David Ononye

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An Assessment of Dubstep

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Approximately one decade ago, amid London’s bustling hip-hop scene, someone saw fit to inject a fresh wave of music into the new millennium. Or rather, someone thought it would be a good idea to pluck bass rhythm from its customary background layer and give it a psychedelic wobble.

That’s one bare-bones interpretation of dubstep: a mild hip-hop beat corrupted by bass fluctuations gone haywire. It’s unconventional to say the least, and abrasive to some people, but it still seduces youthful ears. England is currently drenched in it, and here in the United States, it’s a burgeoning sensation.

Artists like Britney Spears, Rihanna, Kanye West and Jay-Z are all keen on dubstep infusion. Traces of the sound can be found in a few of their latest records, and this trend seems to be gaining traction with other prominent musicians. So could it be a matter of time before dubstep becomes a full-blown mainstream brand of music? Or is it already there?

But the real question is: How does dubstep reflect this generation?

Strangely, dubstep feels appropriate for our technological age. It’s music that can be mixed together through an assortment of programs on a laptop, even at the most professional level. But that doesn’t necessarily undermine its authenticity, because it benefits from a processed sound.

Original dubstep pioneers like Skream and Benga sought to disseminate a chilled-out vibe with their tunes; drawing from relaxing drum ‘n’ bass rhythms, gently undulating the lower tones. Subtlety was an ambition.

Now, popular dubstep has turned much more volatile. And in this transformation it has filled its gut with electronic sounds. Ridiculous and unhealthy electronic sounds. It has become impregnated with the sort of cacophonous roaring that a savage machine might make when powering up. In fact, tracks such as “Synesthesia” by Critic and “First of the Year” by American dubstep producer Skrillex have been described by fans as “transformers humping;” a playful characterization of the electronic “filth” that makes them sound wonderful and hideous at the same time.

That’s what shapes dubstep into a fitting companion for this era of gizmos and gadgets. First, it harnesses all the familiar buzzes and echoes of technology, then melds them with music. It creates a type of discombobulated mechanical ambience which seems to resonate with listeners on some perverse level. This is a connection that might not be as strong with audiences who haven’t developed an affinity for such noises.

Additionally, dubstep reflects a certain cultural nuance. Though technology may be silvery sleek with an alluring gleam, our interactions with it are not nearly as smooth. Take the Internet as an example: It is a garish mess on top of an elegant pattern. Through flashy designs, clumsy language, and indiscrete activity, the net is plagued with human impulsiveness.

This is something that often gets overlooked in broad depictions of the hi-tech world. The truth is that social culture in cyberspace is just as dirty as a Doctor P bass drop in the middle of a serenade. Dubstep channels that contamination of purity, the incompatibility of nature and technology, the disharmony of funky music combined with funkier electronics. It doesn’t feel quite right, but for some reason still has charm.

Nevertheless, in spite of its current appeal, dubstep will probably have to mature before becoming even more prominent, or at least before becoming more legitimate. Right now it plays to brashness. It has all the attributes of a hot new subversive fad meant to tear down the constructs of tradition. But it still draws substantial criticism.

Dubstep can be seen as repetitive when a particular track fails to contain enough musical ideas or relies too much on a single creative flourish. Vocals on most dubstep tunes use ubiquitous Auto Tune enhancement, sampling and rehashing vocals from past songs. It creates a high-pitched sound indented to contrast with the dark mood of the piece, but it often just irritates with its shrillness.

However, these issues don’t seem to be much of a worry for dubstep fanatics,  because refinement is possibly the last thing on their minds. Most are still cherishing the moment, leaving the future up for grabs. Right now the focus of dubstep remains on embracing all the thrills and imperfections of both beauty and the beast.



Mellow ————>           “Framboise” by Mimosa (featuring Sasha Rose)

Manic ————–>                             “Synesthesia” by Critic



Written by – David Ononye



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The News Record



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October 24, 2011 at 9:50 pm

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