If you are like me, old and cantankerous, then new things probably frighten and infuriate you. So you are prepared as I am to do whatever it takes, short of actually leaving your porch, to ensure that they stay off of your lawn and out of your headphones. For right-thinking people like us, the dubstep is the enemy, what with its newness, its loudness, its relentlessness, and its ubiquity…ness. It is a blight on musical culture; it is pure, unadulterated evil, and it must be avoided and decried, even if avoiding it means you’ll be decrying it without actually giving it a proper listen.
While you were wisely avoiding it, your humble correspondent took it upon himself, in the spirit of our own Tod Kelly’s encounters with politically unpopular movements (no politics!), to descend into the seedy underbelly (it’s actually pretty tame, and more like right on the surface) of the pop culture world in order to learn everything I could about the dubstep. For months now I have conducted surveys and interviews, read Wikipedia and Pitchfork articles, gone to shows, and listened to Pandora. I have now finally emerged from those dark depths, and here I will relate to you what I have learned. I believe the word hero is often overused, but…
The first step in my journey was the conduct a comprehensive survey of dubstep fans (n=2, my son and his friend Mario, who’s on the debate team), the results of which indicated that in order to even begin to understand the dubstep, you have to listen to something called a Skrillex*, which is some sort of long-haired, bespectacled creature that produces music characterized by periods of somewhat seductive computer bloops and bleeps on top of a simple beat, periods that are punctuated by moments of sheer madness consisting of bass layered over sub-bass layered over an aneurysm. Witness:
The two other dubstep essentials, according to my teenage sample, are a bit more palatable, if still mildly discomfiting. They are Flux Pavillion (here featuring Childish Gambino, whom some of you may know as Troy Barnes from Community):
And Diplo* (NSFW; this song is apparently about twerking, so if you don’t want to see twerking, do not watch this video):
With these three artists under our belt (and out of the way, thank God! No religion!), we have the basics of dubstep, again according to my teenage sample (of 2).
After that sonic onslaught, I thought I’d give your ears a bit of a break by telling you the story of my first dubstep show. Not all that long ago, some friends and I were roaming 6th Street, tired of standing in lines, and really just tired period, when we noticed a club with an open door and no line. I could see a DJ setting up inside, and since I like DJ music most of the time, or thought I did, I suggested that we pop into that club for a beer and a bit of a break. So in we popped, bought a round, and sauntered over to the stage, where we stood right in front of this cute, barely chest-high speaker that did not look the least bit intimidating, just as the DJ was starting his set.
The DJ, who looked to be in his mid-20s and was wearing a black cap and a Steelers jersey, began with a pleasant beat, then laid some samples over it, creating a nice, mellow electronic groove. Everyone in the club raised their hands straight up into the air and began to sway gently from side to side to the beat, and I thought to myself, I got my beer, I got my mellow beats, everyone’s having fun — this is relaxing.
About a minute or so in, the DJ began to jump up and down, and I remember thinking, “Oh, this cat is really into his DJing. Good for him.” Then I noticed that everyone in the crowd had started jumping as well, including my friends, and I wondered, “Should I be…”, but before I could finish this thought the DJ reached down and did something on his laptop, something which caused the speaker next to me and its twin on the other end of the stage to emit a “sound,” as if that term even began to express the complete assault on my senses, that I can only describe as being like the simultaneous rumblings of a hundred million elephants calling to each other across the vast plains of sub-Saharan Africa at a frequency just above the lower limits of human hearing. Right next to my ears. It was the loudest sound I had ever heard. I still have nightmares.
In the bottle I was holding, my beer began to jump along with the twenty-somethings who surrounded me, all of whom had a look of ecstasy on their faces that I can only assume was matched by the look of confusion and utter terror on mine. At the speed of light a succession of thoughts flitted through my brain, including: Am I having a heart attack? I think my spleen just burst. Can this ceiling hold? I want my mama. Why, God, why? Then, after what seemed like an eternity, though the few remaining portions of my brain that had not been completely liquefied told me it had only been 30-45 seconds, the onslaught was over, and we were back to the beat and the samples.
I endured a good half hour of this cycle of cool dance music followed by sonic defibrillation, during which the DJ was asked by one of the venues employees not once, not twice, but thrice to turn the music down. He complied with each request and still the “drops,” as the kids are calling them, remained well above Austin’s decibel limit. I know this because just as he was winding down, the employee asked him to turn it down a fourth time.
After the show, with only the sound crickets deep in my head to talk over, one of my friends said to me, “That bleh blebbedy bleh,” to which I replied, “IF YOU’RE TALKING, I CAN’T HEAR YOU. I CAN SEE YOUR LIPS MOVING, BUT I CAN’T HEAR YOU,” to which she replied, “THAT WAS DUBSTEP!”
Now that I’ve gone on too long, I must let you in on a secret. Please keep this just between you and me. As I’ve explored the world of dubstep and gradually learned that it’s more than just Skrillex, Flux Pavilion, Diplo, and their “brostep” ilk, I’ve actually come to enjoy some of it, as well as sub- and related genres, such as liquid dubstep (which I assume implies there is solid and gaseous dubstep as well, though I have yet to find examples of those):
In fact, as someone who’s loved electronic music for a couple decades, I’m grateful for some of the incredible artists I’ve found exploring dubstep, like TNGHT, Joker (Jessie Ware is friggin’ awesome!):
Now that I’ve alienated most of you with dubstep in my first real Wednesday music post, I hope those who remain will find something here they like, and maybe even let me know about some artists I may not have discovered yet, because it turns out, dubstep’s not so evil, and not so frightening (except live, where it is absolutely terrifying!). Some of it is in fact quite good.
*I actually mispronounced this as Skill-rex for months, until my son finally took pity on me.
**I mispronounced Diplo until today, when I realized it’s Dip Low.