For this author, and the majority of devotees to electronic dance music (EDM), dubstep has often been defined as the “lost genre”. Critics have frequently commented that modern dubstep (2009-2011) is unrecognisable when compared to the “truer” incarnation half a decade ago – a fact attributed to its proliferation into the mainstream. Mainstream music tagged “dubstep” has none of the flair, experimentation or beauty that characterised the work of earlier underground producers. The term “dubstep”, used in current context, is meaningless, applied incorrectly to a variety of genres of EDM, including “electro-house”, “fidget” and “glitch”.

At its rawest level, dubstep fuses 2-step garage (a sub-genre of UK-garage) and dub. “True” dubstep tracks play around 140 bpm, with heavy emphasis on prominent bass, uneven drum-beats and ethereal vocal samples. The movement’s actual origins are hazy, but it is generally accepted that proto-dubstep was first produced around the turn of the millennium. Between 2002-2008, dubstep’s popularity exploded (insofar as underground scenes can), through promotion by DJ’s as pre-eminent as John Peel and Mary-Anne Hobbs and featuring in experimental music publications e.g. The Wire. These were the genre’s “golden years” – producers’ work was varied, intelligent and imaginative with dubstep’s critical viability at an all-time highs.

…dubstep, despite being labelled EDM, was never truthfully designed to be danced to.

The general aesthetic of “real dubstep” created during these years, is at its heart, “post-rave”. One should stress that, in this instance, “post-rave” does not mean “real dubstep”: it is intrinsically linked to rave music (though it was shaped by genres under that moniker), but instead that dubstep should be listened to in the wake of a rave. In fact, dubstep, despite being labelled EDM, was never truthfully designed to be danced to. Instead, significant dubstep labels (i.e. Hyperdub, Mu and Tempa et al) maintained a roster of artists whose visceral and beautiful output needed to be listened to with intent, in order to capture their full artistic worth.

The majority of current dubstep listeners are infatuated with producer worship (this toxin is killing dubstep just as it did trance music in the late 90s) and an obsession with the intangible “hardcore” aspects of the music. Artists like Nero, Rusko and Skrillex all produce music labelled as dubstep that in no way conforms to the genre blueprint. In addition, several credible dubstep producers (such as Skream and Benga), have begun to subscribe to the same musical trend. “Brostep”, as it is known, is characterised by the overuse of the LFO effect, creating the infamous “wub” sound – a staple of “brostep”. It is my contention that, due to this evolution, the genre tag has been misappropriated and for the non-dubstep listening public, personifies a “chav” or “bro” aesthetic.

…dubstep has become unrecognisable to the original fan-base.

In general, looking at the evolution of dubstep from a viewpoint of a critic is fascinating. However, from the viewpoint of a fan, it is heartbreaking. While it is important to stress that creativity did not fully perish between 2009-2011 (there are still a number of dubstep and “post-dubstep” releases that are worth perusing), the current mainstream output and public perception is such that dubstep has become unrecognisable to the original fan-base. What was once an exquisitely pragmatic and wonderful expression of the British urban experience has become a jaded product of homogeneity and marketing –in this critic’s honest opinion, modern mainstream dubstep is of minor worth within the canon of EDM and has little artistic merit.

Image courtesy of Dubstep Source and Nero

 

About The Author

I am a 21 year old university student currently studying history at Royal Holloway, University of London. My interests currently lie within journalism, and I have written several music reviews and opinion pieces for various sources. Musically, I feel my tastes are very eclectic. However, I have particular interest in electronic music, most specifically EDM.

One Response

  1. Billy

    You use the names Rusko, Nero, and Skrillex. I know them quite well, in some cases unfortunately. I do like a couple songs, I will admit. But I feel you are giving up too quickly on the beauty aspect of the genre. Monstercat Media, whose eigth album recently beat all but Bangarang on the Itunes Dance charts and became number one in Electronic in a few countries, exhibits artists ripe with talent in many EDM subgenres, including a lot of awesome dubstep. I can’t say I even know a thing about dubstep at its origin; I simply don’t. However, I would urge you to check out some of their artists, like Tristam for example. I once commented on his site that his music was what I wanted dubstep to be–aggresive and crazy, yet still beautiful. I realize you aren’t calling out every song out there calling itself dubstep. However, you seem pessimistic about the whole situation, and I believe it’s a little too soon for that, if not altogether unnecessary.
    Incidentally, if the genre out currently calling itself dubstep is that different from actual dubstep, what would you suggest it be called? I feel I may have to shoot myself in the face if I have to start telling people I listen to brostep. That’s definitely NOT what I’m hearing, whatever that word is and means. I listen to bass driven, creatively laced music that is different from anything I’ve heard before, save maybe Post Rock in some ways. Is that what it would be, as you had mentioned? Post-dubstep? Poststep is awkward as a title. Thoughts?

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