Is There a Rift in the Dubstep Community? Examining UK and US Dubstep

By Janet Martin

“Look out U.K., we’re here to take your only legit music,” is the sentiment written in a September 2011 article in Sol Republic magazine. Search the Internet and you will find countless articles of a similar vein, implying that there is some sort of competition between U.S. and U.K. dubstep. The same sort of mindset can be seen when you look up dubstep artists on YouTube.

Nvate dubstep SMOG by Drew Best J:Kenzo Truth Kemst EVL_E Los Globos

Dubstep DJ J:Kenzo performing at Los Globos club in Los Angeles, Cali.

On a video for Truth’s “Terror Planet,” comments like “[I]hate those trend-hopping teens who like the noise that Skrillex makes,” by fans suggest that there is a divide even amongst different U.S. artists. With all the noise people are making, it would seem the world of dubstep is home to some pretty heavy rivalries, the likes of which haven’t been seen since East Coast versus West Coast rap. However, the people and artists working within the scene say it’s not the intense competition that the media would lead you to believe. There is, however, a difference between the outlooks of those producing the music and those listening to it.

What is Dubstep?

In order to understand these opinions, one must first look at the facts and origins of the music. According to About.com, dubstep first arose in London in the early 2000s. It originated from dub remixes of 2-step garage and songs are created when remixers attempt to introduce new sounds into the 2-step genre. Oxford Dictionary adds sparse, syncopated rhythms and a strong bass line to the definition and UrbanDicitonary.com mentions reggae, jungle, grime, techno and IDM (intelligent dance music) as other important influences.

To create a dubstep track, DJs collect and organize different sounds and musical elements electronically. By emphasizing certain traits over others, the artists create different sounds and styles that later evolve into specific genres and subcategories of dubstep. These subgenres are the root of the problem. Searching online for “dubstep subgenres” produces an endless list with hundreds of different names, definitions and examples. As with any style of music, the lines between one style of dubstep and another are fluid, leading to serious debates amongst fans about what is “real” dubhop, “real” deepstep or “real” dubstep.

Do Subgenres Divert from the “Real” Dubstep?

Nvate dubstep SMOG by Drew Best J:Kenzo Truth Kemst EVL_E Los Globos

It’s a debate SMOG founder Drew Best believes comes from fans and industry people. As described on the website, SMOG was founded in 2006 and has since become one of the founding brands in the North American Dubstep movement. It started out as an event production company, just one party designed to bring dubstep sounds into Los Angeles.

Now, over 200 shows later according to Best, it has expanded into a record label, development hub and lifestyle brand. As someone very passionate about and familiar with the music, Best has no issue with genres in general. “I think genres are useful in describing to someone a style of music,” he said. “There are broad and loose terms that describe a certain genre, and then there are the subgenres which fans and journalists create. I think that is where the labeling gets a little carried away.”

The Artists and the Fans: Do Fans Create the Rivalry?

The subgenres are something for the fans and the artists do not feel the same urge to debate and argue labels. This can be seen in the apparent rivalry between U.S. and U.K. styles. On DubstepForum.com, fan truefiktion said their favorite style is “U.K. hands down. Not being biased, we just make better dubstep,” they said. “We stick to our roots and still try and keep the original dubstep sounds. I don’t mind some American stuff but very little. Every American dubstep producer combined would still get shit on by Loefah from a great height.”

In the same thread, fan SGN said, “It’s gotta be U.K. for me by quite a distance.” It makes it seem like the people within the genre are constantly battling it out over which specific style reigns supreme. But Best sees it differently. “There’s not much rivalry at all. It’s a very welcome, open community. I think that’s what drew people to dubstep in the first place.”

And his opinion doesn’t seem that far off. At a SMOG event held at Los Globos in Los Angeles, Calif., on Oct. 14, U.S. artist Kemst performed right alongside U.K. born J:Kenzo. With all the talk of “this is better than that,” one might have expected separate dressing rooms and creative tension. But in actuality, the DJs showed nothing but support for their fellow artists, country of origin aside. In fact, J:Kenzo even stood by Truth during their segment and cheered them on, enjoying every second of the American sound. “What I love about dubstep,” said Best, “is there is a lot more back and forth. People take the sound and do their own thing with it.”

Nvate dubstep SMOG by Drew Best J:Kenzo Truth Kemst EVL_E Los Globos

J:Kenzo

The distinctions that do exist amongst the dubstep artists are a little less style-combatant and origin-centric. Although British artist James Blake once told The Phoenix that U.S. dubstep is for nothing more than “the frat boy market,” he changed his tune in a February 2012 interview. “In all dubstep, or most anyways, even commercial stuff nowadays, there’s a sense of intricate rhythmic programming and [these guys] really focused on that, these really small changes in rhythm that can make a huge impact,” Blake said to the Huffington Post. “I’ve been asked a lot about the state of dubstep in America, and everyone wants me to say something controversial, but I have no negative feelings toward anything really.”

EVL_E, the drummer and co-music director for dubstep group DLX, believes “Duke Ellington put it best ‘there are only two kinds of music—good and bad.’” Where you come from matters less than the pieces you create. It’s about one individual making something new and interesting, not about falling cleanly into a specific and yet oftentimes arbitrary category.

“I like to think that most artists get into the studio and work on music that comes from what they are feeling at that moment,” believes Best. “Music, like most forms of art, is usually a creative process that borrows from the work of others, but they add their unique take on it.”

“When you hear music in a club and a DJ plays a track that gets a big reaction from the crowd, it is usually a mix of the familiar and the adventurous twist that a producer added to it,” Best said. “I think those always make for the best moments in music.”

Creating Subgenres Helps Fans Define Who They Are

The general feeling leans more toward mutual respect and a desire to create something that people enjoy. And yet, the debates amongst fans persist. If the overall attitude is one of creative exchange and acknowledgment of good no matter what genre, then why do fans insist on dividing the music?

In chapter one of their book “Musical Identities,” David J. Hargreaves, Dorothy Miell and Raymond A.R. Macdonald stated that “music can be used increasingly as a means by which we formulate and express our individual identities. We use it not only to regulate our own everyday moods and behaviors, but also to present ourselves to others in the way we prefer.”

“Our musical tastes and preferences can form an important statement of our values and attitudes, and composers and performers use their music to express their own distinctive views of the world,” as stated in the book.

Or, as Best put it, “Everyone wants to have their own thing.” Fans like creating subgenres because it is a way to define who they are. It’s less about defining something as “dark bass” or “brostep” and more about defining something as Jane’s music or Joe’s jams. Try and fit something into their genre with which Jane and Joe do not want to associate and you might as well offend their personality. They take their rivalries seriously, and—rather than distance themselves—the artists see this as a passion and respect for their sound. “The fans debate more than the DJs,” said EVL_E, “but it’s nice to hear their opinions. It educates and helps perpetuate the music very organically.”

In the end, it’s not about where the artist is from, whether or not the track has vocals, or if it wobbles. As the production manager for Los Globos puts it, dubstep is “real and trusting. It’s about keeping true.” So long as aspiring dubstep artists stick to that, they will easily fall into the category of “real” dubstep.

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