What is dubstep?

What is dubstep?

Inspired, in part, by a recent conversation with Stigma and by the fact I’ve not sat down and done something like this in a while; I recently started thinking about a topic I could sit down and write a proper article about.

When Steph (AKA GoComplex) from Core Magazine got in touch and asked me to write something along the following lines:

How the bass music scene has got to where it is, your opinion on it (strengths/ weaknesses), your favourite moments/ tracks/ gigs of the last couple of years, where you think it is going, and artists you think readers should look out for in the future

I decided to kill two birds with one stone – and, as the saying goes; ‘write what you know’.

This is not intended to be a definitive critique of dubstep, as that’s pretty bloody difficult to do in 1,300 words. But it’s enough to get the conversation going…

[Out to POP Confessional for some (un)imaginative marketing]

What is dubstep?

Not the horrible screechy Skrilllex-esque electro rubbish. I’m talking about real dubstep. Chest-rattling dubstep with a sub so deep it’ll knock the spirit bottles off a venue’s bar.

Sound built for proper systems – not for laptop speakers.

In the two and a bit years I’ve been running FatKidOnFire – I’ve supported that sound; featuring over 120 artists with mixes, free downloads and more (all of which you can find on the SoundCloud or Mixcloud accounts).

In the beginning, the blog was a hobby to support a ‘scene’ I’d discovered in the clubs around London during my three years at uni. I’d go to gigs, talk to DJs, put in the work on Twitter and post the tunes I was feeling on the FKOF Facebook page. After a while, I started interviewing the DJs and producers I felt were of interest or making decent tunes (not necessarily ‘popular’ tunes; just ones I was feeling).

Things haven’t really changed since I started the blog.

The internet, amusingly blamed for the downfall of the music industry, has enabled anyone who knows their way around a DAW to share their music with the world – for a price or for free. Which allows people like me to find them and share their sounds with an aware and engaged global audience.

What once used to require a record label’s deep pockets and marketing teams to promote the legs off a release (to facilitate the inevitable touring schedule), can be done from your bedroom in your spare time. Maybe not necessarily to the same scale, but the end result is the same.

When Lara (founder and editor of MakeItGood) and I first started our collaborative dubstep feature series, there weren’t many other blogs who’s sole remit was to support the 140bpm system sound. Since then, there’s now a fantastic selection of digital publications (hat tip to Bassweight SocietyTrusikSTFOHedmuk45hz and the rest of you guys) feeding a growing audience’s appetite for the deep and minimal sounds.

From the publicity and support points of view, the scene has never been stronger. But when it comes to innovation and the evolution of the sound, the outlook hasn’t been quite as promising.

In my opinion, we’ve been in a little bit of a rut (maybe not quite as bad as that, but we’ll get to it).

There’s been a good few months where the deep and dark producers have been making all too similar ‘foundation’ or ‘dungeon’ sounds. I’m all for emulating the great producers carving their own niche (Kryptic Minds being the most prominent example) – but there’s only so much you can do with a few drum layers, a sample or two and a bit of bass before you start sounding like the next man.

We had an intriguing (and somewhat inflammatory) discussion recently on FKOF, about the state of the music industry. I won’t regurgitate what was said for brevity’s sake – but I’d recommend reading the thread (firstsecond and third posts).

Oh yeah, while we’re at it… The whole “is brostep dubstep” argument.

Those producers have come and brought ‘dubstep’ to the mainstream – but the purists would argue (and I tend to agree with them) that the sounds you’ll hear on daytime radio are so far removed from the dubstep you’ll find being played out at FWD>>, DMZ or System (or similar events) that it’s pretty much a different genre.

But, in the same way that nu-metal introduced me to Slayer during my formative years, you could argue that brostep/ electrostep/ skrillstep/ tearout – whatever you want to call it – is the gateway drug to the ‘real’ dubstep sound.

And to be honest, who really gives a shit?

And then there’s the post-dubstep/ future garage/ bass music movement. With some saying the ‘traditional’ 140bpm sound is stagnating, many of the brilliant dubstep producers have started shifting their gaze.

Gone are the days when you could stick to just one genre for your career. These days, many producers are cutting their teeth on dubstep; getting a following and then expanding their repertoires. Case in point – Kryptic Minds.

Having started out producing DnB, Si and Leon Switch joined original don Loefah’s Swamp 81 imprint and released its first dubstep LP, ‘One of Us’, back in 2009. After dropping their second LP, the seminal ‘Can’t Sleep’ on Black Box in 2011, the KM duo have just released their first (superb) techno track entitled ‘Breach’ on their own Osiris Music (arguably one of dubstep’s finest labels).

This is just one example. Killwatt’s techno/ dubstep crossover ‘PsycHostage’ from earlier this year is another good one. There are more techno/ house/ garage tracks in the works from a whole host of dubstep producers I’ve been talking to.

But all is not lost.

There are producers and labels out there, making and supporting new, exciting and innovative sounds.

In terms of artists – everyone should be following Kaiju with baited breath. Their sell-out debut on Osiris saw the bar, raised it and then blew it away. Icicle’s ability to take both the dubstep and DnB worlds by storm is testament to his production skills. You’d be hard pushed to call yourself a dubstep fan if you haven’t been following New Zealand’s Perverse rise to stardom. Thelem and Killwatt are two scene staples who‘s tunes are guaranteed to get any dance getting more than a little rowdy. Mosaix, Biome, Core, Amit, Content, J:Kenzo, Ipman, Gantz – to name but a few – are all worthy (and deserving) of your attention. But there are many, many more. Too many to list! If you’d like any further recommendations, hit me up on Twitter or Facebook and I’ll do my best to accommodate any requests.

Although it has been said that the label side of the dubstep genre is over-saturated, I believe it’s never been better. There are a whole host of new (and brilliant) labels – of both digital and physical varieties.

For digital, you’d do well to check out Bacon DubsDank n Dirty DubzVulcan Audio, and the superb labels Innamind Recordings, Tribe12 and Dubstrict (who are in the process of moving into physical releases).

Physical labels need no introduction. J:Kenzo and Mosaix’s Artikal Music, (the frequently-quoted) Osiris, TempaBlack Box (and its subsidiaries) – they’re good enough to get you started. As above, if you want any further recommendations get in touch.

What else? Two final pointers.

Gigs have gotten a little busy over the past few months – with the same DJs playing the same events seemingly repeatedly. I’ve done my best to cherry-pick the best of the upcoming gigs from around the world. I know there’ll be others but these, in my opinion, are a selection of the un-missable.

If you’re in the UK, come to the next System. There have been nothing but positives said about VIVEK and Mala’s latest venture in London. Hear dubstep as it was built to be heard.

For Europe, check out the Dubstep Bastards, based in Gothenburg. One of the best, most intimate venues I’ve had the pleasure of visiting – with some of dubstep’s best producers in attendance all run by a collective of talented DJs, producers and more.

Finally, you’ll not go wrong with New York’s Reconstrvct later this month if you’re in the US. Coki, VIVEK, Joe Nice, Jay 5-ive and more!

An integral part of any DJ or producer, you’ve got three options if you’re a dubstep fan. RoodFM for the best of the up-and-comers, SUB.FM for a mixture of up-and-comers and more established artists and Rinse FM for everything else. If you listen to the dubstep shows on any of those stations you’ll have you bases covered.

It’s been a long few years coming, but it’s safe to say the future for the genre has never looked brighter. I’m privileged enough to be front row, watching it play out.

This is dubstep. Long live dubstep.

[email protected]