Before pressing play Jessica Hall, a third year Liberal Arts major at Mercer, full-time employee of Bristol-Meyers Squibb, and mother of two, smiled under her headphones. She was eager to listen to the music her kids liked, a relatively new genre known as dubstep. Then the music began.
A small then deep wrinkle started forming between her brows. The corners of her mouth drooped downward into a frown. After thirty-four seconds of heavy throbbing wobs and womps, punctuated by radical distortions and glitches, Hall had enough.
“Oh hell no!” she exclaimed. She looked up from the device she held in her hands and said,“I’m rather liberal with my children’s music consumption, but this makes me feel uncomfortable. It sounds like rave drug music!”
Hall’s reaction mirrors that of many people encountering dubstep for the first time. In a recent article in Philadelphia Weekly, Elliot Sharp writes, “dubstep’s all about externalized aggression and rage, and it’s made audiences across the country fill large clubs and stadiums to get sonically pummeled and dance their asses off.”
While dubstep’s origins can be traced back to the late 1990’s, it wasn’t until 2002 that the term “dubstep” was thought to be coined by Ammunition PR who ran a club in Soho London and was involved in the formation of the genre. Furthermore, electronic music, long popular in western Europe, has only recently been embraced in the United States.
Dubstep is a distant cousin of house and rave music. It is directly descended from dub, a reggae sub-genre, and 2-step garage. From the beginning it attempted to combine darker, more experimental sounds with the components of its parent genres.
A whole culture is growing up around dubstep. In Elliot Sharp’s November 16, 2011 article, entitled “Dubstep Poised to Take Philly’s Music Throne,” he notes that electronic dance music (EDM) festivals like Electric Daisy Carnival in Las Vegas are drawing in as many as 223,000 fans. There is Electric Zoo in New York and Ultra Music in Miami. Warped music that once only had a home in small clubs is moving into the mainstream.
In fact, many mainstream, and underground, artists, have now incorporated dubstep into their work. From hip-hop like Yelawolf to nu-metal like Korn’s newest album “The Path of Totality,” dubstep is being employed across the genres. Even 17-year-old pop star Justin Beiber has expressed interest in using the sound for his upcoming album.
Dubstep has come so far that purists are now splitting with artists who are pushing the genre to even further limits. One of dubstep’s most well-known performers is Skrillex, who received a Grammy nomination for “Best New Artist” this year. Skrillex has been pushing the boundaries of the genre to the point where his sound (and that of others like him) is distinctive enough to earn a new title: brostep.
In the article “90’s Angst Bobbing to Dubstep Beats,” written by David Peisner of the New York Times this past December, he writes: “As the genre has grown in popularity…it has transformed into a noisy, aggressive…spectacle that detractors refer to pejoratively as bro-step…Skrillex… has become, fairly or unfairly, the face of bro-step.”
Popular DJ, Rusko, who is often credited (or blamed) for originating bro-step, said on the BBC’s 1xtra show, “I kinda took [dubstep] there, and now everybody else has taken it too far…I’ve been in America touring …[and] even more so, they just want it as hard as you can. They’re like ‘Rusko, I want you to melt my face off!’…A lot of dubstep fans just come ‘cause they wanna hear the most … dirty, distorted music possible, and that’s not what [dubstep] is about.”
While purists and newcomers continue to fight over the future of dubstep, parents like Jessica Hall are likely to do what parents have always done when their kids start listening to rebellious music: tell them to “turn that racket DOWN!”