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The beginner's guide to dubstep

 
  

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SteppersFan
16:47 / 18.05.06
People here have requested I post something about dubstep, so I've put together a little "beginners guide" so people can get up to speed with it rapidly should they so wish.

Dubstep is an underground music scene derived equally from UKGarage and dub reggae which has been evolving since 2001 but which exploded in popularity in 2006. Essentially, dubstep is one half of what happened to UK Garage when it collapsed due to over-exposure in 2001. Half that scene, in East London and especially Bow, slowed down, focused on the MC rather than the producer or DJ, embraced dancehall and hip hop, and became grime. The other half of that scene, in South London and especially Croydon, stuck at 138 bpm (but often ran beats at half that speed), focused on the producer and largely excised the MC, embraced dub reggae, and became dubstep. For the last year and a half, dubstep has become, for me, the most exciting music in the world. It is also, right now, the sweetest and most delightful music scene you can imagine.

Both dubstep and grime have their roots in the 'ardkore continuum - that current of dance music that runs from hardcore, into jungle, and into UK garage, which has its roots in UK reggae and soundsystem culture. You can see more about the history and nature of dubstep at the Wikipedia entry.

THE MUSIC- WHAT IT SOUNDS LIKE

Musically there's a lot of variation around the theme of "roughly 138bpm tempo, post garage with swining grooves, dub-infused music". There are deep dark spacey wobblers (Loefah), digi-based steppers (Digital Mystikz), breaks-driven bouncers (Skream), stompy hackers (D1), massively overdriven industrial noisescapes (Vex'd), funky rollers (Boxcutter), and very, very soft, delicate, almost ambient ones (Random Trio, Blackdown). All of these styles have something to recommend them.

Dubstep sounds amazing on monstrous systems, and live is where it most makes sense. Unless you've got a very big system at home, or a sub, you will miss literally half the music. (I suspect the home cinema revolution and the addition of subs as a standard component of PCs was a big influence on dubstep production...)

THE DUBSTEP SCENE AND CROWD

The Breezeblock Dubstep Warz mp3 has interviews with all the main players, and one of the points key producer Loefah makes is that dubstep events aren't about drugs, aren't about MCs being aggressive, and aren't about pulling. Rather, the people just want a big dark room, a fuck off deep soundsystem, and bass weight. It's just about being into the music. Weed is the only drug people really go for. Coke is generally frowned upon as "wasteman" but I expect as ever there's a bit about, though I haven't seen any myself. There's a few pills. Weed is the main drug of choice and not everyone does that.

Above all, in the dubstep scene at this time, the vibe is pure PLUR, pure love vibes, and thus far, if people haven't behaved properly, the crowd politely asks them to sort it out. I don't know how long this will last but right now it is, quite simply, a blessed scene. You may think that's hyperbole, but it's true. This has a lot to do with the attitude of the main producers. Unlike most of the people you meet in the music business, they are, for now at least, very humble, very respectful of others, and utterly intolerant of bad vibes that will spoil their nights. They are also extremely indpendent minded - and clued up. They're not looking to make a quick buck because they know there probably is not one to be made.

THE MUSIC - MIXES TO LISTEN TO

There are tons of mixes around for the uninitiated to check out. In particular there are loads at www.barefiles.com, a south London server which has become a repository for scene's music.

Two good introductions to the sound are my own Dubstep Sufferah mix here and Californian blogger Paul Autonomic's exquisite mix (
here )

Plus, you should definitely get the Dub Wars show put together for Radio One's Breezeblock show (Mary Ann Hobbes is a friend of the scene and is regularly at the big dances). It has interviews with and mixes from all the key producers. It's here

I'd also recommend the Digital Mystikz Essential mix, which is an excellent overview of the key unreleased tunes by this very important group. It's
here


Plus you should listen to Skream's landmark mix of his own productions for Blackdown Soundboy (leading dubstep writer and producer Martin Clark):
here
You should also search Barefiles for the Youngsta mixes off London pirate station Rinse FM.

For a historical view, you might want to try the Dubstep History mix - it's
here which is excellent, bumpy, swinging dark garage stuff, or Selector Dub U's fantastic Sub FM mix from March here which mixes reggae, garage, hip hop and electronica (Tangerine Dream!) into a really nice concoction.

THE MUSIC - TUNES TO BUY

For the last year there has simply not been enough dubstep to buy. That meant that the quality was fantastically high, but it also meant that most tunes were familiar since they'd been played out for a long time on dubplate. However there is a raft of new material coming out now that the audience has expanded. Dubstep fans will buy anything on DMZ, the label run by the Digital Mystikz and Loefah. Key releases include Haunted / Anti-War Dub, Neverland / Stuck, and the brilliant new single (though familar for over a year) Ancient Memories. However the biggest dubstep tune is Skream's Midnight Request Line, which is very hooky. Most of Skream's stuff is just brilliant - it's worth getting his recent double pack on Tempa. My personal favourite producr is Loefah, his Goat Stare and Root are fabulous singles, as is the 28Grams / Fearless twelve he did with Skream. Random Trio's Cyrus EP is minimal indian
classical -sampling madness. And most of the releases on the Hotflush label are worth getting especially Boxcutter, but also things like Scuba's Harpoon / Dream 12. Pinch's Qawalli on planet mu is another minimal masterpiece, especially the new VIP mix. Soon come are more Digital Mystikz on the Soul Jazz label, and everyone on the scene is desperate for Skream to release Dutch Flowers and Music To Make You Stagger, which are great, fabulously melodic, massively bouncy records. These should all be out by the end of summer.

DUBSTEP LIVE

The nights I've been to have all been massively friendly, not in that cheesy quaver irritating falseness way, but simply in terms of having a really sound, no-attitude crowd. They've also been nicely mixed gender wise. See the pix on my blog and at Georgina Cook's Drumz of the South blog. I think you can see all her dubstep pix here.

Industrial was kindalike music for menstrual boys, and dubstep has a bit of that vibe about it. It seems pretty female friendly: I have observed that the heavier the music gets at dubstep nights, the more the girls get into it. This was very obvious when Mala from Digital Mystikz played Sheffield - he did a torturous section of unrelenting harsh 4x4 steppers that had 'em screaming... then dropped it down into this amazing jazz funk meets dubstep tune, before taking it back up through groovier sounds.

DUBSTEP NEWS SOURCES

The key place to go to is the dubstep forum itself (go
here)which has a reasonable signal-to-noise ratio although it's a pretty "young" crowd. The don of dubstep writers is Martin Clark; his Blackdown Soundboy blog is essential (it's
here.) He does an excellent monthly column on Grime and Dubstep on Pitchfork (his current one, on the excellent Burial CD, is
here .) Of the non-professionals, Nick Gutterbreakz' blog is terrific (it's here) while for a US perspective, you can't do better than check Paul Autonomic's site here.

That's probably more than enough for now. Basically, dubstep is great right now - enjoy it while it lasts.

paul.meme
 
 
Spaniel
17:23 / 18.05.06
What a fantastic little primer.

Any idea where I can download any Blackdown or Random Trio stuff?
 
 
SteppersFan
17:49 / 18.05.06
Blackdown's first single is available from the Bleep online store (Bleep.com) as is a lot of other dubstep tunes. If you head over to Martin's blog there is a great mix of, in the main, unreleased Blackdown tunes including the magnificent Lata and Crackle Blues.

Random Trio isn't for sale online right now but there's some in my Dubstep SUfferah mix.
 
 
Spaniel
18:08 / 18.05.06
Right, I'm loving what I'm hearing so far...
 
 
Gypsy Lantern
18:24 / 18.05.06
That's fantastic! Thanks a lot! I'll crack on with downloading some of that tonight and return after I've listened to it.
 
 
SteppersFan
21:27 / 18.05.06
Your chest, Gypsy. BTW, we should think about going to BASH. It's the monthly reggae night at Plastic People which is like the in-house reggae do for the dubstep scene. It's one of the best clubs ever, very cheap. Put on by Loefah and the Bug and most of the faces turn out for it.
 
 
illmatic
21:41 / 18.05.06
Brillant primer, mate, cheers. Could people perhaps post their
reactions perhaps to tracks that they hear, positve and negative? Keep the thread roooolllling.

BTW I'd be up for a bit of BASHment, mate, next time you're down. PM me.
 
 
illmatic
22:11 / 18.05.06
Just saw this on Dissensus:

BASH
25th May
The Bug(Ninja/Rephlex) meets the dub poets(Roger Robinson, Space Ape, Malika, Crisis)
Part 2(New Flesh)
Loefah(DMZ/Ital)
John Eden(Uncarved Blogginess)

BASH
At Plastic People.
(Presented by The Bug & Loefah)

Policy :
Bashment, Dub, Ragga, Rockers, Roots, Lovers, Soca...

10-2AM
5/Conc


... if anyone fancies it?
 
 
SteppersFan
09:46 / 19.05.06
Yeah, looks like I'm reaching this (but not the Abyssinians -- been caning it a bit recently). I'm delighted that my friend John Eden is sharing some of his extraordinary collection with the Bash crowd. Hopefully he'll draw for some 80s fast chat.

Space Ape vs the Bug should be worth seeing. Space Ape usually spits for dubstep innovator / dark garage veteran / sonic warfare theorist Kode9 and he is much more than just an MC. He's a Black Atlanticist hype man and last-days revelation poet who comes up with lines like "a head is a place where pleasure and pain collide" - pow...
 
 
Char Aina
09:52 / 19.05.06
Paul Autonomic's link is a bit borked. i think it's okay without the "".
 
 
Gypsy Lantern
12:11 / 19.05.06
Downloaded your Dubstep Sufferer mix and have been listening to it. I really like this stuff. I can see what you mean by only hearing half of the music though. I was listening to it on headphones on the way into work this morning and got a sense of a whole load of background stuff going on that just wasnt getting picked up on my equipment. It's enough to make me contemplate getting something better to listen to it on...

I like the spaciousness of it, the dub weirdness and ambient noise that drifts in and out. Very interested in trying to get to the thing on 25th. Will try and sort that out I reckon.
 
 
illmatic
12:41 / 19.05.06
I had a listen to the mix also. I liked it more than the DMZ mix that I listened to the day before. I think it takes awhile to attuned to the tempo and - as with a lot of dance music - the lack of *stuff happening*. So, second excursion, much more positive, but perhaps third time lucky as they say!
 
 
Char Aina
13:35 / 19.05.06
i know what you mean.
i got the impression it would be much better on a dancefloor.
it's good to dance about the house to, for sure, but i reckon the atmosphere would make it so much bigger.
 
 
Totem Polish
16:50 / 19.05.06
Been listening to the Dubstep Sufferah mix on repeat since last night, the variation in textures and tempos is amazing.

I'm sure it works much better on a proper soundsystem since, like Gypsy I found that the impact of listening through headphones gives a lot more scope for the sub than ordinary speakers.

Would it be possible for you to give us a tracklist 2stepfan? I'm now really jealous of you because I can't make it to BASH and, whatsmore, dubstep seems to be the way forward as party music goes - not as relentless as dnb but minimal enough to keep moving, like a more peaceful ragga. Nice.
 
 
SteppersFan
17:09 / 19.05.06
Totem:
> Been listening to the Dubstep Sufferah mix on repeat
> since last night, the variation in textures and tempos is
> amazing.

You're most kind. I should point out that it's all at 138bpm, though the energy moves around a lot, and there's heaps of "half step" -- where the beat is at 69bpm, and most of the rest is 138.

> Would it be possible for you to give us a tracklist
> 2stepfan?
Full tracklisting plus track timings within the file should be in the Lyrics tab -- dunno if you can see that but most player software should see that. Otherwise, it's all up at http://blog.grievousangel.net/?p=314

> I'm now really jealous of you because I can't make it to
> BASH
Bear in mind that BASH is prety much all reggae. FWD, also as Plastic People, is a leading dubstep night, and it's every third Thursday of the month. Just been one where Skream and N-Type rocked it. Plus there's the biggie, DMZ, in Brixton, on July 8th. There's a DMZ in Leeds at the West Indian Centre (in the back room of Iration Steppas' Transmission D'n'B night) tomorrow night, the 20th.

> dubstep seems to be the way forward as party music goes -
> not as relentless as dnb but minimal enough to keep
Yeah, it's one of them. It's all about the sweetness of the crowd though.

BTW, the Burial CD is out today.
 
 
Totem Polish
17:23 / 19.05.06
2stepfan: Bear in mind that BASH is prety much all reggae

You're just taunting me aren't you...lol.
 
 
lekvar
21:02 / 19.05.06
Whooo, I am really really really enjoying this, especially the Dubstep Sufferah. Thank you so much for bringing this to my attention. The Sufferah mix seems a lot more... dub-y than the Essential Mix. This is all doubly cool since I've been listening to a lot of dub recently and have been wondering which artists* are keeping it alive in the new millenium. Now I know.

Any U.S. posters know if there's a similar movement here?


*I know about Bill Laswell and massive attack. If anyone has any suggestions, please, please PM me or share publicly.
 
 
Kiltartan Cross
22:36 / 19.05.06
This is good stuff, I'm loving the Sufferah mix. Glad you posted!
 
 
SteppersFan
10:08 / 20.05.06
You're most kind. The Sufferah mix adds significant amounts of dub FX to the tunes, and re-edits most of the records as well, so it's possible that it fits the dub template well. It's worth checking Paul Autonomic's mix for a similar approach. Both mixes are an easier way in for most listeners than the pirate radio sets, though they have more authenticity and energy in some ways.

If you want to buy mix CDs, the best bets are Tempa's Dubstep All Stars volumes 2 and 3. Volume 2 is from Youngsta, probably the best technical DJ on the scene and is chock full of classics. Volume 3 is from Kode 9 and Space Ape, and is full of future classics. Easily buy-able from Amazon etc.
 
 
T Blixius
20:56 / 20.05.06
Argh, I can't seem to download hardly any of those links. Is it just me ?
 
 
T Blixius
00:49 / 21.05.06
Ah nevermind. It's cleared up now. Excellent tunes by the way !
 
 
Totem Polish
14:49 / 21.05.06
Downloaded the Skream mix off Blackdown last night and my lord its fierce. Far less ambient than the other stuff, particularly the Blackdown and Selector Dub U mixes, still plenty of sub action going, just a lot more going on between the treble and the bass, absolutely amazing.

What label is he on btw. 2stepfan? Had a cursory look at bleep.com last night and couldn't find his stuff, though their higher bit rate mp3s look hectic and shall be having cash blown on them shortly. Also, having realised that the only early ukg I really liked was the Zed Bias end of things I was wondering if he's still around...and whatsmore who's this El-B guy that everyone seems to love up so much?
 
 
Totem Polish
14:52 / 21.05.06
Sorry, just noticed Skream's on Tempa, so off to bleep I go...
 
 
SteppersFan
16:12 / 22.05.06
Zed Bias still does occasional tunes for DJ Zinc's Bingo label and might be doing some d'n'b.

El B was fantastic - Burial loves him - did fabulous dark garage beats. I hear he got pissed off that there weren't enough girls on the scene and started doing hip-hop and r'n'b, dunno if any of it got released.

Skream stuff isn't on mp3 because most of his stuff is still in print; artists tend to put stuff out on mp3 when the first couple of runs are sold out and they can't afford to do any more. He definitely excels at putting mid-range energy back in and writes some terrific melodies (and he's only 18!).
 
 
illmatic
10:19 / 26.05.06
Well, I went to Bash last night post-pub and it was absolutely fantastic. Hard to place, in a weird way. Not your usual reggae crowd, but not a trendy Shoreditch crowd either. Who cares 'cos it fucking rocked.

On topic - heard my first Dubstep tunes in their native environmnet, and yeah, Jesus, does it sound good on a big system. Fucking killer. 2Stepfan - who were the MCs?

Stricly future business we a deal wid!
 
 
SteppersFan
18:28 / 26.05.06
Suddenly it just comes into focus and that irritating, repetitive, dull little sound suddenly becomes this oceanic, enveloping, rib-cage rattling universe of sound.

MCs: main hype man for the night was Sgt Pokes (ex-jungle MC, reggae selector of some repute, and main-man MC for Digital Mystikz and Loefah).

The really, really sharp dub poet with the cool kangol hat, dark rimmed glasses and effortless syncopated flow whom you really liked is Space Ape, who principally works with Kode 9 but occasionaly does it with da mystikz.

The others were Malika, Roger Robinson, and Crisis, but sadly I don't know which was which (and there was another really good one too... aarrgh...).

Glad you liked it. Bass healing. FWD at Plastic People next thursday with Loefah and Digital Mystikz which will, genuinely, be both roadblocked and fantastic.
 
 
Hydra vs Leviathan
22:29 / 28.05.06
dubstep events aren't about drugs, aren't about MCs being aggressive, and aren't about pulling. Rather, the people just want a big dark room, a fuck off deep soundsystem, and bass weight. It's just about being into the music. Weed is the only drug people really go for. Coke is generally frowned upon as "wasteman" but I expect as ever there's a bit about, though I haven't seen any myself. There's a few pills. Weed is the main drug of choice and not everyone does that.

Above all, in the dubstep scene at this time, the vibe is pure PLUR, pure love vibes, and thus far, if people haven't behaved properly, the crowd politely asks them to sort it out. I don't know how long this will last but right now it is, quite simply, a blessed scene. You may think that's hyperbole, but it's true. This has a lot to do with the attitude of the main producers. Unlike most of the people you meet in the music business, they are, for now at least, very humble, very respectful of others, and utterly intolerant of bad vibes that will spoil their nights. They are also extremely indpendent minded - and clued up. They're not looking to make a quick buck because they know there probably is not one to be made.


Got to say i haven't really knowingly heard any dubstep (altho actually, i *think* i've heard that "Qawwali" tune that was mentioned somewhere, under the impression it was just, well, Qawwali-influenced electronica/drum'n'bass), but this makes it sound like exactly my kind of scene - in fact, it sounds like an idealised description of the actual UK roots/dub scene (Shaka, Iration, etc), which is the scene i *would* be into if i had enough of a meatspace social life to go clubbing)... you say it's the descendant of UK garage, would you say there's any cross-pollination with either the roots reggae scene or that "crusty dub" scene? cos i was under the impression those wouldn't cross over much...

Sounds like dubstep is the sort of music that i'd be much more into going out and dancing to than listening to at home (except possibly the odd track) tho...

(also possibly stupid question: what's PLUR?)
 
 
SteppersFan
19:47 / 31.05.06
PLUR = peace, love, unity, respect

> it sounds like an idealised description of the actual UK
> roots/dub scene
Yup, that's almost exactly what it is.

> you say it's the descendant of UK garage, would you say
> there's any cross-pollination with either the roots reggae
> scene or that "crusty dub" scene?
Yes, there's a huge current and historical cross over. There was a lot of sound system culture in UKG; this has been almost overbearingly emphasised in dubstep. To most intents and purposes you may as well call dubstep a variant of UK digi reggae - but that would wind various people up. Even so, it's a massively, massively reggae-influenced scene.

Truly dread...
 
 
Totem Polish
15:29 / 28.06.06
Right, it's the last Thursday of the month and I'm back in London finally. Bash is on and...well, anyone going down?

Also, recently heard the M.R.K 1 and Sizzla tune, don't know if it's a collaboration or just a remix but it's an amazing mix of dubstep with dancehall. I think I heard echoes of the 'Jamrock' rhythm in there so maybe a remix but an incredible reworking at that. Anyone else been checking this (looking at you Natty and Steppers).
 
 
Totem Polish
15:30 / 28.06.06
Btw. the Sizzla song's called 'I Got to' or something like that...
 
 
illmatic
16:13 / 28.06.06
I would go to Bash, but I've a previous appointment at Do Dirt. Next month for sure.
 
 
SteppersFan
17:47 / 28.06.06
Bash is tomorrow night (Thursday) and should be good, got some grime MCs coming to crossover. Won't be going sadly.

BUT - the wonderful DMZ is on in a weeks time - July 8th. Top lineup with some scorching back to backs. Reach early. IMO the best night in the world right now. I am making a pilgrimage.

Mark's mix of Sizzla is good but could have been a bit more mental. It was sorted out by one of the dubstep backroom people, one of the Ammunition / Tempa crew IIRC, who was doing some business with Sizzla and took the backing track with him. Did a deal and out it comes. I'll get the download from Bleep but not the vinyl. Sizzla is already on dubstep via a sample on Digital Mystikz' fantastic Ancient Memories.

Right now it's all about the anticipation for the next DMZ release - Loefah's MONUMENTAL Ruffage / Mud - and anticipation for the new Skream material, especially the soon-come Skreamizm 2 double twelve (with Deep Concentration and 0800!!!). Still no sign of Dutch Flowerz.

And Dubstep night FWD took over The End on Friday - a big leap forward and evidence of the sound's rapidly growing audience. The system wasn't low and heavy enough but still a big night apparently.

DMZ info:
 
 
kan
12:41 / 29.06.06
Thanks for Dubstep Sufferah, it's in my ears right now and am really enjoying the sound.
I'm hoping it will act as the glue to keep me stuck to my drawings (lots of work to do) instead of these threads, we'll see.
 
 
Chiropteran
05:55 / 30.06.06
Steppers, I've been downloading dubstep mixes all day - Dubstep Sufferah drew me in, and the Skream mix hooked me (and Kode9's Nine Samurai-damn!). Thanks for that. I know a sound's got me when I immediately want to fire up my own gear and take a swing at it. I just wish I had a system that could handle the lights-dimming bass.
 
 
silpulsar
22:17 / 01.07.06
ahhh...so nice to see dubstep people introducing this massive sound to more people.

the dubstep sufferah mix has been in steady rotation on my iPod for a coupla months now. great effects work...working on implementing some interesting effects usage into my own sets (i use ableton as well).

as far the person asking about US dubstep scenes, things are small right now, but growing. dubwarz in NYC seems to have really taken off, and there are random events scattered throughout the states, mostly dependent on fanatics of the sound just getting up and making events happen, but it's still pretty small. i gotta say i kinda like that.

i have only experienced the dubstep community online, but thus far i gotta say there IS some real community there. even though the music is reaching far and wide (thanks interwebs!), there still seems to be a slow, organic growth to the music and the surrounding scene. i think that keeps it from blowing up too fast and inviting in the greedy people. at this point, most people involved are very protective of the music and the artists, and the communication between the punters and the artists is still pretty good. keeps it very personal and chill.

i have been a musician for over 2 decades and a DJ for over 11 years and this music and scene is exciting me like punk and then later, techno did when i first found it. only i found techno after it had become big and there was already some idjits involved.

dubstep still feels pute, simple and wonderful to me, and i am more excited about music now than i have been in a long time.

**waves at other dubstep forums people in here**
 
  

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