wed 29/11/2023

Dubstep: what lies beyond? | reviews, news & interviews

Dubstep: what lies beyond?

Dubstep: what lies beyond?

How do you go beyond a genre without boundaries?

Dubstep is everywhere – and if you will excuse a little self-promotion I have, in my small way, helped this state of affairs come about. The bass-heavy, rhythmically exploratory and very British electronic dance music genre has now – via Magnetic Man and Katy B – proved it can produce bona fide top-10 hits, and it has become the de facto sound of every summer festival to boot, while still keeping both feet in the underground clubs from whence it emerged.

Watch the video of "Katy on a Mission" by Katy B:

Regular readers of theartsdesk will know that I have written extensively about the sound's cultural and artistic significance (here, here, here and here, for example); I have also covered it month-in month-out for some years in Mixmag and Wire magazines, and this week sees the release of a compilation that I curated on the huge Ministry of Sound label entitled Adventures in Dubstep and Beyond... Which, of course, begs the question: what is beyond dubstep?

Plastic_PeopleIt's an oddly problematic question. Dubstep has a couple of peculiarities which make defining it, let alone predicting where it is going, difficult. Firstly, it is in the odd position of being a new sensation roughly a decade into its existence: the sound itself emerged in the south London suburb of Croydon some time around the turn of the millenium and the term “dubstep” was first used in 2003. Since then it has evolved and spread first slowly then exponentially, to the point now where a commercial dance label like Ministry simply cannot ignore it, and nor can radio programmers.

Until 2005, it was all but invisible, its fans and practitioners part of a hermetic underground of possibly only a few hundred people worldwide, then it burst onto the international stage, infiltrating first other underground scenes, then the wider world of youth culture, and finally in the last year or so the absolute heart of the mainstream. At every stage, naysayers predicted its demise or stagnation, but it has proved that its resilience and flexibility make it nothing if not unpredictable.

Second is its fecundity and its intrinsic hybrid nature. It is, as its 24-year-old figurehead and member of Magnetic Man Ollie Jones aka Skream (pictured below) says, “mongrel music”. From the very outset, it pilfered from all other club genres, and as it began to spread it then reached into and hybridised again with those genres, to the point where now across house, techno, drum and bass, trance and all the more 'traditional' club sounds, it's increasingly hard to find something that doesn't bear its sticky fingerprints, while dubstep itself no longer appears tethered to a particular tempo or rhythm, just a loose set of sonic signatures.

skreamSo dubstep's borders are diffuse and permeable. But on my compilation, I have tried to demonstrate how many different sounds orbit the strange attractor of dubstep's distinctive basslines: on it there is blissed-out house music, but also furious grime MCing from London's estates, drifting tracks with thickly layered psychedelic detail, but also gung-ho, rough-and-ready rave tunes. Both of the tracks in the YouTube clips below, for example, feature on the album. Yet the progression of the tracks works to show how all are connected, even though any given two may appear to share almost no similar qualities. And what is “dubstep” and what is “beyond” its ruleset is as yet undetermined, and may become clear only in retrospect. Apologies if this seems a cop out, but in fact it is precisely this indeterminacy which makes the possibilities so thrilling. The sound's future is not written.

It's a fascinating thing to behold the unfolding of this very 21st-century movement; something which is completely of the digital age, and doesn't adhere to the structural rules of the 20th-century youth revolutions of the summer of love, punk rock or acid house. As its mainstreaming accelerates there is a fear that it may become ossified into simplistic versions, its multivariant nature stifled – which is one reason I have compiled this mix: as an attempt to note and promote its mongrelism and blurred-edge zones. These are exciting times, and it is worth getting a taste of this music while it is still so insanely fertile.

Listen to "Back Again" by Kozzie:

Listen to "Natural Selection" by Martyn:

I am also moderating a panel discussion at the Are We Here arts festival in Croydon in November, with several generations of the borough's musicians discussing their roots and futures – of which more on theartsdesk anon.


When and where is this "Are We Here" arts festival in Croydon? Is there a website for a it?

The 'mongrel music' tag can just as easily be applied to drum and bass, from the early days of jungle it's grown and expanded to take in all sorts of different styles and perspectives, from the stadium rock stylings of Pedulum and the like, through to harder, techy sound of Noisia etc through to more soulful, houesy influences of Calibre et al. In fact, I'd say that drum and bass is at it's worst when it is self-referential and only looks to itself for influences - the same could be said for dubstep too. That being said, dubstep is probably stronger in this area because of its speed, as it's closer to other genres rather than stuck in its own c. 170bpm ghetto, it's easier to mix in a set of say, house, breakbeat or techno, meaning it's got more potential to spread into other scenes and pick up new followers.

It's in Croydon throughout most of November. Facebook group here:!/pages/Are-W...

Your last point is exactly right Pezholio : Dubstep's tempo - which is now more and more flexible - makes it 'friendlier', more able to cross fertilise. Watching its spread was interesting: the techno scene took it in first, with Ricardo Villalobos, Laurent Garnier etc being early adopters; then drum & bass started having more and more dubstep in the 2nd room of raves; then the house and electro scenes began catching on; then increasingly the rap / r&b world in America got on it; indie bands more and more got into it; the pop world is catching on; and now, thanks to UK funky and grime providing new points of contact, predominantly black clubs in the UK are all over it again, it's being played in Ayia Napa etc... But even as it expands in all these directions, a solid core remains, which may or may not be because of its solid geographic roots in small groups of friends in Croydon, Bristol, Leeds etc...? Drum and bass, for all its strengths, was not able to meet the challenges of reaching out into the mainstream for a long time, and kind of turned in on itself - it's only very recently that it has grudgingly accepted that it's OK for Pendulum, Subfocus etc to speak to audiences that are not "JUNGLIST4LIFE!!!11"

Oh yes, and my event at the We Are Here festival is on Friday the 19th November, it's a discussion featuring Loefah, Artwork, Chef, Goldielocks, Tony "Moody Boyz" Thorpe and Mad Professor, followed by Mad Professor's Dub Club... It should be good.

We've come up through living that British mongrel cultural experience where identity and musical roots are nevessary speaks to in so many ways, and brings sounds and feelings from many places in our past together in a whole far far greater than the sum of its parts. And unbelievable beats and basslines - long may it continue

I found the LP on soulseek this week and have been listening to it over and over again. Is there a volume 2 on the way? What about more female producers like Ikonica and Appleblim tho?

hey clare rice last time i checked, appleblim was a fella.

Thanks for letting us know that you downloaded it illegally so none of the artists get paid, Clare. Way to go. And not only is Appleblim male but he's on Vol 1 already - as is Ikonika. And there are two other female producers on there: 8Bitch and Goldielocks.

why on earth is goldielocks on that panel discussion? ridiculous.

Because, "Mr_X", she's a musician who grew up in Croydon, has a lot of connections to the Croydon scene, has worked with everyone from Benga and Mike Skinner to teenagers just coming up into the music world, is pushing new sounds in her own individual way, and is smart and lucid in coversation. Got a problem with that?

Small town boy is the first dubstep record. Subversive subcultures, restrained energy, Stark dark synth work, and Massive main room hooks. Welcome your originator.

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