Dubstep

by george palladev

Dubstep. Great, formidable and popular. None of the modern electronic music genres has such a mixed reputation, which is at times close to hatred. Revived by Internet memes, European hardcore is mostly remembered by the middle-aged men and women who danced to it on world dancefloors in their twenties. Clownstep, which gave a second life to jump-up, is known practically only in drum and bass circles. The only genre to be ahead of the new form of dubstep in terms of the reverse proportion of popularity to quality is nu progressive house.

  1. jump-up

  1. speed garage

Among the new listeners of this very fashionable genre, only a few know about British garage, which formed its style. For the majority, dubstep is a monolithic obelisk, alienated from all other genres; an obelisk weaving webs of diverse sounds. In reality, dubstep logically came out of the previous subgenres of UK garage. It all began with the great popularity of American garage house in Europe in the early 90s. Having evolved by the late 90s into a bald and harmless movement with a dominant and awful bass line, speed garage collapsed under the commercial onslaught of similar releases. 2-Step Garage, that appeared a bit earlier than the time its big brother collapsed, was commercially successful. It was sugar-coated with sweet vocals; it was elegant, intelligent, and charming. Its popularity was based entirely on a simple desire for luxury. The showy self-indulgence dominated until around 1999, when the 2-step garage scene started creating a great amount of serious tracks that weren’t made according to any style templates. Already in 2001, 2-step became unrecognisable—it rather resembled grime, but these changes led to what was later called dubstep.

El-B. Half of Groove Chronicles

His homeland is the Southern London area of Croydon. In the Eastern part of the area, there was a vinyl record shop Big Apple Records. The main seller there was one of the future creators of dubstep, Hatcha. Later, he chose Skream, a future super master of the genre, who at that time was just giving good expectations and spent all his time after school in the shop, as his apprentice. Big Apple sold a variety of thematic oldschool music. Excellent records with British hardcore, jungle and drum and bass classics, 2-step, house and techno were regularly bought by those who now have the title of the dubstep legends: El-B, Zed Bias, N type, Loefah, Benga, Plastician, Mala, Coki, Ben Ill and Jay King.

Groove Chronicles — Stone cold 1998

Written by Steven Jude, Lewis Beadle
From Stone cold single, Groove Chronicles

Zed Bias — Neighbourhood (El-B remix) 1999

Written by Dave Jones, Glen Woods
Vocal MC Rumpus, Nicky Prince
Remixed by Lewis Beadle
From Neighbourhood single, Locked On

Zed Bias

  1. jungle
  2. darkcore
  3. techstep

Zed Bias from the old guard of dark garage believes that the attraction of 2-step to the dark sound was inevitable—most genres come to this sooner or later. European hardcore went through so many reincarnations and what did it come to—the last shelters in the form of gabba, terrorcore and speedcore. Jungle also joined the dark side, not to mention drum and bass, which fell so many times into techstep, neurofunk, darkstep, technoid and nu jump-up. Experts in British garage say practically unanimously that the main precursor to the 2-step eclipse was the recording of the Groove Chronicles alliance—Stone Cold, released in 1998. To a certain extent, it was also traditional 2-step: the soft sound of an electronic organ and saxophone together with fragments of Aaliyah’s a capella and a deep bass line, giving a nice feeling of combination with something unknown. This has paved the way for new experiments. Later, other landmark works appeared, for instance Black Puppets / 1999 with a clearly wagging bass line. During the transitional period of the new millennium and of 2-step, El-B started a creative group, Ghost, and a label with the same name. And since he represented one half of Groove Chronicles, El B was later considered one of the godfathers (or even simply the fathers) of dubstep, the one who paved the way for it.

Groove Chronicles
Black puppets / 1999

Neil Jolliffe & Sarah Lockhart

There was something really interesting under the concrete cover of 2-step. And, with time, more and more musicians were included in this fascinating process. In 2000, Neil Jolliffe and Sarah Lockhard quit their jobs and in September they registered a small company called Ammunition Promotions. Both of them knew the situation in the deep musical underground very well—they liked a lot of new music that was created in closed circles, but it seemed like it lacked a structure that could bring it to the surface. In the same year, Neil Jolliffe started three labels: Tempa, Soulja and Shelflife—the previous working place served for the distribution of music. Soon Tempa started leading and became a key dubstep label. The pinnacle of Neil and Sarah’s activity were Forward parties (often written like FWD>>). At first, they happened in the Velvet Rooms club and later and permanently afterwards, in Plastic People. It was a good time for these kind of experiments: clubs that played traditional 2-step were getting closed because of a huge amount of drugs and guns, while Forward wasn’t even about 2-step—it played the role of a place for experiments and helped to gauge the audience's reaction to records from Neil and Sarah’s numerous labels. As had happened before with other genres of electronic music, Forward was forming a new and absolutely autonomous movement.

Hatcha

Jolliffe and Lockhard knew many dark garage artists personally, so they didn’t have much trouble with organising performances. The first resident of the Forward club night was the 20-year-old Hatcha. He became an example for the first wave of young artists of the future dubstep. Young Benga, Skream, Loefah, Mala and Coki would bring him their first records and Hatcha listened to them and gave advice: on what they should focus on and what he was expecting from them next time. Hatcha became the first host of a radio show about dubstep on an extremely influential pirate radio station Rinse FM in 2001. He's still proud to be the first dubstep DJ, not without too much modesty and snobbery :-)

Darqwan — As we enta 2001

Written by Oris Jay
From As we enta / Pipe dreams single, Soulja

Ammunition Promotions quickly took what they could: stylish minimalistic posters of the weekly Forward parties, neat text logos, the nice graphic design on releases, and professional photos of the musicians are all due to the designer Stewart Hammersley (Give Up Art) and the photographer Shaun Bloodworth who were Neil’s great friends and who he offered a new job right before he started the labels. Tasty and juicy self-presentation of dubstep musicians went together with ascetic printing—before that, the guys had high positions in one of the food magazines. Thus, the genre began to quickly develop its own space until it could be done by someone else: key labels, key artists, a thematic club party and its own vision of the design of the phenomenon. It only needed a name.

A London street.
May 2008

60th issue of the XLR8R magazine, where the term dubstep was thrown to the masses for the first time.

So, the name appeared. In July 2002, the San Francisco magazine XLR8R released the 60th issue with Horsepower Productions, who were still a trio, on the cover, and above them, as if it was handwritten, the diagnosis—dubstep. That was it, it needed nothing more—the image of the subgenre was completed. Previously, dubstep was called either 138 (because of the tempo) or nu dark swing, which included breakbeat garage, that was created a little bit earlier, as well as dubstep, grime sprouts, and much more stuff that couldn’t be clearly defined.

There are lots of discussions on the Internet about who was the first to invent the name of the genre: was it one of the ideologists of dubstep and dark garage in general, Kode9, or one of the founders of Ammunition Promotions, Neil Jolliffe. An important artist of the style, DJ Plastician (former known as Plasticman) argues that it was Neil who was the first to use the word dubstep to define the influence of the Jamaican dub music tradition on dark garage, meaning a reformed 2-step. (Southern London has a high concentration of migrants from the Caribbean islands. This is the reason for such an influence.) It’s known for sure that Neil said it while listening to the remix of the Kingstone MC Elephant Man for the first time, performed by Horsepower Productions. (In 2002, the first album of dubstep as a genre as well as Horsepower’s first album was released with a dub version of the remix, just like in Jamaica.)

Kode9

Then for about a year, the magic word kept appearing in the promo group press releases until the group made it appear on the cover of an American magazine. In 2002, Kode9 released a dubsteppa mix—they say the name went from there. But even assuming that the story of the name is obscure and it’s not clear which person from the scene came up with it, it is important that the participants of the movement themselves suggested and implemented it. (Not like with speed garage: the term was invented by Todd Edwards who was only indirectly related to the scene while all the rest of it tried to disown amphetamines.)

Elephant Man — Log on (Horsepower Productions remix) 2001

Written by Jeremy Harding, O’Neil Bryan
Remixed by Ben Garner, Y. Small
From Log on (Horsepower Productions remixes) single, Greensleeves Records

Dub War — Generation 2001

Written by Ben Garner, Bill Fuller
From Murderous style single, Tempa

The sacred dub came out of Jamaican reggae when it became clear that a version of a song which was recorded without words by mistake was as good at rocking the people on the dancefloor as the version with vocals. Later they started adding different effects like echo or a reverberator; then they decided to cut out the melody from the original, leaving only a few fragments, and most importantly, the creators increased the bass and drums at low frequencies and, as a result, the sound became denser, darker and more complicated altogether. The special effects and the sounds that they created sank in the deep bass line. Dubstep inherited the prevalence of instruments from dub. At first, Jamaican dub was different from reggae precisely because its versions were purged of words, they were just backing tracks. In the 70s, Kingston labels released 7-inch 45s with the vocal version on the A-side and the instrumental one (which was simply marked dub) on the B-side. The fact that 2-step was going further and further to the dark side, was more and more orientated towards slow low-frequency bass, and relied less on anyone’s voice, gave it a certain dub sound, a transition to another state which is closer to dub music. To compare—the track Dub from the Heart, which many consider a proto-dubstep track.

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Everything you need to know about real dubstep: first dark garage records, FWD>> nights, Tempa label, obscurity and uprise, the following transition into a different state—brostep. Everything you need to know about fake dubstep: how bro was born, the way it started as a joke yet turned into a global phenomenon, the way it is treated in mass culture. Hatcha, Neil Jolliffe & Sarah Lockhart, Rinse FM, Burial, Kode9, Skream & Benga, Plastician, Mala, Coki, Loefah, Benny Ill, Arthur Smith and many others. Musicians from brostep side: Rusko, Skrillex, Caspa, Datsik, Borgore, Flux Pavilion, Nero and many others. I think it’s a good reason to leave your email here :) No spam, no crap, no ad. Just music.

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