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Vox on....Dubstep

NEW SERIES of discourse, exhortation, homily, lecture, monologue, oration, recitation, sermon and shameless putting the world to rights. First up....Dubstep!

Left - Characteristics of Marmite, Right - A Jar of Dubstep

Dubstep is officially musical Marmite. It has so many lovers and so many haters, it might be almost as divisive as that little pot of yeast extract with the yellow lid. Uncharacteristically, I find myself sitting on the fence when it comes to dubstep - I love it and I hate it a bit too. I hate it because sometimes it feels unbalanced, like someone turned the bass up too high and forgot to fill out the rest of the tracks on the sequencer. And it's not a quiet genre - have you ever tried to listen to Caspa's ‘Marmite' on a club sound system when you're sober? It's like sticking your head into a washing machine full of bricks. Maybe this is age. Most of the genre's hardcore fans are the wild eyed, sweat drenched massive whose hearing hasn't yet been wrecked by years standing next to speakers and who are much less demanding about the structure of a tune.

Caspa - Marmite

And yet despite these more negative onions being shared by many, dubstep is a massive force to be reckoned with. So much so that it has made the Radio 1 playlist, something not many underground genres do on a regular basis. Maybe this is a case of the emperor's new clothes - because the right people tell us this music is next level, we believe it, repeat to our friends and so the myth persists. But the problem with dismissing the whole scene as the result of sheep mentality is that dubstep has ransacked its way across all the major music centres, from the UK throughout Europe and across the pond to the US. You can even go to a dubstep party in Tel Aviv. Can we all be that stupid?

If the dubstep revolution really is genuine, what makes the genre so popular? At the commercial end of the scale, obviously it makes great club music. Some of it does have the washing-machine-full-of-bricks effect, but at three in the morning when you've had a few shandies, getting your synapses battered by 140bpm of brain smashing bass is exactly what you're after. Accessibility is another reason dubstep has blown up. The best-known producers are pretty much the same age as the people who buy the tunes. Get a laptop and a copy of Reason and it could be you touring the world with a champagne rider and love from Mary Ann Hobbs.

How to make dubstep with Reason software

But probably the key reason for the scene's apparent resistance to being swept away as just another trend is that the very prominent commercial successes are supported by a base of serious talent. James Blake, Zomby, the legend that is Kode9, Plastician, newcomer Pariah, the awesome Burial, Boxcutter are part of the dubstep tapestry, as much as the big names that have broken through into the charts. Many of these less high profile DJs and producers have being doing this for years and make intricate, complex dubstep that is a beautiful thing to behold.


James Blake - Limit to Your Love

(Polydor 2010)



Kode 9 - Sine of the Dub

(Hyperdub 2004)



Pariah - Detroit Falls

(R&S 2010)




Burial - Archangel

(Hyperdub 2007)



In a way, despite being so divisive, and regardless of the fact that sometimes I am a hater, maybe dubstep is the scene that has got it right. It has had far more commercial crossover success than drum n bass (despite the likes of Chase & Status, Pendulum and Danny Byrd), but still has a serious underground element, which keeps it credible. It's got roots in the right places but it doesn't have the kind of rigid blueprint that will keep it from evolving. Despite seeming shiny and new and driven by some young upstarts with computers, it has actually been bubbling away for years, pulling in influences from other genres as they flare and fade, waiting for it's time in the spotlight. One thing is for certain, whether you love it or hate it, dubstep isn't going anywhere any time soon.

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