Nobody likes to be confronted with the truth when they’ve so gladly been part of a collective denial. So let’s just consider this group therapy, and say exactly what’s on our minds: We hate Dubstep because we liked it first, and its now elevated place within the mainstream has lead us to create an Elitist Internet Hive Mind. One that lives in a parallel dimension of the media world, a place where Dubstep is still in its birth place (a dirty, dark and lonely London basement) and where Skrillex was just a twinkle in Sonny John Moore’s eye…
However, let’s just stop heckling for a brief second: 2011 was crowned The Year Of The Wobble by pretty much everyone with an opinion. And that’s for a pretty good reason. Dubstep is awesome, everybody knows that. Except that nobody knew two years ago. In this short period of time, it seems the dark and dirty experimental broken beats on dub samples - that were once charecteristic of this genre - have gotten lost somewhere in the muddle of time between Benny Ill’s first steps towards conceiving the genre and Skrillex’ packing venues with this sold-out mental rave shows.
The History Of Dubstep
We could dwell very long on the history of Dubstep, but let’s cut it short: it appeared in London about ten to twelve years ago. Technically, it was an evolution from 2-Step and influenced by London’s heavy bass music scene. Grime and Garage are the parents of this insatiable monster. Dubstep is an organic evolutionary piece of a thriving electronic music scene, and an interesting one at that. Heavy sub-bass, the signature “wobble”, the breaks, the samples and mostly the dark and haunting atmosphere seperated Dubstep from the rest of the experimental strands. Like all experimental progressions, Dubstep was made by rowdy teenagers who were trying to distance themselves from the commercial Garage sound that was now being used all over pop productions. Many things happened up until 2005 - Skream and Benga appeared, Hyperdub Records was created, Rinse FM and BBC1 started interviewing responsible producers and playing new Dubstep records. All of this happened within the realm of the UK. Yes, some techno DJs started using Dubstep to ease up their sets in Germany. Americans took Dubstep over to the states and threw excessive and eccentric bass parties. These were the golden Dubstep times: it was already evolved to a point where many people could enjoy the genre, but it had not yet reached a state of ubiquity - it still wasn’t commercially successful.
When Burial dropped his second album “Untrue” in 2007, the earth stood still for a moment. Many people probably asked themselves: WHAT THE FUCK IS THIS? Burial had created a more cleaner, softer, mysterious and atmospheric version of Dubstep. Vocalized samples in combination with a fresh beat and dark, painful harmonies made Burials album as avantgarde to Dubstep as Dubstep was to electronic music. Needless to say, Untrue paved a new line of Dubstep. One that could care less about dramatic drops and crazy-as-fuck basslines and wobbles: Burial’s dubstep, although technically still Dubstep, was a reduced and refined version that no longer made it essential to put the bass in its center. In fact, this variation of Dubstep was not even very friendly to the club. But it was very, very friendly to all those indie media heads who would soon become the greatest fans of The xx and James Blake.
Unfortunately for Burial, his new take on things also kind of destroyed his personal agenda. In a Hyperdub interview, he said something along the lines of “Sometimes you just want music to stay where it is from”. Man, he must have hated 2011.
Coming of Age
Of course, all of this did not matter to pop music (yet). In the real world, where people still listen to the radio for fresh music, nobody had heard of Dubstep, unless they had once ended up in some shady club in a big city. Like everything else that was ruined by the clever marketing strategies of our century, Dubstep had to be given the seal of approval from the American music industry in order to officially become a global success. Surprisingly, this was an easy achievement. Why? Because trashy European house music had already become “a thing” overseas. Remember Tiesto and David Guetta and even Rihanna’s weird sampling of that Numa Numa song (seriously, THE NUMA NUMA SONG)? Most of these sounds were stolen from The Mighty Europe and re-worked into pop music. Even though this innovation ultimately, commercially derived, without introducing ideas such as; RAVE CULTURE!,House Music!, Partying!, MDMA!, Electronic music as core pop element! DUBSTEP! wouldn’t of been embraced by the American market.
On the other hand, Burial was still there, influencing a whole new lifeline of things - Jamie XX, most of todays Hip Hop frameworkers (say Lunice, or Flying Lotus) and undoubtedly James Blake. But we also shall not forget people like Caspa, Skream and Benga who were pushing a just as energetically characterized variation of Dubstep. That was the beauty of it: there was two sides to Dubstep. On one hand you could play Dubstep loud and masterful in the club, with a bass line so deep and heavy you would shit yourself right then and there. From pure happiness. And then on the other hand there was this Indie Pitchfork kind of sound that was revolutionary, softer, more melodically-aware and unmistakably pretty. Both of these things were super cool in their own ways.
Wait, so what happened in 2011?
American kids were finally having their taste of the bittersweet freedom of the rave, executives, major labels and producers were loving their cash rewards. Influenced by all of those sounds from overseas, Sonny Joe Moore became Skrillex and started experimenting with crazy Dubstep sounds. Needless to say, everyone loved him for it. His colleague Deadmau5, who is still more of a house and techno than dubstep producer, started using break beats. So did Jay Z and Kanye, and Britney Spears. Whatever happened in 2011, Dubstep had already been at its highest point and was now being torn apart by commercially produced pop music. It had finally become what Garage had 10 or so years ago. This would normally be enough mass-endorsement for a genre. Only this time, thanks to the Internet and many people who jumped on without thinking, it quickly became a global phenomena. While this may sound slightly bad and bitter, where there’s shade there is light. In fact, this was a much-needed development, one that proved that there’s still hope for future massive musical changes. And more importantly, it gave us slight relief from all of that vintage,indie, kitsch shit. Without different interpretations of a genre we’d get bored. Sometimes, it doesn’t matter if something is shit, at least it’s just something different. I hated Skrillex until I saw him play live. I still didn’t enjoy his music, but it did make for a good expressionist dancing show on my behalf. I saw those people, those grungy looking, heavy metal type of people, who were dancing their asses off to his songs, being happy as fuck. If dance music with an interesting twist is what you were looking for, then you didn’t need to read sophisticated reviews on IDM music to enjoy it. Just being there and dancing to it did the trick.
Actually, come to think of it, everything we call “post-dubstep” has much less to do with the original sources of Dubstep than with the “Brostep” of Skrillex and Deadmau5 and others. SBTRKT basically takes on where Artful Dodger left off (using 2-Step beats with clean vocals), Jacques Green is directly in line to Burial and maybe even Mala. Mainstream wise, between Dubstep and Mainstream, there’s probably only one more element to be included: The xx. Those London kids who managed to spread a sound - not a genre, a sound - all over the planet, they had zero to do with Dubstep, and everything with it.
Many people are pissed nowadays. Venues are filled with people who don’t “get” what Dubstep is. They complain about the popularity of the “big things” saying ‘others’ deserve the credit. Funny thing is, those are probably the same people who think Dubstep is something that Burial came up with in 2006. But listen carefully to Skream, Benga, Caspa and Mt. Eden, who most would consider pioneers of a very certain dubstep spawn: it’s not much different, if you ask me.
With this all being said, it’s probably redundant now to argue about what ‘Real Dubstep’ is and what it has become. That would be like arguing over whether Michael Jackson was “realer” or “better” than Bob Dylan. Dubstep, like Grime or Garage, has given birth to even more children who we’ve seen grow up in 2010 and 2011. And even though I started off sounding like a ‘it-was-better-in-my-day’ curmudgeon. I can’t exactly say I’m excited about 2012. Seeing all those classic London sounds become further infused into American pop music, Hip Hop becoming more flexible and electronic, from Based Rap to Dubstep. It seems there are no boundaries for 2012 when it comes to new, fresh and innovative, ( sometimes) self-produced music. There’ll be new undergrounds to discover and new mainstream trends to hate. But that’s the way it goes, and man we love it.
By Yeah Sara