It was the first night of Founders where it all began: Twenty-plus guys crammed into one room awkwardly sipping their beers, scrabbling for any common ground with the guy next to him. After the classic “where you from?”, “what you studying?” and blurting out various anecdotes from your holiday away with the lads; the subject inevitably turns to music and in particular what was blasting out of the nearby subwoofer. As a Dubstep newbie at the time, I successfully blagged that the tune playing (Jakwob’s remix of Ellie Goulding’s Starry-Eyed) was one I was familiar with and liked.
Dubstep, in all its forms quickly became the soundtrack of a year of infamous corridor parties and subsequently some of the worst hangovers of my life. Though my loathing for this music endured, admittedly to a lesser extent; its very persistence motivated me to finally give this seemingly repetitive, unimaginative and rather two-dimensional subgenre a chance. With a little help from resident SU DJ and overall Dubstep bore ‘TIKI DUBSTEP’ (aka Callum Chaplin), I set about questioning what I saw as Dubstep, and what quickly became evident is these seemingly characterless wubs wubs have as much heritage as any other genre, and what’s more; a vicious battle rages to defend it!
“It was a playground,” explains Mala, one part of pioneers Digital Mystiks and founder of SYSTEM nights when describing the music scene of South London in the late 1990s. Reminiscing of a time when he and his gang (Skream, Benga, Youngsta to name a few) experimented to the packed-out back rooms of Croydon and Brixton, accompanied by huge sound-systems and liberal Ketamine-infused Garage and D&B fans. For Mala and his mates, early Dubstep, mentioning the likes of Burial and Zomby, spoke of “liberation embedded in our concrete, our estates, our culture”, and that’s where it should remain!
It’s this musical embodiment of London’s bleak urban landscape and heritage that fuels the transatlantic battle of British Dubstep’s roots versus the US’s ‘Brostep’ interpretation. Described by Brit post-dubstep artist James Blake, as a “pissing competition” all about “who can make the dirtiest, filthiest bass sound”, Skrillex and friends’ evolution of the blurry nights of Croydon’s finest, offers something which is so remote, so altered; the sheer association with the likes of Digital Mystiks and Vex’d is unforgivable.
So, I largely stand corrected in one respect; Dubstep is more diverse and three-dimensional than I may have thought, and though a Skrillephobe, there are dozens of other less repetitive, more roots inspired branches of Dubstep to enjoy. For me, James Blake’s melodic post-dubstep style is what you want!