Dubstep: How 140 BPM is Defining A Generation

by Christian Redl

Imagine this: Your ribcage rattling as you are surrounded by a frantic mob, sweating, and bright lights that blind you. Now, ask yourself, “Where am I?” Has the world fallen into chaos? Is this the end of the world? No, you’re just at a Skrillex concert! But if a dubstep concert sounds so horrifying, why is there such a huge response to this once underground music genre?

The answer is in the roots of the music itself. Believe it or not, dubstep was first created or heard in the late 1990’s in the southern areas of London, a city well known for its influence in “disruptive” musical genres. Just a hop, skip, and a jump away in West London thirty years prior, a little band called the Sex Pistols tore down any sense of social boundary and etiquette with remarkable ease. Fast forward to the 90’s, and dubstep didn’t even have a name yet.

It wasn’t until around 2002 that early dubstep record labels such as Tempa, Soulja, and Shelflife, coined the term “dubstep.” It was thanks to a little club named Plastic People, which devoted itself to displaying the specific sounds of dubstep to the masses as a regular headlining act. Ever since then, this genre has exploded across the world. But what is this world cult phenomenon? What separates it from other forms of electronica? To sum it up in one word: Bass. And lots of it.

To the more technical of musical critics, it has a classic 4/4 time signature, while floating usually around 140 BPM, or beats per measure. To the ravers, dubstep is a genre that makes your chest cave in when you stand next to a subwoofer.

When dubstep first emerged on the scene, it was a variation of british house music and D n’ B, which are both major dancing genres. Many people were listening to this new genre and didn’t even realize it, which helped keep it underground to the masses. It wasn’t until Brittney Spears sampled heavy bass tones in her 2011 single, “Hold It Against Me,” that dubstep truly emerged into the pop culture world. Since then, many other artists, like Rihanna, have followed suit and have used the dance-inducing tremolo of dubstep.

Not every artist sounds like this, and I would like to thank—or rather scorn—the likes of major players in the dubstep scene, like Skrillex and Flux Pavilion, for stereotyping the genre. Dubstep has evolved over many years, and has moved further and further away from the House-like dancing qualities it once possessed to a more intense and violent dissonance that has attracted a new type of listener.

Being a child from the 90’s, I grew up with the likes of Nirvana, and later bands like Slipknot, grabbing the attention of the misguided and ostracized youth of America. And now, with fewer and fewer bands actually playing instruments with the resurgence of electronic music made famous by the 80’s (cheers, Eurythmics), where was the counter culture of America’s youth to turn? Right here, where music is loud, obnoxious, and surprisingly intoxicating. It is the heavy metal of the electronic world. Crowds gather to head-bang to deafening decibels at festivals and concerts, trying to forget the troubles they face in their everyday lives. There is a sense of family and camaraderie amongst devoted subjects; dubstep is the new counter-culture. It has opened its wobbly arms and embraced underground society whole-heartedly.

The invention of the internet and music sharing sites, like Soundcloud, Beatport, and yes, even Youtube, also had its hand in making dubstep more popular. These sights made the distribution and downloading of songs and artists as easy as a click of the mouse. Also, with dubstep being an electronic genre, anyone who owns a computer can quickly become an even larger part of the phenomenon by creating his or her own songs with something as simple as Logic your Macbook. Many would say that this ruins the genre, letting anyone create what they think is “dubstep.” But change and variety leads to growth.  This genre has only just begun to blossom, and all you can say for certain is that eardrums are going to bleed.