Dubstep: Behind the capitalist cringe word lies a UK scene rooted with anti-war hypnosis of unity through bass

Written on 03.09.2021 by Andrijan Apostoloski Bushi

Because dubstep hasn’t died for a brief second, but took its beating from the music industry, I’m going to try to defend it and give you an insight of how things were always standing with this specific genre in mind and how the word dubstep ended up being a dirty word in the electronic music scene even today. This should definitely be in the past, as I believe that genres and styles are meant only to direct you in similar kinda music, but when it comes to dubstep, shit literally gets all over as the damages the industry has done to the genre can be explained as identity theft and replacing a whole bass movement that gradually evolved with roots since the late 90’s, with something that’s plastic and overly hyped over the night.

This will be a chaotic one, so try to bare with me. It’s the only case I know where the industry tried to steal the identity of a genre and replace it with something completely else, whilst believing that only the tempo and simple two-step rhythm are the basis for a dubstep track, while missing the whole point of the roots of the genre, the movement, the soundsystem culture and most important of all the message it translated by uniting people through bass.

The term dubstep unfortunately reminds me of various discussions with people who aren’t familiar with the roots and believe that dubstep is that Skrillex yelling EDM that appears to share the similar 140bpm range of tempo and that snare or clap on third of the beat. Ugh.

To understand the issue more clearly and from a somewhat neutral point of view and come to a final conclusion, we must divide dubstep into two terms: EDM dubstep or ‘bro-step’ (read fake dubstep) that appears around 2010s most prominently from US producers such as Skrillex, Excision and similar, and the real dubstep or ‘deep dubstep’ as I like to call it that originates from late 90s in the UK. Both have their origins in the UK where the style was born, however with the internet sensations of artists such as Skrillex, Excision and alike, the usage of the term quickly lost control and those with the biggest number of views easily won the battle and destroyed the dignity of the genre identification.

The term dubstep was first coined in 2002 by Tempa label head Neil Jolliffe.

From now on I’ll refer to real dubstep as dubstep only, as I want to move over this stage of being ashamed to write one of my favorite genres and the story of how it was almost destroyed, whilst giving you a glimpse of the roots and some of my personal favorites from the deeper side of things that are only evident if you’re digging the UK roots of the genre itself. Or in translation: are you sure you’ve ever heard dubstep before?

Let’s inspect the term first: dub, step. Dub is a genre, but is also a method of crafting sounds and step means the two-step rhythm that dubstep is familiar for and got its recognition as a specific genre, when the roots from UK garage were evidently moving into another direction.

The dub technique quickly evolved into electronic genres such as techno, breakbeat, drum and bass and literally every other electronic genre in existence. This isn’t anything surprising as dubbing existed since the 60s. The technique of dubbing and the genre dub itself are often confused; however, a proper dub track will have very strong sub bass and will be heavily ‘tempered’ with flares of delays, reverb and other sound manipulation techniques that go back to the golden ages of dub when producers had only a huge studio mixer with limited capabilities to play around with the sound at their disposal. A dub track contains the skank from reggae, however a dubstep track that is heavily influenced on the dubbing technique doesn’t need to have the skank, nor any other reggae connection whatsoever. But what’s evident in genres using dub as a form to craft something from nothing is the effects blaring and very unique soundscapes that a proper dub producer crafts.

Dub Syndicate is one of my personal favorite dub acts that exist. This particular song samples the stoned immaculate vocals from the same titled track by The Doors, however it entangles onto a heavy reggae rhythm that quickly introduces you to the skank, the psychedelic effects and genius vocal sampling that continue throughout the track. You can feel the effects appearing throughout the track with a surprise element when first born, than continuing to blend with the whole melodics and skank that holds the rhythm in place. In this particular case, the vocals alongside the skank are the main driving sonic elements and everything extra just blends and travels near them in a way that doesn’t compromise the clarity of the base itself. That’s a proper dub, elements blaring with effects but sonically matching the whole sound universe perfectly when put all together.

And with Dub Syndicate you can definitely feel the reggae roots as well, however dub and dubbing go way beyond this on positive ways as it gave birth to other genres such as illbient, trip-hop and heavily influenced what modern electronic music sounds like today.

Reggae is the grandfather of dub; however, dub isn’t reggae. The genre dub itself contains the skank which resembles reggae to many, but since the late 90’s and early 00’s as producers started to experiment more and more with the technique, dub has found to be a staple of many producers very far from reggae itself, giving birth to illbient, dub techno and of course… dubstep.

Proper dubstep comes first from Tempa, and then from a South London label called DMZ run by the Digital Mystikz collective, or Mala, Coki and Loefah independently.

DMZ started releasing dubstep tunes since 2004 on vinyl, however only two years later Oliver Dene Jones or better known as Skream releases his debut album, only to popularize the wobble as a style when things went hayward very quickly.

Let me get back to DMZ first. After the 2005 bombing in London, DMZ hit back with the anthem of peace in dub linked on the YouTube video prior. We don’t want to fight tonight, let’s all unite. The roots from reggae and early dub are taken as a basis to spread a message of unity and equality when London was hit at its lowest, so we must be aware that dubstep is a revolutionary and rebel music product that came to existence on a natural basis that depended on the surroundings back in the days.

Further away from DMZ, illbient artist The Bug has released his dancehall infused madness “Pressure” in 2005 and in 2008 he drops “London Zoo” for Ninja Tune, a legendary album that shook the grounds and meaning of dubstep leaving many dub heads in its everlasting hypnosis that still lasts up to this date, and probably will until we know of modern music as such.

London Zoo is a perfect example of why proper dubstep is very different from the wobble and scream (or drama) rich fakeness that originated in the US. The Bug rarely uses the two-step rhythm that’s associated with dubstep, but what he does is more important: heavy sub basses with insane dub sampling techniques with a strong message all throughout the release.

I’ve read stories online telling that when ‘Skeng’ got played in some London rave, speakers literally blew up to fire. And that’s what dubstep is essentially about: exceeding the sonic limits with genius sampling and masterful audio manipulation throughout to reach and just smash the prior set limits. Or in other terms, and more precisely: dubstep is about breaking the limits through the use of the dub technique.

Now before continuing to the shitty bro-step, I’m going to keep you at the real thing for a little bit more until you understand where things went haywire.

If you’re familiar with the works of Burial, an anonymous artist that kickstarted Kode9’s now legendary Hyperdub label, you must be familiar with the fact that the term ‘dubstep’ is mentioned frequently when his name appears. And go ahead, play a Burial track and you’ll definitely be confused at first. However after thoroughly listening his debut that was released in 2006, you’ll come to understanding that the whole thing was done through the dub technique and follows the same pattern of heavy sub lines and insane sonic psychedelics with emotional vocals and unique sounds crafted into this dark and very grimey universe, that he rooted from some unknown YouTube song covers to video games that he played to craft his snares and percussions. Insane, right?

But Burial isn’t dubstep. He has dubstep, and lots of it, but that’s mainly due the fact that garage plays a huge role in what he crafts, and that’s why he’s not often acclaimed as a pure dubstep artist. However as I said before: terms, genres and styles are here only to point us to similar music that we’ll find to enjoy, to give us path to something in the same sonic sphere.

The birth of Hyperdub in 2006 was a birth to a very bigger movement that incorporated dub strongly in its roots of the releases as a label, but to call Hyperdub a dubstep label, would be like calling Underground Frequencies equals Pitchfork in transparency form of comparison, hahah!

Okay, okay. We’re deeply rooted in London now, no sight of Skrillex or any other imposter so far. Let’s go back to DMZ, a label that was found in 2004. Two years after the foundation of DMZ dubstep has been thriving very much, and the same year The Bug’s ‘London Zoo’ drops for Ninja Tune and ‘Burial’s debut was released, Mala has kind of parted from DMZ and founded DEEP MEDi MUSIK that also releases dubstep, or music that can be felt, as he described it himself.

Now legendary artists such as Kahn, Pinch, Compa and others found themselves to be releasing this relatively fresh genre on a label that was found with the premise to release music that can be felt with no end sight whatsoever.

And here things get from bruv to brostep. And how this disaster happens that made the word dubstep from a rebel dub style infused with innovative sampling techniques and always futuristic sonics, to something to completely get on top of EDM charts and keep teenagers screaming on huge festivals… is a very interesting thing actually.

The label Tempa that has coined the term back in 2002 releases Skream’s debut in 2006 and his sound is very distinguishable from the others as it takes a more minimal and simplistic approach to dub, but still keeps things very groovy and dubby throughout.

With Skream’s debut, in the background a slow popularization of the wobble bass came to rise. Yeah, wobbles weren’t something that Skream invented, however with “Midnight Request Line” things changed where some people grasped the idea to put them in dominance and completely overturn other dub elements which are crucial for a dubstep track. Just few years later, new producers emerging mostly from the US take this element and distort it with almost a heavy-metal like effects and transitions giving birth to what is essentially brostep.

I’m not sure if Skream’s debut is the one to blame here as it’s definitely the proper stuff, but it’s definitely the one that put the wobble “bass” and the more minimalistic one-snare per bar rhythm on the table thus offering a chance for younger producers to artificially clone the groove from the step with the wobble in complete focus, and the sub bass in complete disappearance for many of the tracks that were later released in the brostep hype.

You may ask why, and how the fuck does a genre destroy itself?

The thing is, a genre doesn’t destroy itself. Genre is just a term, right? But media that wrongly coins and attaches terms to the newly emerged US artists such as Excision and Skrillex definitely put a huge shade to the whole dubstep movement that originated from UK.

All out of a sudden, in early 2010’s dubstep was a word that was associated with huge festivals and young crowds jumping up and down to something that essentially never has neither dub, nor any sub basses whatsoever.

Sonically you can distinguish between the two very easily by now, as brostep doesn’t rely on the sub frequency spectrum at all and uses the very mid and nu-metal like amplified wobbles to groove, with a regular two-step rhythm in the background. It doesn’t bring anything innovative with sampling, but It brings a new competition: Who will drive these wobbles crazier, and who will do the most insane drop?

For example take this track from Skrillex entitled “Bangarang” that holds over 860 million of listens on YouTube and has achieved worldwide success being played on various commercials, you can take notice that the sub part is completely out of the sound picture and in its place are these wild but cheap and aggressive middle frequency rich wobble synthesizers screaming all around, with very catchy vocal sampling spitting complete gibberish to compromise for catchiness.

And back in 2010s the main audience of brostep didn’t have studio monitors or good headphones. Essentially that’s why brostep is based aggressively on the middle (as in absurdly bad insane) wobbles and completely misses the sub frequencies that most of the audience didn’t even have the gear for to even hear. So when somebody defended a proper dubstep track that’s rich with subs below 80Hz, most of the brostep fanboys just listened to the minimalistic and patience building beats with no bass, finding their right to defend and take a stance into a battle without any proof or evidence very easily as they were tricked: first by the mass media, and second by their own sound sources.

The soundsystem culture isn’t connected with dub and dubstep by mistake, it takes lots of bass power to feel the proper sub harmonics of dubstep, and whilst teenagers angrily defended their brostep scream culture online, nobody really asked about the whole movement that originated from the late 90s and all those people and raves, all this energy combined towards something so pure and hypnotic with very clear anti-war and often rebellious power of the true dub energy. Don’t get me wrong, dubstep isn’t political, but experience and hypnosis through bass was a priority before these plastic cheap wobbles came to replace a whole movement that was built with years of natural music progression from back in the UK.

Teenagers quickly got hooked playing brostep whilst gaming their favorite shooters, and dubstep was put in the shades of the UK audiences that were part of the creation of something rooted with passion and rebellion towards peace. I’m sure lots of rebels defending the genre got overshadowed by the very enthusiastic fans of this new and artificially created movement.

If you ask: Why the fuck would you hate on Skrillex on anyone in particular from the brostep scene, the answer I’ll give is: I really don’t. I write what happened, and profiting on a term whilst completely being off-side with the complete sonic guide of what tracks can be actually considered as dubstep is art theft, and everyone that got on the Billboard top-lists and full with commercial contracts never decided to properly credit the root movement, and give any attempt to push this new EDM-influenced genre into a unique term that it deserved back when it was skyrocketing.

On the other hand, what’s sadder is that Skrillex isn’t a bad producer. He knew exactly what he was doing, but he didn’t mind all the glory and fame the hype has lifted for him to grasp.

Its said very often that when money comes to question, very few can say no, however compromising the integrity and creating a new digital truth for a complete movement and genre that dates back from late 90’s, and replacing it with something cheap and plastic is a musical terrorism of modern culture that goes beyond the question of selling out or perhaps evolving into a more confined sound, as when Skrillex started, he started abusing the plastic wobbles and enriched on this fake EDM-drama moments that are the complete opposite both ideologically and sonically to what proper dubstep stood for.

Now you might say: How the fuck do you say that Skrillex isn’t a bad producer, then continue to accuse him of shifting a genre into a plastic-molded and industry-led bullshittery? This track, a remix of Chase and Status’s “International” tells me everything that I need to know. If Skrillex wanted to produce real dubstep, I’m sure he’s more than capable of, however he chose to ride the EDM industry wave that completely overshadowed the proper stuff, for exchange of profits and fame.

After the commercial success of the mostly US-based brostep, platforms such as UKF Dubstep and others quickly turned to profit from this hype and pushed the limits to the maximum on daily basis, with the main audience being a typical teenage gamer that goes nuts when he hears that insane wobble that only exists to build a hype that ends the moment the track itself does. The problem with hypes is that they get old and eventually die, however this time when the hype of brostep died, it punched the real dubstep and whole UK scene heavily, even if people don’t like to think so. Even bigger problem is that dubstep was now defended by him and all the mentions of the term brostep was automatically coined as aggressive or as hateful.

An excerpt from the Rolling Stone magazine article dating back in 2011 heavily defending Skrillex and getting behind his back:
Don’t believe the hype: Skrillex didn’t set out to wrestle dubstep from its brainy dub-reggae roots and warp it into an aggro dance-metal hybrid that online haters call “brostep.” Ahh… Really? And the title of the article is entitled “Skrillex Isn’t Surprised By Dubstep Takeoff”. Interesting, very interesting and proper music journalism at its best… well, when its colored by the music machinery of mainstream evil giants that looked to profit from the hype with every method at their disposal.

From a genre that has its roots with dub, unity and rebellion against war, dubstep became the new capitalist puppet that by night took over all of the globe’s radio stations and even had numerous of pop artists with attempts to integrate into the brostep ‘evolution’ happening at the time.

Some people may argue endlessly and defend brostep, however, if you’re going to make a song and deliberately call it dubstep while essentially has no sub bass nor dub technique of sampling whatsoever and has a message of ‘This Drop’s Better Than My Prior One’, you better be ready to take some criticism.

And brostep took lots of it, however the hype shadowed it all as this new musical mutant took the glory from years of work and a whole movement happening naturally in the UK.

But, yeah, one thing is for sure: As soon as the hype died, music diggers started discovering the roots of dubstep and came to the conclusion that the two are completely distinguishable genres that got mixed up by the cruel and ever-pumping music industry with an attempt to profit from something that in its core was brought to the world with rebellion and experimentation in mind.

Music doesn’t know borders or countries and this isn’t a UK vs. US battle as the main profiteers came from the UK as well. But now that we know what brostep is, let’s get back again to the real side of things and explore few records that do things exceptionally well.

Deep dubstep is ranged around the 140bpm mark making it very compatible to mix with techno tracks that fit the audio universe. One of my favorite labels that pushed another kind of dubstep distinguishable by prominently African percussions, and the depth of sonics through dub and exceptionally well dynamics is: Skull Disco, a Bristol label found by Shackleton in 2005 that run until 2008.

The label quickly got its signature sound ready to the addicts as insanely heavy sub-basses were dubbed with percussions like no one else did before, from Shackleton, Appleblim, Peverelist and others.

Having ‘gore-y’ and death-metal like aesthetics of the cover-arts and titles (for example this release: Soundboy’s Bones Get Buried In The Dirt) but providing the complete opposite in the sonic universe: very hypnotic sound with psychedelic effects slowly and gradually developing with the essence of patience and rhythm repetition being a key factor, the label quickly became techno’s most lovable house that continued to introduce lots of people to the roots of the real UK dubstep.

Today artists such as Kaiju, Commodo, Gantz, Shiken Hanzo take a modern approach to dubstep whilst completely following the ideology that the genre was founded on. Heavy dub with hypnosis and vocal samples with peaceful messages throughout soundsystems that make earthquakes of love and harmony or a strong rebellious message, not screams and chaos of no substance whatsoever. DEEP MEDi and other labels continue to publish dubstep tunes to this date with many fresh producers adding their blend of magic in the field. Since Skream’s debut the popularization of the wobble has been evident even within the UK scene itself, however there’s always a distinguishable level of what dominates more: the dub or the screams of one’s wobble VST.

So if we put things to a table and explain them shortly, things went downfall like this: First reggae dubplates (quickly printed test vinyls) were given to producers and studio engineers, and they started to experiment with them with the uses of sampling and experimenting with various effects to shape the original soundscape resulting in the creation of the whole dub genre, right? But dub grew beyond the genre itself and quickly found its way into modern electronic genres such as trip-hop, illbient, garage, techno and the one we’re essentially focused the whole time: dubstep. Dubstep naturally evolved from garage with early roots since the late 90’s in the UK, however things were quiet for ten years when producers slowly raped the genre and used the rhythm basis starting around early 2010s, to create an artificially and industry hyped mutant that didn’t bother to coin another term. The industry has literally chosen to shamelessly take the dubstep term and move the whole roots to the shades of underground diggers only, whilst brostep had the chance to use these hyped years to completely obliterate the dub music industry and squeeze out maximum profits while the hype lasts. Don’t, don’t, don’t believe the hype said Public Enemy long time ago. However the whole commercial music scene and most music journalism sites completely took a part in defending the brostep puppets such as Skrillex, believing that only mentioning that dubstep originated from the UK was good enough of credits.

By the way the difference from naturally developing scene and music genre from an artificially one is proof. Here is El-B, one of garage’s kings that is often considered to play a huge role in the further influencing the sound of dubstep. This was released back in 2000, but you can hear the sound of dubstep being present in the soul of the track. Just a few years later and with a bit of different philosophy the first dubstep tracks started appearing.

But why the fools and journalists who supported this whole brostep rigmarole that were only rich with musical ignorance and the greed for advertisements and just following the hype and playing it safe… Why didn’t someone say something like: Hey guys, dubstep is actually very different from brostep, and we can even scientifically prove that, if things came to that tipping point that the internet became a war-point of people spreading all kinds of opinions with no substance and shouting to defend Skrillex, as he was perceived as the young producer who was attacked by the internet trolls who called him out on being brostep.

Bruv. This is just an insight of how the music industry followed and squeezed out a hype from a genre that it’s term ‘dubstep’ still holds negative stigma today when mentioned exactly because of those very specific people that decided to ignore the fact that a fake and plastic genre was misusing the term and doing harm in its way. The way the industry responded was to only mention the UK was the place where dubstep originally appeared, however nobody ever bothered anymore than that, because the hype was huge and it was real.

Now that the bubble is burst and brostep has been crushed with all its fake plastic melted on the concrete brutalism of dubstep, the term itself still suffers from that identity theft that’s probably a very unique case when music comes into question. Many wouldn’t bother, however, it’s a rare instance to see the music industry with its whole machinery crafting a fake supplement whilst the real thing was completely superior, but probably wouldn’t sell as much as those cheap EDM drops that only blew many fireworks on fake electronic music festivals that are brands of capitalism, and where there’s no place for any real art whatsoever.

This is a unique chance and some may even say that going back to this only does more harm, however, I strongly disagree. Now that brostep has been scientifically, sonically, ideologically and by any other means put where it belongs, can I ask you something? Do you hear any brostep now? I’m sure twelve year old producers find it amusing creating those wobbles as starting points in their VSTs, however since the hype died so did the artists that came alongside the journey.

Meanwhile it’s true that any marketing (even the bad one) is good marketing at the end, however the price that dubstep had to pay was so huge that even today the term needs to be cleansed from its negative past, and people that weren’t familiar with this whole music industry fiasco happening at the time often need some sort of guidance to dubstep, as most of who aren’t familiar with anything but Skrillex and the brostep times wouldn’t give the genre another chance so easily, being only driven by prejudice and negative stigma that now is the price that dubstep still pays for, and will do so within the near future unfortunately.

Yeah, it’s true that real heads always knew to distinguish the real from the fake, however lots of people are heavy to suggest because of this whole negative stigma, and that’s bad for everyone, including new artists and the whole movement in general.

However, the best part of it all is that dubstep won. And it won fair and square because it was never fake to begin with. Sometimes it’s very complex to explain what’s real and what’s not, and I’m sure that brostep wouldn’t have any “haters” if they chose an appropriate term that didn’t highjack a movement naturally happening for years before. They chose to act along thinking that the hype will last forever, and that dubstep magically was transformed to another genre overnight.

It’s too bad people turn their heads very easily and the when the ignorance is fueled and even supported by musical journalists, the damages will be felt for sometime, but they will eventually fade away and things will get back to normal where people will completely forget about dubstep… Yeah, that’s what happened, eh?

Be assured that dubstep wasn’t ever a hype and it won’t die as many of the real folks that knew what dubstep stood for when the whole industry boom happened with the clash of brostep didn’t switch sides and didn’t sold out. DEEP MEDi kept releasing real dubstep stuff, few prominent artists were completely shattering the subs of the soundsystems and the movement kinda kept existing on-par with the brostep bullshit, but always in the underground.

And that’s because dubstep is underground. Long live and prosper proper dubstep, and I wish for you to murder only bass speakers whilst resurrecting many souls with the hypnosis and vibrations of the very lowest of the frequency ranges, creating earthquakes in small warehouses where true and proper raves will be held until real underground electronic music continues to exist. I just hope that people will get more curious about you, and they won’t be like… ugh dubstep? Nah, thanks! But you know what? Even if they’re at this point, it’s their loss. As we know what we have in common, as once you’re hooked on dubstep there’s never getting out of it.

This was released by Kaiju two months ago on DEEP MEDi. I hope you enjoyed all of the tunes linked, and leave with a somewhat broader knowledge of why dubstep is kinda getting that shady and dirty look when mentioned. And hey… if somebody tells you that dubstep is for teenagers in puberty, you will at least know the truth of how the music industry and capitalism work. You have the resources and many paths in which you may inform the patient if you think he might become a dub addict if you present him the real stuff, or you can just let him wander off without knowing the real underground side of things… which to me is truly amusing, as dubstep is left again to the enthusiasts and the underground to take care of it naturally, just like it should’ve been since the very beginning.

Additionally the conversation of this article continues on Reddit on both /r/Dubstep and /r/Realdubstep subreddits. We’ve also created our own /r/frekvencii and this is the link to discuss this editorial in particular over on Reddit.

“The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There’s also a negative side.”
― Hunter S. Thompson

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ℹ️ We will be back with gonzo reviews as soon as we return to a new normal that is acceptable for the people. Until then, let's listen to some music, what do you think?