warped funk and jazzy experimentalism. Like all the best Dobie tracks, you never quite know in which direction the music will turn.
Elsewhere, the radical experimentalism of the albums best moments is disappointingly absent in the album’s middle section. Far too many of the tracks are slight and flimsy, neither funky enough nor with a strong enough hook to make a real impression. The ponderous, mournful piano and wistful strings of the downbeat Somewhere Over There are emblematic of We Will Not Harm You’s mid-period malaise.
Fortunately, things pick up towards the end on a closing section that illuminates the best aspects of Dobie’s rhythmic dexterity. Snap, Crackle & Pop is brilliantly invigorating, four minutes of deep and dark dubstep with a funky percussive break beat carrying you along breathlessly. Closing track She Wiggles When She Walks keeps up the high standard, this time engaging in a hazy fug of oblique electronic effects and synthesiser swoosh’s.
We Will Not Harm You certainly has more than enough quality to suggest Dobie is still a significant presence in UK bass music, but also it leaves you feeling slightly disappointed that it is not the triumph it perhaps should have been. It is not quite playful enough or quite inventive enough to truly excel, but it is a largely fine effort from a man who anyone with an interest in UK electronic music would surely find to be well worth investigating.