This article originally appeared in Time Out in July 2011
By Kate Hutchinson
It's hard, it's aggressive and it's taking over America. Kate Hutchinson meets the dubstep DJs blowing up on both sides of the Atlantic
When Caspa and Rusko released their FabricLive37 mix in 2006, they weren't to know that it would be the compilation series' biggest selling disc to date. Nor were they to know that it would go on to define a new era of dubstep producers whose vision is miles away from the deep sounds typified by dubstep originators like the Digital Mystikz duo.
In the past year, however, this type of dubstep has hardened into a bolshier, ravier beast. As Caspa's Dub Police label has widened its dubstep policy, plenty more artists have shouldered their way into the limelight, making music that appalled forum-goers have referred to as “hardstep”, “wobblestep” and even “quackstep” (the sounds can resemble a flock of geese).
'[There are] young audiences who want that mid-range blurt of sound, rather than the deep basslines of original dubstep,' Joe Muggs, Mixmag's dubstep expert, explains. Then there's the contentious term “brostep”, as in, 'the music liked by muscle-flexing, dunder-headed, moshpit-starting American “bros” ', he adds.
That's exactly the reaction in the US, where the style is dominating the US dance music scene. It represents nearly two-thirds of album sales for UKF, the UK's leading dubstep community-cum-label. There, UK DJs like Rusko, who now lives in LA, and the Circus Records crew, spearheaded by Doctor P and Flux Pavilion, who cite Rusko as their inspiration, pack out enormous shows. 'It has really blown up. I never thought it would get this big,' says Caspa, who is himself due to play another 47 dates there this year. 'And the more aggressive sound typified by the likes of Flux Pavilion, Doctor P and Skrillex, etc,' says UKF's Luke Hood, 'currently reigns supreme.'
Take America's biggest mid-range-favouring hero, 23-year-old LA urchin Skrillex. A producer since 2008, he was ensnared by Deadmau5's Mau5trap label last year, which catapulted him to superstardom almost overnight. Though he says he's not 'associated or unassociated with dubstep' himself (his music has an electro-house slant), when he played in London at Spectrum's tenth birthday earlier this year, Mixmag reported scenes that were 'more befitting of a Sepultura gig than an electronic music night'.
'Certainly at the big-room events with big DJs playing wobble, the music is no longer this meditational, hypnotic thing, it's about punishing, gnarly basslines and young men wilding out,' says music journalist and theorist Simon Reynolds. 'You can see it in the way fans talk about top tunes being “sick”, “filthy” and “disgusting”. DJ/producers like Stenchman play that up with track titles that are all about grossness and abjection, matching the way that the tremolo basslines can sound like vomiting or an attack of diarrhoea. And then you have outright sexist tracks by outfits like Borgore.'
Israeli 'gorestep' producer Borgore is in a league all of his own. Feminists would have a field day with tracks like 'Act Like a Ho' and 'Nympho' - one was used in 'Skins' to soundtrack a masturbation scene - and his shows promise whipped cream, blow-up dolls and water guns. Needless to say, his 14- to- 22-year-old fanbase love it, and he's headlining The Playground at Koko this Saturday with support from Doctor P, Flux Pavilion and friends, another fast-rising camp who've been lumped into the stadium-sized 'brostep' arena. For some, it'll sound like a troll farting over a repetitive beat; for others, it's a sublime slice of tear-out filth reminiscent of the cut-and-thrust of nu-metal.
But while the sound is still attacked by dubstep purists - Skream has even commented on his Facebook recently that he's tired of his fans arguing about it - these wobbly artists recognise that young people just want to get off. 'I played in Huntsville, Alabama, recently and it's crazy,' Skrillex told me from his tour bus. 'It's a strange place in the middle of the Bible Belt, so everyone is super-Christian, but I go over there and play a 1,000-capacity room filled with bunch of kids who have never been to a rave or never even heard about it - they just like the music.' Reynolds echoes this sentiment. 'When you factor in the polydrug hedonism, there is a sense that dubstep has turned back into a hardcore sound,' he says. 'It's much more a music that people party hard to: proper rave music for a younger audience who don't remember the '90s.'
Nor is this new scene as dangerous as all this moshing insinuates. 'Moshpits do happen,' admits Caspa. 'But I tell you the good thing about dubstep that people don't tell ya: what happened with garage, jungle and drum 'n' bass is the violence came in, and people didn't want to go out no more. With dubstep, there's never any violence and there are loads of girls in the dance now. As long as the scene stays safe and positive, then do your thing.'
America has, however, made its mark. Circus Records' head honchos Flux Pavilion and Doctor P toured there last month, playing sell-out shows for 4,000 people. 'At one of the shows I had four bouncers surrounding me so I could walk up to where the decks were: people were that excited,' explains Pavilion, who says the experience forced him to become a performer and turn his
set into more of a 'show'. The comparatively small size of London's clubs shocked Skrillex, who couldn't believe that Flux Pavilion and Doctor P were only playing to 800 people in the UK. But with their biggest show yet at Koko this weekend (and UKF have just announced a monster show, Bass Culture, at Alexandra Palace in November with chart smashers Chase & Status), that could be set to change.
What's more, Muggs sees these types of shows as a huge opportunity for UK dubstep. 'It's still expanding in all directions, both in pop and the underground, and it still remains interconnected,' he says. 'Already you can see it with Pearson Sound (Ramadanman, as was) becoming a big star, and you'll even see that someone like Flux Pavilion is about far more than just quack noises. If British musicians play their cards right there's a lot they can achieve in the wake of people like the Circus boys.'
The Playground is at Koko on Saturday July 23; Skrillex will be appearing at Creamfields, Aug 26-28 (www.creamfields.com); the next Dub Police is at Fabric on Oct 21.