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Is Skrillex Dubstep? I say no (in an open letter)

... In which Christopher, after being shown a video making the case for the current brand of dubstep, and why using the term "real" music is stupid (by composing a poorly considered cat-based analogy), adds his 2p to the ongoing debargument around the evolution of genre-defined music, where one genre ends and another begins... And why Skrillex is rubbish.

Dave Brown is a young(ish?) British musician and YouTube vidder. He runs the "Boy in a Band" YouTube channel, where he regularly posts a variety of videos largely featuring or relating to music and production. The artist "23", whose Page I follow on Facebook, posted one of Dave's recent videos - this guaranteed an immediate conversation on Facebook with yes-men mostly agreeing with 23's POV (who is implicitly in agreement with the video maker). (without even looking at the Youtube page for the video, I know this will have generated thousands of incendiary comments with people vociferously arguing for and against this guy's point of view).

However, the chap in the video uses a rather poorly thought-out, non sequiteur analogy to promote his point of view. I thought I would pen a response on behalf of all of us who consider the current brand of 'dubstep' to be nothing whatsoever like 'proper' dubstep.

Here's the video:

And here's my response:

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This chap Dave's got a good presentational style but his analogy is fundamentally poorly thought out. Putting a hat on a cat in no way diminishes the intrinsic value and quality of said felis catus. However, removing the hard-to-define (but very obvious) 'soul' and depth from a good dubstep tune, replacing it with a metric ton of hard-limited sawwave wob, absolutely ruins the definition of the genre.

The genre tag 'Dubstep' to me defines ~140bpm music with a halftime feel to the beats, incredibly deep and powerful subbass with acres of space around the sound. Vibes music, designed for dark and grimy clubs on huge systems with scoop bassbins. You get into your zone and you experience the music; dubstep in its heydays might only have 50 or 100 people at London nights before the genre broke through into the mainstream.

Dubstep evolved from its roots in two-step garage and grime; it then developed and became slightly more daytime radio-friendly (cf. Skream's discographical tour de force, Magnetic Man). Today's music lazily defined as 'dubstep' is far removed, it's essentially electropop with a derivative song structure and similar halftime drums. This we can newly define as brostep, or just shit.

Most importantly, the "dubstep" genre also took its name in part from the heavy dub influence which is overwhelmingly evident in the 'classic' dubstep produced between 2004 and 2008 - gradually this was sucked out, like your granny sucking eggs, to replace it with midrange buzzes and little if no dynamic range. The two forms of music are in no way similar, dubstep was simply misapplied as the style morphed into a new genre and now it's stuck with the masses. If you want to hear what is arguably 'dubstep mk. 2', listen to tracks released by artists on the Deep Medi label - Mala, Pinch, Skream, Silkie, Goth Trad et al - all those who stuck to their guns and continue to produce 'proper' Dubstep.

Genre names exist to define a particular style of music. They do not exist to be a catch-all of anything at the common denominator tempo with a vaguely similar intro-buildup-breakdown-drop-breakdown2-drop2-outro format. 'Dance' music is the notable exception to this ("house", "techno") because it defines the common four to the floor beat... Even then you immediately jump into subgenres to accurately describe the exact form and structure.

Skrillex is musically and stylistically as far removed from someone like Loefah or Skream as you can get. Compare the former's remix of the track "I" by the latter artist [NB: for full effect, listen on a club system as intended, or at least a 10" sub!] to ... well, any Nero or Skrillex track, and you can see how it evolved to where it is now - but it's not the same genre, not by a long shot.

The derogatory "brostep" name needs to be replaced with something better though, that's where a lot of the hate comes from IMO as newcomers feel they're being cold-shouldered by us 'oldies'. If you want to listen to Skrillex? Fine. Have a sexy party with smoke and lasers and play it all night. Just don't call it Dubstep, because it's not.

3 Comments

  1. KingSuperMan says:

    Let me help you out, as clearly, they only thing you know about Electronica music, is what you have read, and not experienced.

    Here are 3 easy steps, to help you understand if it's Dubstep:

    1. It's around 140 BPM (can differ)
    2. It's in a 2-Step pattern
    3. It emphasizes Bass and Drum parts of a track.

    Simple.

    Dubstep - 'Dub' taken from the name of the Sub-Genre of Reggae 'Dub'.
    Dub = Reggae with Emphasized drum and Bass parts.
    'Step' taken from the word '2-Step'.

    Skrillex as well as many other Dubstep producers including Rusko, have been adapting and modifying Dubstep through the years, and have quite different sounding Dubstep to what people would call the 'original' Dubstep. And from this, the word 'BroStep' was invented, to describe they 'new' type of Dubstep that seems to have flooded the internet.

    Skrillex's Dubstep falls under this Sub-Genre 'BroStep'. Why? What exactly defines BroStep? Well it's Dubstep, but with a much bigger variety of sounds, a more complex pattern and primarily more aggressive structure.

    Although it's BroStep, and really should be recognized as BroStep, BroStep is still a form of Dubstep, making Skrillex, a Dubstep producer.

    Thank you.

    1. Christopher says:

      FWIW I've been listening to, buying, producing and DJing dubstep, D&B and various other forms of electronica since 1998. Been properly enjoying Dubstep since ~2004, D&B from late '99.

      Dubstep very much has a half-time feel so I'd question your assertion that a 2-step pattern denotes Dubstep... Guys like Rusko began to switch up from halftime to 2-step mid tune (e.g. Woo Boost) and experiment with that kinda feel which works well at festivals. Then again I think Rusko started describing his own music as 'hype party music', then he went off to the States and next we know his studio's burnt down. :( Who knows if the events were related?

      I'm aware of the origins of Dubstep's name. I celebrate the fact that reggae continues to have such a strong influence over D&B and Dub, it's awesome. However artists like Skrillex, KTN, even people who used to be respected scene artists like Nero (prior to their move to mainstream electro-influenced 140bpm music) cannot be classified as Dubstep by people who support 'pedigree' Dubstep.

      No doubt the D&B and Dubstep genres wouldn't exist today without all the homogenisation of other styles in preceding decades, but the conversion of some artists from old-skool Dubstep to heavily electro-house influenced dubstepesque music was incredibly fast and also quite painful to hear. There was very little organic growth or development, it felt really forced and done to get lots of sales quickly in the charts before dropping away to be replaced by the next radio-friendly single. A real antithesis to the longstanding ethos of Dubstep.

      Dubstep succeeds in part because it's an iteration on the best elements of UKG combined with the darker influences coming in from other genres and stylised production brought in from Dub. There are House influences, there are the Jungle influences, there's rave influences if you listen to stuff hard enough. Guys like Skream continue to be at the forefront of interesting and genre-defining productions. What's good about Dubstep? Spaciousness, reverbed and delayed samples, percussion with brooding in the beats. Dynamic range. HEAVY use of subbass. Your garden variety Skrillex track doesn't come anywhere near that, if Dubstep didn't exist his music would probably be described as acid electrohouse breaks.

      Untitled by D1 is Dubstep. Bangarang by Skrillex is electro!

  2. joel says:

    skrillex is dubstep

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