I guess somehow people still don't know what dub step is, which probably shouldn't come as a surprise because against all fucking odds, I still hear people asking what emo is, which tells me a couple of things about the world, but mostly that most people don't think about music very much. Other people who don't know what emo is include the biggest music phenomenon in the world right now, Spotify, who just offered me up Ray LaMontagne, and something called Anna Abreu on their "emo" channel. GENRE FAIL.
Who cares though, right? Good for people who don't know what genres mean. I do, and I hate music, and myself, more than they ever will. Must feel nice.
People in my social sphere are asking "WTF IS DUBSTEP?" again today because HRO posted about the James Blake quote in the Boston Phoenix, which I mentioned here on PTSOTL yesterday. It's actually a really great piece, which feels weird to say about something Carles wrote, that asks a lot of thought-provoking questions, and doesn't just make me feel depressed about being a music writer like the site normally does.
As we enter our alt-middle ages, we are at a crossroads. Do we want to go fall asleep at a Bon Iver or James Blake concert, or do we want to watch people who are younger than us have the same kind of fun that we used to have at a dubstep concert? Immersing yourself in dubmericana culture makes you wonder if the same joy and excitement that we once felt for music might have been just as impersonal and contrived.
So, for no reason other than trying to capitalize on blog buzz, and because a lot of people are searching for an answer to this all important musical genre distinction, here's a run down of a few things I've said about it on here before that should help and/or further muddy the waters.
Remember this bit? Don't be a pedophile or you will get dubstepped to death? That's dub step.
Remember the boner we shared over this Harry Potter themed dub step poll dance? That's dub step.
Here's an electronic musical genre bullshitting guide I posted a while back, including music from James Blake, and, what is still my favorite dubbysteppy track from Girl Unit.
Here's where I talked about how you are supposed to dance to dub step at a Rusko performance. "Pretend you're hailing a cab with one arm, and you're giving a hands-free blow job with your head on the upbeat."
And below is my interview with Rusko, in which I try to unpack the HOT NEW GENRE for n00bz. If you want to cut to the chase, my explanation is thus: It's a more aggressive extension of dub music, as you might guess, although it's mutated pretty far, from that with accentuated upbeats, really thick, manipulated bass drones that sound like a wobble, which is where the WOB WOB WOB thing comes from, and typically really heavy, machine-like sound effects pitch-shifted up and down to create the melody.
WTF IS DUB STEP?
I had to figure it out quick so I could explain what Rusko is to the Boston Globe readers. Did I ever figure it out? Sort of.
|Rusko, doing whatever it is DJs do.|
Dubstep is so hot right now. Dubstep is also so over. Depends on who you talk to.
Count Christopher Mercer — the Leeds-born DJ, and recent Los Angeles transplant who records and performs under the name Rusko, and headlines at the House of Blues on Tuesday — in the latter camp.
“I think it’s really good,’’ he says. “I think it was kind of kept underground for so long. That’s why we DJ, to get music out to people, and for people to kind of hear where we come from. I’m not worried about that at all. The more the merrier, really. There’s purists, sure, but I don’t know, every scene tends to get bigger than where it started right?’’
Much of the blame (or credit) for dubstep’s stateside surge in popularity goes to Mercer. His 2009 cut “Cockney Thug,’’ with its thrumming bass pulses, blaring sirens, and threatening vocal sample from British actor Alan Ford (Brit tough-guy dialogue seems to be a recurring dubstep theme) was an international club sensation. His collaboration with M.I.A. on her last album brought him further exposure, as tracks like “Steppin’ Up’’ showcased his power-tool aesthetic, while “XXXO’’ showed off his deft touch with pop. “She’s super artistic, and super crazy, but she knows what she wants,’’ he says of M.I.A. “I’m really proud of that record. It was the record that she wanted to make.’’
For all the attention paid to that challenging album, it was one he didn’t end up on that pushed Rusko’s name further into the wider musical conversation. “Everyone talked about me working with Britney, but the reality was none of my cuts made the record, everyone forgets that.’’
He’s more excited at the moment about a forthcoming collaboration with hip-hop veterans Cypress Hill. “It’s like creatively the most exciting thing I’ve ever heard,’’ he says. “I’m a massive fan. It’s a dream come true.’’
On his own latest record, last summer’s “O.M.G.!,’’ Mercer proved adept at bouncing back and forth between styles and genres within the context of one project. On collaborations with the likes of Amber Coffman of the Dirty Projectors, rappers Gucci Mane and Redlight, and others, he stitched the fabric of dubstep into hip-hop, and pop vocal house. “Raver’s Special’’ is one case in point, with its staccato house-style piano stabs, talkbox warbling, and bass drop-outs conflicting against low-frequency squiggles.
The inherent tension of dubstep comes from the push and pull between the clattering tempos of the upbeat, and the lurching tectonics of the bass line and riffs. It doesn’t amount to dissonance, but there’s certainly conflict — and it may be part of the reason Mercer has often described dubstep as the punk rock of the electronic world. Is that still the case now that dubstep has found its way into top 40 radio?
“I kind of wish I never said that quote now,’’ he says. “But yeah, it still is. You can express yourself . . . there’s a dark and serious side, but it’s also fun. I guess that’s what punk was based on, fun, but it had a serious side. It was loud, furious, in your face, and didn’t need to make sense, but it always had a purpose.’’
For his current headlining tour, his biggest to date, he wants to bring the feel of a rock show into a dance environment.
“Everyone is doing LED lights and technology and things like that now. I wanted to take it back to the rock kind of vibe.’’ That means smoke machines, fire, and giant KISS-like letters that spell out his name. “All bangers all the time, too,’’ he says. “It’s pretty monster, pretty heavy-hitting.’’
Part of the appeal of dubstep to electronic fans weaned on thumping techno and house is its slower tempos. “I guess it’s a little less intimidating than a rave,’’ he says. “I’ve seen loads of older people, well not old people, between 30 to 40,’’ he says. “They can dance. Obviously there are bits where we give it hard, but there’s groove in dubstep, there’s soul. People can slow dance to it, or dance hard, go crazy.’’
Call it dubstep, or call it brostep — the derogatory term for mainstream examples — he’s not concerned with the name, as long as it sounds good.
“I just make music as I see it in my head. Obviously I’m true to the foundations of dub, but I take from everything. Otherwise you’d hit a barrier. If you limit yourself to making music based on what you think people are supposed to hear you make, what you’re supposed to like, then you hit a wall.’’