It comes in wobbles. Blaring out of crowded, alcohol soaked basements, muffled through the windows of the “modded”-yet-crappier-than-new Honda Civic owned by the guy with the sideways hat and furry coat. Legions of dedicated fans jam-pack venues. They’re there for the “drops…man.” “Dubstep” can’t be avoided, but it can be explained.
I put the words “Dubstep” in quotes for a reason; for the most part, there are two significantly different genres of music with the name, so, to avoid confusion, the music of Skrillex, Bassnectar, and countless…ahem…remixes on Youtube, shall be henceforth referred to as “Dubstep”. You know the music I’m referring to, right? Characterized most noticeably by the “Wobble” bass, standard fare electronic drums, mixed heavy, and whatever lead synth Logic comes standard with. If you’re still not sure what genre I’m referring to, go ask a high schooler what he likes to listen to while he plays Halo.
Naturally, one can assume that “Dubstep” has been derived from Dubstep. It did, but I am not going to pretend that the origins were comprised of wise elders who forged the one true genre with love and care. But it was/is considerably better music on a dependable basis. I don’t mean “Original dubstep was better” in any old-man-looking-nostalgically-to-the-past-when-milk-cost-only-a-nickel-and-ed-sullivan-was-on-the-talkytube-every-day kind of way. I mean that it had substance, and a purpose, and gave the artists much more freedom in their expression, rather than catering to such a specific audience who demands only one thing. More wobble.
At it’s roots, Dubstep stemmed from the UK drum-and-bass scene. Much of the music was introspective. Murkiness was used as a deliberate alternative to clarity. Often called “grimy” sounding, it seemed to be an outlet for how it feels to live deep in an urban setting, somewhere tour groups never go. I still can’t listen to Burial without feeling like I have to run off and go have a secret meeting in a sewer somewhere. As a music listener, I feel like that shadowy, shady, feeling is a statement about the human condition, and is really what defined the genre to start with. It’s feelings like that, that are vacant in the music of Skrillex and Co., and the only thing grimy about it is the sweaty kid dancing violently next you at the show. This is why I refer to Dubstep and “Dubstep” separately.
At this point, I would like to free myself of accusations of being a Dubstep “purist”. I do not think the genre is dead, and, like all musical genres, it can be either nicely augmented, or just outright improved. Though Dubstep’s timeline is rather condensed (most people place its origins at ’99 or ’00, and how long have you heard it at parties, for about a year or two at most?) there are new faces with pure intentions and excellent music. The college-radio champion of last spring comes to mind. James Blake, who’s been described as Post-Dubstep, but I suspect that’s mostly because of the widespreadedness that is “Dubstep”. He has a nice quote about his genre.
“I think the dubstep that has come over to the US, and certain producers– who I can’t even be bothered naming– have definitely hit upon a sort of frat-boy market where there’s this macho-ism being reflected in the sounds and the way the music makes you feel. And to me, that is a million miles away from where dubstep started. It’s a million miles away from the ethos of it. It’s been influenced so much by electro and rave, into who can make the dirtiest, filthiest bass sound, almost like a pissing competition, and that’s not really necessary. And I just think that largely that is not going to appeal to women. I find that whole side of things to be pretty frustrating, because that is a direct misrepresentation of the sound as far as I’m concerned.” (Via Pitchfork)
Can you blame the guy?
So why does “Dubstep” exist? In some ways, I would say the core has been around since electronic music started. Just like at every party, there’s “that one guy”, there seems to be “that one sub-genre” in electronic music. It’s cheap, easy, and somehow it’s a crowd pleaser. In the 80’s, there were those cheesy-ass synths that were all over and still resonate in today’s supermarkets. In the 90’s and early 2000’s we had “Techno”. You know…Techno.You remember it. Watch in amazement as the text “I’m Blue babba dee babba dy” gains a melody in your head when you read it. I’m sure you can recall the Numa Numa guy, that guy, and that song from “That one sub-genre”, the one that everyone seemed to like for its cheesiness, but the people who were really into it were kinda weird. Well, it seems as Dubstep was the new heir to the throne. It makes sense as “Dubstep” is remarkably easy to produce, as the entire genre is described by a single sound. Press a key for the pitch, turn a knob for the “wub”. Don’t have a melody? Just use a song that everyone likes, call it a remix. “Dubstep” is the Easy Bake Oven of electronic music.
I’m not here just to tell you that “Dubstep” is shitty and you shouldn’t listen to it. But it is, and you shouldn’t. The good news is, if you’re tired of it, just wait a bit, there will be something equally as annoying to replace it.
by marc schroeder
*Input/Output can assure listeners that no “Dubstep” will EVER be blasted through the airwaves. So, tune in every Friday night from midnight to 2 a.m. for some real music and no wobble.