Dubstep might be the new heavy metal. It’s dark, it’s aggressive, and it’s already conquered North American suburbs with little mainstream media support. Born in the clubs of south London in the early oughties, Dubstep is a hybrid of dub, drum and bass, and glitchy electronica. At its most inoffensive, it’s moody restaurantica. At its best, it’s an obnoxiously fun and angry assault on your ears; the kind that makes you say, “What is this shit? That’s not music,” just like every generation of old people has uttered when they were confronted with a new and exciting musical genre.
Maybe you love it, maybe you hate it, maybe you’ve never heard of it. Regardless, it’s impossible to ignore anymore as it’s gradually popping up everywhere. You’ll hear a Rusko song between whistles at sporting events, read a great review of Burial on your favourite blog, see a hilarious YouTube video with a dubstep score or watch a stripper dance to a Skream remix of La Roux at the No5 Orange (it was an incredibly classy performance). And it’s only going to keep spreading. This past week, Justin Bieber announced his next album is going to include some dubstep while the biggest name in the genre, Skrillex, was receiving five Grammy nominations — including Best New Artist.
Skrillex, who seemingly appeared overnight, is so huge YouTube will probably make you sit through a Procter & Gamble ad for VapoRub or a digital pregnancy test before you can watch his excellent video for “First of the Year (Equinox)” (It received a Grammy nomination for Best Short Form Music Video). Or maybe give a listen to this one, “Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites,” which is closing in on a stupefying 50 million views. To give you a little perspective, the first single from Jay-Z and Kanye West’s album Watch the Throne has nearly 30 million views. Skrillex is a pop star that’s never had his music played on commercial radio or television.
In his previous life, when he was 18, Skrillex went by his given name Sonny Moore and was the lead singer of screamo band From First to Last (Yep, that’s him screamo-ing.) Now practically geriatric at 23, it only seems fitting that a kid who was signed to Epitaph Records and played the Warped Tour is the one to triumphantly bring dubstep from the trendy areas of London to the Hot Topics of every mall in suburban America. Feel old and out of touch yet? I sure do, and I’m the one writing about this shit.
Purists of the dubstep genre, of course, hate him. They say he looks like a jackass and his music lacks subtlety; that it’s too in your face. His sound has petulantly been labeled Brostep — the connotation being that only jockish idiots and frat boys listen to it. Having observed his fans closely when Skrillex was in Vancouver for two sold out shows at the PNE Forum in October, I’ll attest that they do look suspiciously like participants in the Stanley Cup Riot, only groovier. But maybe hockey’s not the violent sports reference I should be making. The dubstep snob’s critique of his music is comparable to a boxing fan ragging on MMA Fighting. Can’t we just all agree that, so long as someone’s face or ears get viciously maimed, it’s great entertainment?
this article was originally published in the tyee in december 2011