This month’s Spin magazine, appropriately titled “The Dance Issue,” has proclaimed that we are in the middle of an electronic music revolution. They‘re right. Dance mu- sic has reached a critical point of commercial success in North America, with Skrillex and Deadmau5 leading the movement.
Much of the popular electronic mu- sic is dubstep, or is at least influenced by dub- step, a genre that has changed much since its beginning in London in the early 2000s.
The story of dubstep begins, rather unsurprisingly, with the dub music of the early 1970s. Pioneered by artists such as King Tubby, dub music isolated parts of reg- gae songs, the bass and drums in particular, and then layered parts of the original song back on, usually adding lots of reverb. The resulting music was very sparse and almost hypnotic, which, along with the emphasis on
bass and echoing drum patterns, made it a strong influence on dubstep.
But before there was dubstep, dub led to the development of a new type of elec- tronic music in the beginning of the 1990s. Jungle and drum and bass, two closely relat- ed genres, were the result of increasing the speed of dub and adding elements of dance music.
Soon after Jungle, a type of music called UK Garage developed. It took the beat of drum and bass music and added a greater focus on melody. UK Garage later incorpo- rated a two-step beat, making the music feel half the speed it actually was, along with low, oscillating bass tones that characterize the wobble effect that would become emphasized in dubstep.
In the early 2000s, UK Garage be- gan to slow down and the melodies became
darker and more edgy, giving rise to dubstep. Artists like El-b and Horsepower Produc- tions pioneered the sound, while others like Skream and Digital Mystikz perfected it. Skream’s song “Midnight Request Line” stands as one of the purest examples of the London dubstep sound.
To get from Skream to Skrillex, dubstep underwent perhaps its most dras- tic change; it became pop music. Though it didn’t exactly sound like pop, it shared an approach, in that it developed more direct structures and melodies.
The aggressive tone that North American dubstep has developed is really just a movement towards a sound that is more immediately striking, a characteristic of pop music. The haunting feel of early dubstep has made way for a more party-hard sound.
The peak of dubstep may be in
sight, as it is hard to imagine the genre be- coming any more direct than Skrillex. Like punk before it, the genre may be in its final stage of evolution and ready to fade out of the mainstream. But along with the move- ment of dubstep towards pop, there has also been a change in the opposite direction. Art- ists like James Blake and Mount Kimbie have taken some of the elements of dubstep and distilled them, making minimalistic music that is full of emotion, echoing back to Ja- maican dub.
These new developments in dub- step could signify the end of the genre, or its reincarnation into something new, but either way there is plenty of exciting music being made. Viva la revolution.