[personal profile] hwrnmnbsol
I thought I would put my thoughts down on dubstep music, in part so I can exchange ideas with friends, but also to embarrass myself decades from now when I go back and read things about music that has effectively evaporated, or is eclipsed by amazing new innovations in 2014, or where I criticize some artist who history recalls as the last great genius to emerge from Earth before the Cyborg Wars.

So: dubstep music. What is it?

Dubstep is a narrow category of synthpop. It is electronic dance music. It has its origins in the London dance scene somewhere around the turn of the millennium, but as is the case with all electronic music, its rate of mutation is very high, and the dubstep of today does not necessarily sound like the dubstep heard in clubs in 2000.

Dubstep is so named because it derives from a 2-step garage rhythm. It doesn't have the driving one/two/three/four of kick drum driving a 4/4 tempo; the kick drum beat goes on the one and the three, and percussion noodles around in between these beats. This gives 2-step a kind of lurching, wandering-around percussive feel. In fact, the percussion doesn't really drive the music at all; the driver is the bass. Dubstep has a driving, throbbing bass that's basically on all the time, and modulations in the base is what winds up generating a constant rhythm that makes the music danceable.

Dubstep also involves a lot of sampling, especially of cheesy electronic sounds such as old school video games. Vocals are sparse and sometimes absent. The original dubstep is dark, brooding music, often in a minor key, and club dancing originally was very thrash, meaning that dubstep is mostly the music of choice of angry young men on ketamine. This is changing and getting more balanced, probably because dubstep producers have tasted some commercial success and are now looking to package products that more people will consume.

Dubstep is being adopted by big-name pop performers left and right who want to latch on to the cool new trend; people like Rihanna and Britney Spears have their high-powered producers developing tracks that incorporate dubstep sounds. However, the way you are most likely to hear dubstep is through remixes of tunes that did not start out as dubstep. A good example is remixes of "Bulletproof" by La Roux. Here are several:



These are not remixes where a producer takes the original song and samples it to make a new one. In today's world of electronic music, it's the producers who are rockstars as much as the musical acts. People like Skream and Skrillex sit down with the artists in the studio and cut new tracks with them in collaboration (the duo of La Roux are also their own producers). Skrillex was up for a Grammy this last year as the line between musician and music producer has become so blurred as to be essentially meaningless for some forms of music.

The linked tracks are not the versions of "Bulletproof" that is heard on Top 40 radio (not in America, anyway). However, I listen to a lot more music on internet radio than I do on the actual airwaves, so that's what's in my head a lot more. This last year I spent a lot of time at the computer writing, and I listened to lot of dubstep during that time. I prefer the version that La Roux made with DJ Khrispy to the version my local Top 40 station plays. I like the fact that musical acts aren't issuing just one version of their music; if they feel so moved, they can generate dozens of variants of one song, and because the internet is awesome, it can all be moved out to the ears of listeners even without a distribution company packaging it commercially.

If you like this stuff, try this remix of "Pumped up Kicks" by Foster the People and Butch Clancy:


or Coldplay's "Paradise", which frankly lurches along like dubstep in its original form anyway:


Really, putting in 'dubstep popular remixes' into Youtube will generate some fun stuff.
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