Dear Radio UTD Blog readers,
A few months ago I had an idea for a weekly feature that became “Maria’s Mixest.” Unfortunately, the idea was much better than the execution. I had a hard time finding songs to explore and write about and the format of the column was pretty monotonous and self-limiting. I’ve decided to abandon the column and instead provide you with a weekly history lesson.
In Hold On to Your Genre, I’ll pick a different style of music each week, explore its history and influence today, and give you a short mixtape of works important to the category. I’ve decided to start off with dubstep because what the hell is it? It’s everywhere. It was in an episode of South Park, thus it has clearly invaded America’s cultural zeitgeist. In this particular episode, a character receives a CD of “tweenwave” that is supposed to sound like contemporary dubstep. What exactly is this genre and how did it come to have this degrading association with “tweens?”
The origins of dubstep can be traced back to the London electronic dance music scene of the late 1990s. Around 1998, dub remixes of 2-step garage tracks attempting to add funk and elements of drum n’ bass started appearing as B-sides of various singles. This music found its audience when it began to be featured at the London club Plastic People on its “Forward” night. It wasn’t until 2002, however, that dubstep started to separate itself from grime and 2-step and thus earned its moniker.
Generally speaking, there is only one element that links all dubstep artists: bass. The most recognizable kind is the wobble bass that people like to mimic when describing what dubstep sounds like. Besides that dubstep tracks are usually instrumental, dark, feature a minor key and dissonant harmonies. In more recent years, samples from various genres of music have pervaded dubstep and led to the incorporation of vocals.
It seems to me that there are two prime reasons dubstep is so hard to classify and recognize. Firstly, the British producers who started dubstep were creating wholly separate music from the American dubstep that most have in mind when thinking of the genre. This subset of dubstep is what has come to be associated with “tweens.” Secondly, in just the past decade this field of music has seen quite a few evolutions. Let’s explore how these led to contemporary dubstep.
Just a few years ago, dubstep evolved from a dark, moody, minimalist reaction to garage music (think Burial) to disorientated, frantic tracks stuffed with all the vocal and keyboard samples you could imagine (think Rusko, Skream, Skrillex). This new and more exciting dance music became a hit with American audiences, particularly teens that were raised on pop radio. All of a sudden, dubstep producers were working with major American artists like Britney Spears and Rihanna. The sound was near impossible to escape.
Currently, dubstep artists are selling out major amphitheaters all across America. It experienced one of the fastest growing movements in music history; dubstep was virtually unheard of even just a short few years ago. With such a widespread and overexposed rise, a backlash is inevitable. Critics have proposed new names for the American incarnation of dubstep, ranging from the mild “post-dubstep” to the completely degrading “brostep.”
The success of the genre in this country is still limited to the Internet. It hasn’t pervaded the radio yet but it is the logical next step. I’d be surprised if dubstep or post-dubstep or brostep or whatever didn’t take over the top 40 charts soon.
I attempted to put together a little mixtape to give you an idea of what dubstep actually sounds like, and in the process I found one that is much better than anything I could ever put together. If you are at all interested, I encourage you to check out this 25-song dubstep chronology.