What is Dubstep?
Dubstep, like many genres of Electronic Dance Music, began in the underground circuits of the UK, evolving heavily in South London. Dubstep can be described as an EDM genre characterized with tightly wound musical compositions including powerful bass lines and drum loops taking qualities from Drum and Bass. Dubstep is known for heavy use of sampled vocals as well as glitched and re-sampled elements.
The Origins of Dubstep
The first releases in Dubstep were way back in 1998. They began more as a dark experiment of sorts where 2-step garage tracks were remixed in an attempt to fuse it with elements of breakbeat and drum and bass. It wasn’t until 2001 that a few samples of this music came to be played at a night club called Plastic People in London at what was known as “Forward” night. This initial showcasing is what gave Dubstep the push it needed. The actual use of the term Dubstep began in 2002 when the strains of music that actually separated the form from 2-step and grime were more discernible. This term was made popular by the likes of labels such as Big Apple, Amunition and also Tempa.
DJ John Peel of BBC Radio 1 was one of the first public supporters of the form of music and began playing it on air in 2003. His last show aired in the following year and in a poll conducted on his listeners Distance, Digital Mystikz and Plastician (earlier Plasticman) found their way into the top 50 of the year.
By 2006, Dubstep came into the local, small time music scene as well. It got a boost when websites dedicated completely to the form came up online. Sites such as dubstepforum were popular. Another famous one was the download site Barefiles. Gutterbreakz was a blog dedicated to this form of music. It was at this time that the form got a great deal of publicity in the print world and found mention in magazines and several other publications. In January of 2006, DJ Mary Anne Hobbs of BBC Radio 1 began airing “Dubstep Warz” a show dedicated to the genre.
Characteristics of Dubstep Music
Dubstep, like most genres, can come in many forms implementing a variety of elements usually seen in other genres. Some of the more standard and common elements in Dubstep track structure is a tempo around 135 BPM – 150 bpm (typically 140 BPM), a half-time drum pattern, and a prominent sub-bass. These three qualities are represented in the clip below:
The sounds of Dubstep evolved from the experiments of UK Garage producers to create unique sounds. The rhythm of a typical Dubstep song is syncopated. You will find that it is sometimes shuffled and includes rhythms dividing the beat into subdivisions, or tuplets. Dubstep’s most dominant trait is it’s tempo which typically ranges from 135-150 BPM. A clap or a snare is commonly introduced in every third beat, building a half-time rhythm. When Dubstep first made an entry on the music scene it was largely percussion based and was primarily influenced by 2-step drum patterns, with several producers also experimenting with tribal drum samples.
Sub-bass and Manipulated Basslines known as the “Wobble Bass”
One of the common qualities featured in Dubstep track structure is a prominent sub-bass as demonstrated in the clip above. In addition, many Dubstep producers oscillate basslines, usually referred to or recognized as the “wobble bass“. This is an extended bass note that is manipulated on the rhythm. A low frequency oscillator is used to work with the parameters of a synthesizer as far as elements such as volume, distortion and even filter cut off is concerned. What you get in the end is the timbre that has a number of variations in volume, distortion and filter cut off. This particular feature makes Dubstep quite popular in clubs. While earlier producers used synthesizers and other hardware to oscillate parameters, most producers today use Virtual Instruments (VST’s).
Dubstep Evolving into the Global Scene
Dubstep began to influence the commercial and popular forms of music as early as 2007. Listening to mainstream artists in 2007, such as Britney Spears, you may hear elements of Dubstep. In Spear’s track “Freakshow” produced by Bloodshy & Avant and The Clutch you will hear the use of wobble basslines. It was in 2009 that Dubstep got unprecedented international recognition when other genres began incorporating Dubstep qualities and vice-versa. At the beginning of 2009, UK electronic duo La Roux used it in “In for the Kill”, a single which went on to be remixed by Skream. Nero then went on to remix another song of theirs “I’m Not Your Toy” and Zinc worked on “Bulletproof.” Just about then, Silkie, producer in London released the album City Limits Vol. 1 which made use of several 70s funk and soul points of reference. This was a completely different take on the familiar sounds of dub and UK garage. One of the main reasons Dubstep found so many takers is because of the publicity it managed to garner on social and video networking sites. Several mainstream magazines began publishing articles on Dubstep, some of the notable ones being Interview, New York, and The Wire. The Wire did a feature on Kode9 which found its way to the May 2009 cover. In December of 2009, XLR8R featured Joker on its cover. By the end of the year, Dubstep was the buzzword in The New York Times, XLR8R, NME and The Sunday Times, all which carried reviews on the EDM genre.
Dubstep Merges into Mainstream Genres
A short while later Dubstep saw several collaborations with leading RnB and hip-hop names such as Rihanna, Hank Shocklee and Snoop Dogg. Work was done alongside dubstep producers Chase & Status. They provided the voices for the ‘underground anthem’ “Eastern Jam”. In fact, just last year in 2011 Britney Spears’s song “Hold It Against Me” was one of the main reasons that dubstep tropes began to get appreciated by mainstream commercial music lovers. Rihanna’s Rated R album had three songs in its which had very clear Dubstep influences in them. Several Dubstep tracks saw hip-hop artists of the likes of Xzibit lend their voices to the instrumentals. This gave rise to songs such as Mr Grustle & Tha Russian Dubstep LA Embrace The Renaissance Vol. 1 Mixed by Plastician.
In 2010 Dubstep begain to find its way onto popular charts with songs like “I Need Air” by Magnetic Man, which reached the #10 slot on the UK singles chart. This brought about a complete change in the popularity rating of mainstream Dubstep. “Katy On a Mission” by Katy B then made debut on the #5 in the UK singles chart and managed to remain in the spot for five weeks in a row. Chase & Status’s released their second album in Feb 2011, No More Idols. This managed to hit the No.2 slot on the UK album chart.
What is Post-Dubstep?
“Post-Dubstep” is simply a term coined to categorize all of the sub-genres of Dubstep that emerged bringing a more aggressive feel and qualities of many more popular genres. As with every form of music, this evolution brought both loyal fans to the genre as well as great sentiment from traditional fans. The number of styles that are now tying themselves to Dubstep prevent it from being categorized into a specific music genre, though you will find several producers whose sound is still built on traditional Dubstep qualities. These artists incorporate references to the original Dubstep creations of UK Garage and 2-step as well as other traditional EDM subgenres.
Rusko speaking on Brostep
What is Brostep?
“Brostep” is a term that emerged to describe the hardcore Dubstep production that is popular today in the US that sounds more “robotic” than earlier styles. These tracks are known for bringing in the use of heavily distorted basslines and “filthy” drops that can “melt your face.” Given both admiration and sentiment for bringing this style to the limelight is EDM’s most-buzzing producer, Skrillex. He is now one of the most happening figures in the realm of electronic dance music. The popular publication Spin Magazine made reference to Brostep as being lurch-like and aggressive. It is not hard to argue that these qualities brought commercial success to Dubstep in the US since you will find a large majority of the EDM audience in the US favors these traits. Brostep places a great deal of emphasis on sub-bass notes with special accent placed on the middle register, distorted bass riffs, and a number of “robotic fluctuations” of synths giving the genre more of a Metal sound. As Brostep began to gain more popularity and began to be played at larger venues, it produced a lot of flame wars online since it was replacing the sound original Dubstep.
Many of today’s most successful Dubstep producers including 12th Planet, Bassnectar, Excision, and Datsik get associated with “Brostep” but regardless of what term is coined to a genre, the producers that are passionate about their music and can express this passion through their works to the masses will continue to excel.
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