2011 will be known as the year dubstep hit the mainstream, and let’s be real — the results weren’t exactly glorious. It’s been a time when everyone from Enter Shikari to Britney Spears has been crudely inserting arbitrary wob-wob-wob noises into their songs in cringeworthy attempts to be relevant, while the new ‘brostep’ craze has captured the hearts and minds of American frat-boys in ways unprecedented since the days of nu metal.
Speaking of which, you may have heard that Korn have recently released their new album The Path of Totality, where they’ve brought in several well-known dubstep producers to replace their down-tuned seven-string guitar riffs with shiny new bass wobbles. Unsurprisingly the results are awful, but it does do a great job of showing how the dubstep movement has become to the 2010s what ‘unplugged’ acoustic sets were to the 1990s: a quick way of instantly gaining (or regaining) credibility and relevance. Most artists don’t go quite as far as releasing a whole album, though; what’s the point when you can just rope in an underground producer to remix your latest single, and therefore avoid potential alienation of your primary fanbase?
One of the big-name dubstep producers Korn brought in to make The Path of Totality was long time fan Skrillex (his mother calls him Sonny Moore), the artist who’s been credited with almost singlehandedly turning the genre into a household name in the last couple of years. Formerly the frontman for screamo band From First to Last, Sonny has managed to create a stomping fusion of dubstep and house music and use it to become the biggest dance act since The Prodigy. His style tends to throw subtlety out of the window in favour of massive bass drops, with the occasional parent-scaring sample thrown in to make some pretty great party music. For many teenagers, especially in America, dubstep is currently the coolest genre of music, and it’s practically synonymous with Skrillex.
On the flipside, however, there are also a slew of artists — like James Blake, Burial, Zomby, Kode9 and The Spaceape — operating on a more diverse, sparse and generally more experimental songwriting approach, all of whom are also being lauded by the music press as dubstep artists. It’s confusing when a musical movement is both dominating the mainstream charts and in the favour of taste-setting music critics, much like how alternative rock was in the 90s, but in this case it seems hard to believe that all these artists are meant to be making the same music.
So why has dubstep become such a huge thing in such a relatively short time?
Perhaps it’s because one could make a convincing case for it being the only truly unique sound in the modern music landscape: as much as I love new groups, it’s hard to think of a single band or movement in pop, indie, punk, metal or rap that cannot be described accurately as ‘[90s artist] meets [70s artist]’, or something similar. Or perhaps it’s the fact that it emerged from inner-city London which gives it an authentic aura that kids latch onto: it wasn’t until this year that the vast majority of dubstep wasn’t released on 7″ vinyls and EPs only, and in an age where you can own a popular artist’s entire discography with a few clicks of a mouse one could see how this could give it a certain mystique. Or maybe it’s linked to the recent rise in MDMA sales, I don’t know.