Zed Bias (a.k.a. Dave Jones) has been a figure of almost cult significance in the U.K. dance scene for over a decade. That’s many times the career span of the dubstep artists who are currently crowding him off playlists and who, as Jones’s fans will gladly tell you, can trace much of their sonic DNA to the producer’s own experiments in progressive garage. His 2000 breakthrough, “Neighbourhood,” turned out to be a fluke, but Jones never looked back. Instead he familiarized himself with the new mutations that garage was undergoing, remixing for the Streets when the genre was having its biggest impact on hip-hop, and doing some important mid-decade work that guided 2-step in the direction of dubstep. That Jones is one of the most intelligent DJs to lend his skills to the scene isn’t a question. For specialists, his Biasonic Hotsauce: Birth of the Nanocloud will be an essential listen, but Jones’s considerable ingenuity doesn’t translate into a distinctive musical sensibility, which means that most listeners will hear his album only as an above-average DJ mix.
Biasonic Hotsauce peaks far too early, when Jones throws down his cover of Soul II Soul’s “Fairplay” and a rework of his own “Neighbourhood” just as the album is reaching its midway point. The former is a giddy triumph and the latter has aged well enough, but they’re both pop songs in a way that little else on the album even tries to be. But as our host goes on to demonstrate his mastery of Funky, dubstep, and dancehall, he makes it clear he’s more interested in drawing a Venn diagram of U.K. dance culture than of setting himself down in any one quadrant and running with it. The musical magpie approach has its limitations though, and the difference between eclecticism and dilettantism is the extent to which the musician develops a distinctive interpretation of the genres he’s skipping through. By that measure, even the menacing “Sinner” and the jazzy “Lucid Dreams” lack the personality to be anyone’s favorite song, even for a day or two. If you make it to “Salsa Funk,” the obligatory third-quarter trance epic, you’re probably feeling the groove—though six minutes of castanet-driven literalism might be enough to knock you out of it.