Sound Field

S1 E27 | FULL EPISODE

Wait... Where Did Dubstep Go?

Dubstep came from UK garage music in the 90's, influenced by the syncopation of 2-step and the bass and reverb of Jamaican dub. What started off in London as an underground scene, became the soundtrack for popculture in the 2010's. So how did dubstep become mainstream, and where did it go? LA Buckner researches the roots of dubstep. Everything from Skrillex to Skream, Benga, and Burial.

AIRED: January 30, 2020 | 0:08:56
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TRANSCRIPT

- Some people in the Stapleton neighborhood

say what's happening over at Dick's Sporting Goods Park

is not music to their ears.

They say that two day Bassnectar concert

literally rattled their homes late into the night.

- At one point dubstep was so big

that Colorado residents thought

a nearby Bassnectar concert was an earthquake.

- Thought it was an earthquake.

I went outside and I looked, and realized it was bass.

- We have to be neighbors

and we have to be friendly neighbors.

This was not a friendly event.

- Dubstep shook the landscape of music

in the early 2010s, but its viral success

was followed by its viral disappearance.

I'm gonna try to make my own dubstep track,

but first let's find out where dubstep came from

and why it disappeared.

The history of dubstep starts in

the UK garage music scene of the 90s.

UK garage music came from house music.

And features a four-on-the-floor bass drum pattern

and syncopated high hats and snares.

♪ In my dream you and I are holding there ♪

DJs took the syncopation in garage

a step further with a sub-genre called 2-step.

In 1999 music journalist Simon Reynolds

described 2-step as, a general rubric

for all kinds of jittery irregular rhythms

that don't conform to garage's

traditional four-to-the-floor pulse.

Essentially, 2-step skipped over some of

the four-on-the-floor bass drum pattern

and added other shuffle percussion

to create a more erratic feel.

Check out the off-kilter pulse in this 2-step remix

featuring the singer Sia.

♪ If they fall away ♪

♪ I'll stay with you ♪

♪ Do as I say ♪

♪ Not as I do ♪

So 2-step is where the step in dubstep comes from.

But what about the dub?

Dub originated in Jamaica in the late 60s.

Artists like King Tubby reworked reggae instrumentals

making drums the focus of the tracks,

by raising the reverb, delay, and bass.

♪ I never, I never never heard ♪

♪ I never heard ♪

♪ I never heard just some people ♪

♪ No, no ♪

Now hold on.

Before you get angry in the comments,

I'm not saying dubstep came from Jamaica.

But the way dub artists altered reggae instrumentals

in the 60s inspired DJs in the late 90s

to rework 2-step tracks, creating dubstep.

As dubstep pioneer Kode9 told Vice,

the name made sense.

There were aspects of dub that influenced dubstep.

The most important was playing

the instrumental versions of vocal garage tracks,

which was a little like what dub was to reggae.

The second was dub as a methodology,

manipulating sound to create impossible sonic spaces

using reverb, echo, and such.

This early dubstep was more minimal

than the dubstep we know today.

But this minimalism provided room

for variation in the future.

Check out this early dubstep track by Burial,

an artist on Kode9's record label, Hyperdub.

♪ Holding you ♪

♪ Couldn't be alone ♪

♪ Couldn't be alone ♪

♪ Loving you ♪

A breakthrough in dubstep came in the early 2000s

thanks to two teenage DJs from England, Skream and Benga.

Along with other London producers

they departed from the dark sound of early dubstep

by incorporating elements of reggae,

house, funk, and hip hop.

(electronic music)

This more melodic sound found an audience outside of London.

And with the help of online forums, spread around the world.

The main ingredients are syncopated rhythms

with a tempo between 138 and 142 BPM,

a kick on the one, and a clap or snare on the three.

But the defining ingredient is that wobbling bassline.

(electronic music)

The wobble effect is usually created

by modulating the bassline

with a low frequency oscillator, or LFO.

- [Instructor] So now that we got one brought up--

- I'm the original YouTube student.

- Go ahead and create the dubstep wobble thumbscratch

so we can use one of--

- Look at that, I'm right here.

And what he do?

He did this one.

(buzzing)

Y'all bear with me, don't trip 'cause we about to get it.

- [Announcer] 20 minutes later.

(buzzing)

Ooh.

Listen for the wobbling bassline

in the song Midnight Request Line by Skream.

(electronic music)

By 2009, dubstep had taken hold in the United States.

And artists like Skrillex and Bassnectar

were creating their own versions of the genre

by putting an emphasis on the buildup and the bass drop.

The bass drop consists of dropping out all percussion

until near silence and then resuming the song

with a heavy sub bass wobble.

- Oh my god! (electronic music)

- This new version of dubstep

earned the mocking term brostep

due to its more aggressive fist-bumping sound.

What was once the soundtrack for illegal raves

in London was now being played

in halftime shows and in cereal commercials.

(electronic music)

- [Announcer] New Weetabix Chocolate Spoonsize.

- Dubstep found its star moment in 2012

when Skrillex won three awards at the Grammys.

- Hi, Sonny Moore, Skrillex.

This is really crazy for me man.

Just a year and a half ago

I was making that song in my bedroom.

- Soon after, pop heavyweights like Justin Bieber

and Britney Spears began to include

more electronic sound in their work

as dubstep merged deeper into the mainstream.

♪ As long as you la la la la ♪

♪ La la la la la ♪

♪ La la la la la ♪

The DIY element of electronic music

in the early 2010s made it accessible,

but it also drew criticism from music purists.

Computer programs like Ableton with its presets and plugins

allowed anyone with a laptop to produce electronic music.

Websites like Dubstepforum, where audio programs

were shared and pirated, helped amateurs

break into the genre at a professional level.

Eventually artists reacted against

the in your face sound of dubstep.

The extreme nature of the music

that originally made it appealing

might be what pushed fans away.

By 2013, dubstep started to break into other genres.

Post-dubstep artists, such as James Blake

and Mount Kimbie, emerged as early as 2011.

And featured songs with a slowed down tempo

in the range of 130 beats per minute.

♪ That you will ever know ♪

♪ The limitations of a clone ♪

♪ They kept me on my throne ♪

By 2016 the popularity of dubstep had declined.

But it didn't disappear, it just transformed.

Dubstep mixed with Atlanta trap to create EDM trap,

which is still popular today.

Other spinoff genres include filth, glitch,

halfstep, chillstep, deathstep, and drumstep.

Even the pioneers of dubstep

began to distance themselves from the genre.

Around 2012, Skream began playing music

that was more informed by house, disco, and techno.

(electronic music)

(buzzing)

I need it to be better than that though.

It gotta be like.

- [Instructor] And we're gonna move this down

to the sine wave.

And we're gonna hit control click over it.

Select number 14.

- Ooh, what you talking about?

- [Announcer] Two hours later.

- This the bassline right here.

(singing)

It's a sliding bassline.

Like this right here.

(buzzing)

That's the bassline.

And then the melody would be this.

(buzzing and beeping)

I took different elements of dubstep,

different ingredients from the list that we said earlier,

and I just made it my own.

I put it at 140 bpm, I used the wobble bassline,

but I used it in the beginning, not in the ending.

Made the wobble a part of the buildup,

drop out, and then the full instrumentation at the end.

I think it's a cool switch.

I hope you guys enjoy it.

(electronic music)

That's tough.

(singing)

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