Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Post-Dubstep - The battle to reclaim the original name for the genre I love

As culture continually consumes itself and the music press diversifies through a million blogs, labels like 'post-dubstep' are inevitable. This isn't new - the idea that we are living in a freewheelingly progressive stage of cultural development fuelled by the internet is nothing but an egotistic delusion; punk was born in 1974, and the first usage of 'post-punk' was in 1977, so things moved just as fast in a pre-internet world. However, this precedence doesn't make the vague, hard to define 'post-dubstep' term any less insulting to fans around in the genre's early years.

I feel I can count myself amongst these fans as much as anyone who lived outside London during the birth of dubstep at the turn of the century. In 2005, I left my parochial, scenic hometown for a parochial, scenic campus university, and developed a desire for something more urban. Dubstep satisfied this need, and when I graduated and finally moved to an actual city it became the genre I lived in. The claustrophobic privacy of the beat, the space in the production and the sparse use of vocals all painted a picture of urban decay, graffiti on concrete walls, smashed windows and CCTV, but somehow made it incredibly beautiful. Burial, Benga, Skream, Digital Mystikz and Various Production soundtracked my growth out of my teenage years and transformed the way I saw my surroundings.

This story ended as dubstep exploded sometime around 2009. The fury of the fan of an underground genre as everyone else gets in on the act is well documented, and is a stereotype worth expending a lot of energy in avoiding. Initially this wasn't difficult; it was good to see the music I loved find a wider audience, with more people to talk to about the tunes and bigger crowds creating a more exciting atmosphere at club nights. Soon, however, like a politician corrupted by power, the popularity of dubstep went to its head and things took a turn for the worse. 

Skrillex vs James Blake, as
imagined by Hipster Runoff.
The genre split in two. One strand shot inexorably through Flux Pavillion to the relentlessly noisy Skrillex, and the other built upon the sound of Burial by keeping some subtlety and room for contemplation, producing James Blake as a breakout artist. Frustratingly, it is the former, the intelligent sound of dubstep, that became known as post-dubstep. Here, Skrillex is Blake's nemesis, facing off against him over a dubstep/post-dubstep divide like an electronic music version of Superman and Lex Luthor. This fantasy is brilliantly substantiated by Blake describing the fight for the dirtiest bass in modern dubstep as"almost like a pissing competition" in a Boston Phoenix interview last year, covered hilariously in numerous Hipster Runoff posts

Recently, with tongue firmly in cheek, Vice magazine asked if Skrillex was "dubstep's Miles Davis." In this case, though, Skrillex is more like dubstep's Bob Dylan, with Blake's comments an updated version of the heckling of Dylan as 'Judas' when he picked up an electric guitar and turned his back on folk. The big difference with this analogy is that nobody calls Dylan 'folk' anymore. The Judas-shouters got to keep their genre. The only alternative genre name is an American contribution, 'brostep', described by Rusko as 'like someone screaming in your face for an hour'. This has yet to stick over here. I'd like to suggest 'noisestep', 'buttonmashingstep' or 'messstep' as a British alternative.

Followers of underground genres have always had a protective snobbishness about them. A regular of Forward, a pioneering dubstep night, once told me that they moved to a Sunday to keep away the genre's loutish new fans. This, he explained, would allow the regulars to continue to stand still and listen to the music on the phenomenal soundsystem they have at Plastic People, whilst holding their pints and nodding their heads. For them this was infinitely preferable to throwing yourself around as a producer smashes his hand down onto random sampler buttons mapped to a range of squeals whilst glitchy bass makes your own thoughts inaudible. Even if you don't agree with that, you have to agree at the very least that it is a completely different thing, deserving of a completely different genre label.

Like rock and roll, psychedelic, prog, disco, punk, new wave, grunge, indie, garage and grime were the genres that belonged to kids of the 50s to the 90s, dubstep felt like our time. Our time is reflected in the fact that the genre has produced Skrillex, Bassnectar, Flux Pavillion and Funtcase, producers who have raced to the bottom - both in terms of the amount of thought that goes in to their productions and the depths of bass. In an age where integrity drowns in the moats of greedy politicians, is packaged with bankers bonuses, or sacrificed for the political desire for a more unified Europe, the same is happening for the music we love. Fans of dubstep should try to harness the revolutionary spirit of the Occupy movement and fight for subtlety and intellectual input over soul-crushing noise. Skrillex fans don't even have pepper spray - let's claim our genre back.

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