Why Dubstep's Popularity Fluctuates More Than Any Genre

Exploring the ebb and flow of the bass-heavy genre
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Exploring the ebb and flow of the bass-heavy genre
Caspa

Caspa

Dubstep.
It’s a genre of the extremes.

You either love it mildly, and head bang to your Soundcloud stream by yourself in your spare time, or you love it madly, attend bass shows at the earliest opportunity and possibly follow your favorite artists across the nation.

However, there are also those who absolutely hate it and jump at any chance to chime in on the trendy gossip that “Dubstep is dead.”

In all my years listening, exploring, and producing electronic music, I have never heard any of the genres, be it the top picks of Trance or Deep House, or even the more underground genres like Drum and Bass and Glitch, being noted as “dead.”

So why is Dubstep getting bullied? Wasn’t it just a few years ago that Skrillex won four Grammys for Dubstep oriented tracks? In fact, Skrillex holds the record for winning the most Grammys by an electronic artist, most of which were from a form of bass music, but he has since seemed to ditch the tempo altogether.

Less than five years after the boom, according to many, "Dubstep is dead,” or in the words of the legendary Bassnectar, “a thing of the past.” From branching out all over the world, to dropping off the mainstream map, to now attempting to rise again in popularity, what makes Dubstep fluctuate so drastically? The bipolarity of the genre is worse than any of my own family members, so let’s break it down.

Brostep vs Dubstep: There’s a Difference, I swear.

Not every Dubstep song has the easy-to-follow hook and soft distortion of iconic tracks like the one's produced by Digital Mystikz, Distance, Pinch, and many other early purveyors. 'Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites' or Adventure Club’s melodic remix of 'Crave You', two tracks that helped launch the genre into the mainstream, pushed a new style into the spotlight. When Dubstep seemed to peak in popularity in 2010, it resonated with listeners of all genres—and even with people who had never been exposed to electronic music before. The bass heavy songs that landed on the map were actually quite soft on the ear early on, and sparsely crossed the threshold of overwhelming.

Skrillex (photo via Wikimedia)

Skrillex (photo via Wikimedia)

However, this wasn’t quite Dubstep. The music from artists such as Skrillex, Krewella, and Knife Party properly fell under the “Brostep” category. This style consists of a mixture of electro textures that follow the fundamental elements of Dubstep such as tempo and song structure. It is less focused on bringing out the lower frequencies and sub rolls, but rather relies heavily on squeaky mid to high range sounds that actually emulate metal guitar riffs—and more often than not, Optimus Prime and all the Transformers put together. So, in truth, this wave of electronic music wasn’t instantly rejected because it actually had qualities that were already familiar to the ear.

But maybe not all ears. You can bet that Brostep will make your father yell at you with the question of “What is that?” (I’ve been there. In fact, when I tell my dad I’m producing Dubstep, he still associates it with Brostep and makes a face of disgust. Sorry, Dad. Keep listening to your Jazz.) I’m not bashing on any type of music nor any type of artist, as they all are highly respected in their own way. However, after Brostep’s rise to the top of the charts, people whose ears were spoiled and coddled with the soft-core version of bass music began to hear what Dubstep really was—dark and eerie chords, subsonic heavy bass lines, deep elastic wobbles! Oh my!

If you would like to imagine yourself taking such a leap, compare Pegboard Nerd’s '20,000' with Getter and Datsik’s 'Hollow Pointand you’ll see why Brostepppers were so quick to turn Dubstep away, claim it as devil music, and perhaps try to rebuke it through some sort of song exorcism.

Hey, it’s not for everyone.

The Crowds Got Tough: Bros, Mosh Pits, and Twerking

So even after listeners got their slap in the face of what Dubstep truly was, you would think that would thin out the herd and leave the true Bassheads left standing.

Wrong.

I got into Dubstep in 2009 and I started going to shows around 2011. From then on, I went to Dubstep events on a weekly basis. Through the years, the crowds started getting tougher and tougher for me to be around. There were people who couldn’t handle their substances, women twerking to Excision, (still waiting to be proven wrong that those two things don’t go hand in hand), and many bloody noses on the dancefloor from serious horseplay. Mosh pits grew more and more aggressive, and I was often pushed unwillingly into the violent circles. (I am a little person, I do not volunteer as mosh pit tribute) I was either getting caught in the nose from an elbow or being heavily flirted with by some boys in tank tops and snapbacks, and sometimes even sandals... It appeared that the overall mentality changed—and so did the intention for being there. The crowds felt different because suddenly the crowds were different.

It became so overwhelming that I stopped going to these types of events, unless I had the option to take a break backstage. Now, this wasn’t just because I was a giant wuss when it came to mosh pits or that I couldn’t appreciate a woman’s ability to bounce her ass. Simply put, because of these factors, Dubstep crowds gained a bad reputation around the EDM industry and fan base. If you ask any Drum and Bass fans, or even electro fans, why they dislike Dubstep, you are almost guaranteed a reply such as, “Because of the crowds.”

The Bullheaded Genre: Conformity vs. Focusing on the Roots

And bless their little hearts. It’s very gratifying to see artists who stick to their genre of music and stay there even when its popularity dips and flips like a ride at Disneyland. They stand by it, even when the world around them is telling them to make the “right switch” that will boost their publicity. But true Dubstep has never been one for conformity since it emerged in the UK. 

Skream 2006 (photo via Wikimedia Commons/ Retinafunk)

Skream in 2006 (photo via Wikimedia Commons/Retinafunk)

Don’t get me wrong, there is no issue with branching out of your original genre and trying new things. Datsik formed the duo Ephwurd, where his focal became less about the Dubstep tempo, and Skream, one of the original pioneers of the genre, is known famously for making experimental beats outside of his deep wobbles. It's hard to argue that he didn't ditch the Dubstep sound, but it wasn't a bad move for him as he has experimented with tempos throughout his career. That being said, there are plenty of artists in electronic music that keep their eyes peeled for the easier road to fame—and the next bandwagon to jump onto. More often than not, true Dubstep artists will always come back to their roots, or stay with it completely throughout the turbulent times of the genre. This is also a contribution to why Dubstep peaked and then fell back into the underground shadows. Artists weren’t going to conform. They stuck by their genre and were damn proud of it too. Lack of conformity lead to the communal disinterest of the people. Disinterest of the people means thinning of the herd.

And there we have it, the reasons as to why Dubstep is the most fluctuating genre there is.

But to leave all you loyal Bassheads with a little bit of lasting hope for Dubstep, I would like to acknowledge the many artists who are helping the culture make a big comeback in 2016.

Eptic, Twine, Slushii, Bear Grillz, EH!DE, Virtual Riot, Truth, Rekoil, Dodge & Fuski, Getter, PhaseOne, Trampa, SKisM, Badklaat, Boy Kid Cloud, JPhelpz, Aweminus, Sadhu, Requake, are all continuing to bring Dubstep to new heights. While the early pioneers like Mala and the Deep Medi crew, along with artists like Compa, Las, Gantz, Quest, Silkie and many more, continue to innovate by staying true to their sound. So stay hopeful, Dubstep is still very much alive.

Deep Medi

Deep Medi