Dubstep: The Rise of Skrillex

I live abroad, and it’s starting to become a problem for my pop culture diet. When I first left the US for Japan, everything was OK. I knew what was on TV (Lost, 24, and a start-up called Glee); I knew what was on the radio (Beyonce, Chris Brown, and the girl Chris Brown beat up before he got to face no consequences and drop another platinum record). But it’s been 3 years of living in Japan now, and I’m starting to lose touch.  Television for me is a group of D-rate celebrities trying out mysterious foods, and then being told after the fact what they ate; their reactions are hilarious! My airwaves don’t carry Beyonce, or whatever track lil Wayne whored himself onto this week (every hip hop album released since 2008 has a song on it featuring Lil Wayne and/or Jay-Z. You can fact check that). Instead, I get forty eight fifteen-year-olds singing sugar pop and making out with each other in music videos. And yes, on some level my conscious mind has chosen to ignore, I disapprove too.

Just a few days ago my CNN news ticker popped up and said the Grammys were dominated by British Singer Jabba the Hut** and something named Nicki Minaj’s “nightmare performance.” I had already heard of John Candy**, but I had to look up whatever the hell a Nicki Minaj was. It turns out it’s a bat-shit insane female rapper, who I suspect has razor blades lining her vagina. Anyway, paired with my recent birthday, meaning I’m getting old, my pop-ignorance launched me into a crisis. As we all know, the best way to stay young is to know what the kids are listening to, and I DON’T ANYMORE. So I decided to research something hip, and write about it on the internets to prove I’m still basking in the Spring of youth. I needed something mainstream and big, but also somewhat fringe and cutting edge. That sounds tough, but I basically just needed the musical equivalent of a Hot Topic store. (Intro with light synth beats) Eventually, walled behind message boards and youtube clips, I found my muse. (mute all sound) And her name is….

Before you read further, please listen to this, and this. No, that’s not audio of a rhinoceros masturbating to your 90’s modem connecting to the Internet. Those are samples of the musical genre we will now explore.

Dubstep is the new wave in electronic dance music, and  grew out of breakbeat and drum & bass stylez during the late 90’s. Like Sir Michael Caine’s unbearable accent, it originated in South London, and was championed in the London club movement Forward (stylized FWD>>). All the og DJ’s of the time would meet up in the basements of real clubs upstairs that were playing David Guetta and Tiesto, and showcase their massive tracks and titanic bass drops in the basement where no one of note could hear. The term “dubstep” itself seems to have been coined in 2002 within the pages of music/culture magazine XLR8R (sound it out). Early champions of the genre included El-B, Zed Bias, and Skream.

Dubstep got bigger in the mid 2000’s, and started being featured in movie soundtracks too, most notably 2006’s Children of Men. Eventually, dubstep reached the mainstream through an Appalachian-inbred young boy named Skrillex (we’ll get to him later). Today, popular artists all over the place, like Rihanna, Korn, and even Snoop Dogg all use dubstep tracks in their music.

I’m not a music person, so describing the characteristics of the genre is tough. Basically, it’s slightly down-tempo drum & bass, with a darker tone, usually in a minor key. Cursory internet research reveals it often features something called the Tritonite interval, which surprisingly has nothing to do with warp engines and space travel. Dubstep also features a lot of wobble bass. Lots of it. Here’s an example if you don’t know what it is. Recent stuff has gotten more “experimental,” and features vocals and classical music and other high brow things like that. Here’s an example.

Song structure is pretty simple. It goes Intro–> BASS DROP–> Main section –> intro-like midsection–> BASS DROP 2–> Main section again–> Outro. A single dubstep track will last you anywhere from 6 minutes to eternity. Many of them never end no matter how much you might wish them to.

The heart and soul of a dubstep track is of course the BASS DROP, which must be spelled in all CAPS, and can only be described as massive and brutal. Basically, any adjective adequate for medieval weaponry works great in characterizing BASS DROPS. Never call them good or awesome, or heaven forbid, cool. There is no such thing as a bad BASS DROP, as they are inherently colossal. BASS DROPS are the auditory equivalent of a 300 lb gorilla thrusting at a slab of granite. Waiting for the bass to drop is a sexual experience for most dubstep fans. America’s youth now sit alone and quiet in their rooms in anticipation, drooling and hankering for the bass to drop so they can reach eargasm. Try to remember the feeling of watching the girl take her panties off the first time you had sex, and multiply it times every time you press “play” on your mp3 player. Thankfully, dubstep tracks climax early, and BASS DROPS usually happen before 1 minute mark. Also not unlike a first-time sexual experience….a pattern is emerging here.

The mainstreamization of dubstep has a face. Unfortunately, it’s this one.

That is not an extra who just stepped off the set of Deliverance; it’s Skrillex. Don’t worry if you haven’t heard of him because your kids have. Never before has such monumental success been paired with such controversy. Most legit dubstep fans try to separate themselves from Skrillex and other American DJ’s like Bassnectar and 12th Planet, part of the sub-genre pejoratively dubbed “brostep.” To most sane residents of Earth, there is absolutely no difference between classical dubstep and it’s American idiot cousin brostep, but zealots insist the New World version is more aggressive and un-nuanced. It’s too heavy metal for them.

Anyway, why all the Skrillex hate? First, because he looks like this. I won’t pretend to know anything about his family background, but I suspect his mother may also be his aunt. Second, people hate him because he is viewed as un-genuine, mainstream, and talentless. He’s won 3 Grammys, so those opinions are probably correct. According to Wikipedia, he was the lead singer for a few post-hardcore rock bands, and then for whatever reason decided to become a DJ in 2007. His first big hit was this little gem, and his rise to stardom includes producing several songs for the super young and hip band Korn.

Fanboys like to legitimize their dubstep status by disavowing Skrillex. See, if you try to defend him, no matter what your argument is, just the mere fact you do not beat down on the kid’s abilities proves you’re a neophyte. Judging by Internet message boards everyone hates him passionately and he has no fans, which is weird since he’s very popular and makes money. I suspect the phenomenon is similar to the seedy clubs in Tokyo’s Roppongi district that are somehow always packed. Everyone goes there, but no one admits to it.

Dubstep is huge now, and it’s everywhere. Try looking on youtube; there are millions of songs that are all sort of the same, but somehow very different according to people under 25. I don’t understand it, and neither do you, but now we KNOW of it. And that can help us be massive and brutal.

Later days,


**Actual stage name is Adele

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