Inside the fascinating world of dubstep—the most compelling sub-genre to sweep modern music
The end of the world was nigh. In the waning days of the vibrant 1990s, a new millennium lay waiting. And in the South London club scene, several DJs were up to no good.
Pressing crowds of sweaty men and women were being aurally submerged in what would later be described as “tightly coiled productions with overwhelming bass lines and reverberant drum patterns.”
It came to be known as dubstep. Its emotional impact is akin to hearing an android’s death throes as it shuts down, obviating itself. It was infectious then and has become a contagion since.
What is dubstep? It’s a decade- plus old sub-genre that grew like fungus underneath the greater spread of electronica. Today, dubstep has become a force of change. Aside from impacting the dance party circuit, it’s shaping the art of the remix and even moving beyond its perceived boundaries.
An example of this is how an appreciation for dubstep, particularly its thudding bass and heavy percussion, has crossed over to audiences from the hardcore and heavy metal scenes. In a truly bizarre turn of events, kids are moshing to dubstep.
A dozen years since it first stirred in the close-knit underground, dubstep has its own poster boy and elder statesman—who’s only 24 years old. His name is Sonny Moore and he’s an American. Better known as the enigmatic and ubiquitous Skrillex, in another lifetime he fronted a screamo band but gave it all up to DJ.
Since 2007, he has been on the road playing basements and warehouses non- stop. Waifish, powder white, and raven- haired, Moore/Skrillex epitomizes the undeniable crossover spirit of dubstep. He’s also a paragon for the post-record- label music industry, with 99% of his music available for download and free streaming.
Like all true revolutionary movements, dubstep has its faithful zealots. They are the real gatekeepers, the vocal bloodhounds eager to defend the genre’s sanctity at the slightest hint of selling out or degrading the art form. They are an abrasive bunch who don’t hesitate to spit venom in various online fora, be it on Facebook or unsuspecting comment sections, with Skrillex being a collective pin cushion. Little wonder then, that dubstep’s ugly Americanized sibling brostep has more than its fair share of haters.
An awful pop history of dubstep would trace its Westward advance from London’s dingiest clubs to 12-inch vinyl LP markets to the decadence of Hollywood, where it inflamed mainstream music slowly but surely. Dubstep’s validation has come from artists as diverse (and predictable) as Britney Spears, Madonna, Katy Perry, Nicki Minaj (basically, the whole Interscope Records stable), and nu-metal has-beens Korn, who composed their late-2011 outing The Path To Totality around dubstep, recruiting ingenue Skrillex to help out.
Dubstep has broken out of music as well. Beginning this year, film trailers like the Disney box-office-bomb John Carter had bits of dubstep, as well as other cinematic offerings.
Because dubstep is now so widespread and rapidly diffusing in all directions, it’s a problematic task capturing the few essential artists/ albums of the genre. There are, however, a broad variety of selections that can aid the eager listener along the path to enlightenment.
Entry-level dubstep begins and ends with Skrillex, whose vast oeuvre leads to an almost bacterial spectrum of like-minded practitioners, who skirt the boundaries of electronica, pop, and even rock.
For best results, get an earful of French duo Justice, Akira Kiteshi, and the mysterious Daft Punk for a proper electronica dose. Then move on to Aphex Twin, Deadmaus, Kromestar, Noisia, Neal Landstruum, Venga, Mary-Anne Hobbs, Burial, and multiple compilations that have to be dug up from the Internet wasteland.
Dubstep may now be deemed mainstream, but it isn’t too late for a serious introductory dalliance. The irresistible mind-bending heaviness alone is worth the price of admission.
Print ed: 10/12