As a huge dubstep fan myself, whenever it happens to be brought up in conversation, I am almost always met with someone saying “Oh, you mean like Skrillex”, to which I either at this point don’t bother to offer a reply, or simply say ‘no’. There has been a fierce rivalry between the UK and US dubstep scenes since US dubstep artists, commonly referred to in Britain as “Brostep artists” started to produce their version of the originally UK sound. The term Brostep itself was even coined as a mockery, an attempt to associate the screechy and tiresome American sound with unsophisticated frat bros, Chads and Brads, that were perceived to be its main fanbase. To a UK fan the comparison of Skrillex’s shrieking howling monstrosities to Mala’s deep jazzy grooves and Skream’s hard-hitting bass notes is a crime against British rave culture, and indeed music itself. However, is the intense hatred aimed at the American spin-off unfair ? Can it even be argued that if it weren’t for a change in dubstep that happened within the UK itself that it would never have been produced ?
What’s the Difference ?
To even suggest this to many UK dubstep fans is borderline criminal. The usual “The Americans took our culture and created a worse version” line is commonly used when describing the US offshoot of dubstep, and to be fair this can to an extent be justified when you look at past examples of US versions of UK TV shows, The US Office or US Inbetweeners to name a couple, that ditched the dark and relatable Bristish comedy that made both shows so iconic, and replaced that with a far more silly and unrealistically happy version, or in some cases just repeated same sections of the original script, but failed to capture the nuances in the previous shows that made them so hilarious and down to earth. The comparison between UK dubstep and US dubstep is similar in this regard, instead of continuing with the subliminal low base tones and groovy sophistication of the UK genre, the US version took the crunchy, aggressive bass of artists like Coki and switched it up to a million, instead of a slow tense build up with a subsequent deep and booming bass drop, now we hear a random pop intro with a sudden shrieking synth note that suddenly appears out of nowhere as if by random mistake, assaulting the listeners ears and featuring no correlation to the song. Part of this development is due to the fact that a lot of US dubstep is intended for radio play, to be heard by mass audiences on car radio speakers, whereas the UK genre was intended to be played on huge soundsystems, when the bass wobbles started to kick in the floor would vibrate. Much of the pleasure of dubstep didn’t come from just the audio nature of the track but the physical nature of bass hits on giant sound systems often set up in underground basements.While UK dubstep culture was rooted in underground rave culture, and the life of a typical young adult in London, the US variant for better or worse became far more commercialised, replacing the culture for mass appeal.
The Smoking Ban:
However, to the average listener, there are many UK tracks that can appear almost indistinguishable to those found in the US. Artists like Coki, had been creating hard, screechy and sudden bass tracks in the UK for years before Skrillex decided to take that element into his music, and it was often received pretty well. Of course there are still differences between the two, one of these being that these sorts of tracks were dropped only once or twice in a set, and thus had much more of a hit when they came on, they were a rarity built into the night designed to create a peak in the experience, and didn’t make up entire albums in the way Skrillex’s similar tracks do. However this all changed with the UK indoor smoking ban. Smoking inside public places was banned in The UK during the mid 2000s, around dubstep’s peak as a genre, which began to have a drastic effect on sets when DJs noticed that people would then be constantly walking in and out of the room, effectively breaking up and potentially ruining the experience. And so, aggressive tracks began to be played more and more often so that when people came back in they would be instantly sucked back into the experience and become part of the night again. This was then of course, later picked up by US dubstep artists, who saw the energy of these aggressive tracks and used many of the same techniques when making their own music.
Thus, you really have to ask if this great hatred of US dubstep is completely fair when really much of it is inspired by traits in the UK genre that were in fact greatly popular at the time. If anything it has actually brought dubstep out of its underground roots and made it far more popular, and while the old heads undoubtedly get infuriated by this, claiming it to be a loss of culture, which in some ways it is, it has brought more appeal to dubstep as a genre. Many who didn’t grow up in England in the mid 2000s and weren’t interested in rave culture are now able to experience a genre that they previously had probably never heard of. The loss of culture in favour for appeal is sad, but the UK dubstep scene remains popular to this day, and on close inspection, it really isn’t hard to see the many positives that the US offshoot has arguably had on dubstep as a now global movement.