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One Sunday afternoon in 2009, Merissa Campbell, the artist better known as Cooly G, was hanging out with a friend when inspiration struck. "I said, 'Oi bruv I'm gonna make a banger right now I can feel it,'" she told fabric at the time. "He was like, 'Yeah man, I'm gonna kick back and watch.' So I did and 'Love Dub' came out like that, it's about a boy.”
Cooly G's debut, the 2008 Dub Organizer CD on Blackmarket Records, had caught the attention of Hyperdub's Kode9, who was looking for fresh sounds as dubstep became sonically more aggressive. "Narst" continued in the vein of Kode9's own dubstep and funky hybrid Black Sun / 2 Far Gone, but the seductive, bass-heavy House of "Love Dub" was something new.
Vinyl pressing problems delayed the release and anticipation grew. When Narst / Love Dub finally landed in June of 2009, it proved to be a breakout record. Both sides got hammered on the radio and were staples at parties like FWD and Cooly G's night, The Producer's House. Campbell went from being the girl standing by the bassbins at clubs in Brixton to playing up-and-down the UK and beyond.
There were a few tracks around at the time that would consistently make a room boot off after just one bar: Lil Silva "Seasons," Ms Dynamite's collaboration with Geeneus, "Wile Out," or Fis-T's "Nighthunter." "Narst" went as hard as any. The stop-what-you're-doing opening strings trigger memories of spinbacks and CD wallets. DJs would play "Narst" from the edge and the atmosphere instantly turned electric. It was heavy enough for the dubstep heads and the rhythms skipped enough to be funky. For a while, Rinse FM categorised the music Cooly G and Roska played as "funkstep," and there are passionate threads on Dubstepforum about whether "Narst" should actually be discussed in the funky or garage sub-forums. The description on the Hyperdub website simply calls it "an absolutely deadly funky house tune."
Though the more hard-hitting side of Cooly G's music was adopted by the dubstep and funky scenes, her most honest sound was always deeper, rooted in soulful house and R&B. The smooth, sultry warmth of her vocals on "Love Dub" was an early sign of Campbell's talent for songwriting and unique way of expressing herself. With "Love Dub," and the more percussive refix, she had her own thing going on, including an unmistakably female touch that set her apart. The likes of T. Williams, Brackles and Scratcha DVA came close when they worked with vocalists, but none did it like Cooly.
11 years on, the influence of Narst / Love Dub can be traced through UK dance music. Campbell was a key part of a transition which led to Kyle Hall releasing on Hyperdub and Martyn mixing Ben Klock with Zomby on fabric50. She was also one of the early references for the mutant sounds that became the hallmark of labels like Keysound or Night Slugs. In 2013, Campbell self-released a new version of "Narst" but, for me, it did most to show that the original was untouchable.
Last year there was a fire at a storage unit in Croydon that destroyed almost all of Cooly G's possessions. Kode9 set up a Go Fund Me page and raised £7,500 to help her get back on her feet. One of the numerous grateful comments from fans on the donation page shows how far the ripples of Narst / Love Dub spread: "you changed my life around creating music and playing funky as a woman of colour and the only girl playing 'Narst' in '09 in Canada for miles around. I wish my donation matched even in the slightest the contribution you have made to me musically. Thanks, Queen!"
02. Love Dub Refix
03. Love Dub