Friday, February 02, 2007
Here come the dubsteppahs
Once a marginal music made by stoned geezer boys in the concrete-coated suburbs of south west London, dubstep has evolved into a worldwide movement run by an ever-increasing army of obsessives. Warm and easy!
Dubstep, some say, should come with a health warning. There’s the hot, ringing ears from a night being assaulted by basslines that rattle inside your cheekbones and the cash that devotees funnel into online record stores like rooted, boomkat or the big daddy, dubplate.net. And most dangerously, there’s the overwhelming obsession that can hit when first exposed to the dizzying, hyper-creative, ultra-rich world of dances like dmz and FWD>> and a spectrum of producers who, as well as creating music ranging from proto-ambient 2-step to wobbling bass bangers, can usually found on the dancefloor of the clubs their pals are DJing at. As rudetone, a member of the always informative and frequently laugh-out-loud funny dubstepforum.com said to a newcomer: “big up for dippin yourself into the dubstep scenage but watch out, you’ll be sucked in before you can say brockout…”
He’s not wrong. The music scene, which grew out of the dark garage offshoot from UK garage – we’re talking producers like Wookie and El-B rather than the glossy soul-pop of acts like SFA and Shanks and Bigfoot – is in serious ascent. It’s happening on a micro level, a fact neatly surmised by some dubstepforum.com figures: in January 2006 there were 200 members, most of whom knew each other in real life. A year later there are five thousand. “It's a 24/7 experience,” says Bristol’s Tom Peverelist, who runs Rooted Records and the Punch Drunk label. “Because the scene is so open, there's so many ways to get involved, from making beats to designing flyers to running websites and blogs. It's really easy to get involved and it's addictive.”
It’s also refreshingly open to newcomers. Although, as Peverelist says, “you’ve have to put in the work and earn those stripes.” The effort required to follow dubstep is reflected in the degree of devotion – and ownership – felt by followers. As with jungle and reggae before it, much of the music remains unreleased and tunes are played for months until they’re made available to the massive. In truth, you can’t really say you’ve heard dubstep until you’ve heard it in context, at a dance. “Hearing it on a solid system is the ultimate way to experience the sound,” says photographer Georgina Cook, who runs the drumzofthesouth blog and is the scene’s top lens girl. “Locking onto Rinse FM allows you to hear the music via the people directly involved with it. They’re very honest stations and the people behind them are not in it for the money, just the music.”
Dmz’s playful yet heavyweight MC, Sgt Pokes, aka 26-year-old Jody Charles, agrees that exclusivity – that only a handful of DJs will have a tune – helps keep the scene strong. “That’s why you go and see Loefah play, innit? If everyone’s playing the same tunes it’ll get stale, bored. It’s so important that DJs and producers have an identity because of the music they play.”
Skream’s Stella Sessions on Rinse FM are a weekly high point. The hyper-prolific 20-year-old, who comes from Croydon and has been involved with the scene since he was 13, hosts a show that is equal parts fresh new music – he’ll often play new tunes or mixes he finished that day – old-school pirate style shout-outs and loping drunken banter with off-mic mates. Skream, real name Oliver Jones, exemplifies dubstep’s good times wing: he has a can of Stella as his online avatar and subtitles his show ‘crack ‘em!’ But there’s plenty more to check: fellow Croydon boys Benga or Walsh; dmz’s heavyweight label with releases from sonic warrior Loefah, bassline king Coki and dub don Mala; Antisocial Entertainment’s Heny G (who describes their style as “liquid dub, gangsta boogie, funkadelic, sidestep shuffle, tropical juice drinking, booming bass in yr face!”) or Blackmarket’s undisputed master of the decks, Youngsta – and that’s just for starters. And if you forget to stream at the time then there’s always barefiles.com, a resource of mixes, shows and dubstep ephemera created by 18-year-old wunderkind, Deapoh.
The dubstep nation is also starting to register on the mainstream radar. The initial tipping point was back in January 2006 when Radio One’s Mary Anne Hobbs showcased the best DJs, producers and MCs in a specially-titled show, Warrior Dubz – which was so popular they turned it into a well-received compilation album and like Burial’s critically acclaimed self-titled LP, sold well. It’s also spreading internationally: shouts on Rinse are as likely to be for the Finnish crew as London’s homegrown steppas; DMZ’s DJs and MC Sgt Pokes are being booked across Europe and America almost every weekend; and outposts are strong in Bristol, Leeds, Nottingham and Glasgow – as well as worldwide. “Back in the early nineties, Jungle never really got the international recognition it deserved,” says Peverelist. “With the internet, you can be at the cutting edge of dubstep even if you are on the other side of the world.” Although as Georgina Cook aptly points out, it’s still a London sound at heart. “You can take the sound out of London,” she quips, “but you can’t take London out of the sound.” Brap!