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