Five years ago, dubstep was just another fresh but obscure strain of dance music, limited almost exclusively to a handful of nightclubs in south London.
Today it is taking over dance floors worldwide.
Born out of drum’n’bass and the 2-step UK garage movement which propelled Craig David to fame, dubstep completed its journey from quirky curiosity to commercial success story earlier in July when DJ Fresh’s “Louder” hit the top of the UK singles chart.
Having been eagerly gobbled up by clubbers across Europe, dubstep now looks set to conquer the final frontier with US DJs bringing it to the attention of the traditionally electro-sceptic Americans.
“You have to hear it live to understand what it’s all about,” British dubstep producer Jakwob told AFP.
“There’s two extremes. It’s either very loud and angry or very minimal and bass driven and more ambient. It’s a groove thing.”
Pioneering producers Skream and Hatcha helped define the early dubstep sound while working at the Big Apple Records record shop in Croydon, a south London suburb previously only notable as the birthplace of model Kate Moss.
“It used to be quite underground, about five years ago in Croydon, then started spreading,” DJ Magazine’s clubbing editor, Adam Saville, told AFP.
Early dubstep tracks clocked in at a brisk 140 beats per minute, but the placement of a kick drum on only two beats of the bar - a legacy of its 2-step influence - gave the songs a half-tempo feel.
The syncopated, sparse rhythms were filled out using liberal dollops of the echoing “reverb” effect, and combined with an omnipresent sub-bass - often treated with a drum’n’bass “wobble” - to create the genre’s dark signature sound.
Jakwob said he was inspired to make dubstep after an early gig by Skream and another leading producer, Rusko, left him “absolutely blown away”.
“You can listen to it at home but for full impact you need to hear it on a big system,” he added.
- The States is waking up to dance -
The road to chart recognition began with Burial’s Mercury Prize nomination in 2008 and continued through the more accessible sounds of Rusko and Magnetic Man, a project by three pioneers, Artwork, Benga and Skream.
“It used to be quite esoteric but these days it has hit the mainstream,” said Saville. Magnetic Man, whose eponymous album was released at the end of last year, “was very important in crossing over. That was a turning point.”
As well as writing his own music, Jakwob made a name for himself by remixing pop tracks, most notably Ellie Goulding’s “Starry Eyed”.
He was soon inundated with remix requests from record labels, as the industry clambered to give its pop artists some underground credibility.
“I’m coming into it more traditionally - almost commercially - and a lot of people are doing that now and giving it a different feel,” said Jakwob, who has remixed M.I.A, Temper Trap, Lily Allen and Robyn.
Baltimore DJ Joe Nice is widely credited as being the first person to take dubstep to US clubbers.
However, its adoption by college radio threatens to turn it from an underground fad into a mainstream phenomenon in a country opening its ears to electronic music.
“The States is really waking up to dance for the first time through David Guetta, The Black Eyed Peas and even Lady Gaga,” said Saville.
But Jakwob, who often DJs in the United States, said there were differences in the two nations’ approach to the genre. “In America it’s not really the same style. It’s really industrial and really heavy,” he said.
As the world of dance music continues to turn apace, the early sound is already being superceded by a raft of sub-genres.
“There’s different strands of it appearing every other minute; dubstep, post-dubstep and all hybrid strands,” Saville said.
This is unlikely to reach global dance floors just yet, however. “It takes the mainstream a long time to catch up with what’s going on underground. In six months, a year or maybe two it will rise to the surface,” he said