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Let the Bass Drop

Arts & Culture | October 29, 2012

Dubstep is a mutilated patchwork, a monstrous conglomeration of electronic music. The bass echoes—deep, haunting, grimy. Blasting, reverberating every object to its core; raw, untamed, booming. At a dubstep rave, the sweat of hundreds of dancing people hangs heavy in the air. So hot it’s nearly impossible to breathe. The air vibrates with energy and sweat and the smell of drugs. The bass is at eardrum-shattering levels, the thick whomp and wobble overpowering everything else. But the drop is the most important part of this spectacle—the point in the song where a synth buildup leads to a sudden intrusion of bass that is louder and more significant than everything else, wobbling to the beat. Previously an experimental, underground genre, dubstep first infiltrated London’s mainstream club scene in 2006. Before long, it had spread to clubs across Europe and soon spilled over across the Atlantic to the United States in 2009 and 2010. Since then, dubstep—and the bass—has been taking over America. The scale of such raves and festivals has grown in unprecedented ways.

A dubstep rave is a party crazier and more surreal than any college kid could ever hope to experience on his own. At a rave, your voice—everyone’s incessant, nagging voice—is silenced by the might of the music. Everybody submits to the power of the bass. It blasts loud and raw, as if it stands in defiance of everything, and demands your undivided attention. With speakers the size of cars, the entire venue shakes and vibrates to your core. On the stage, a light show flashes brightly, a dazzling spectacle in and of itself—intricate and grand, a testament to the absolute ear-drum shattering entity that is dubstep. You dance as if nothing else matters, as if trying to appease some all-powerful bass god. For one night you transcend the shitty, everyday routine.
Dubstep wasn’t always geared towards huge venue raves. Its transformation into a rave-friendly genre of music is well documented by The Guardian: “In its formative years, dubstep had been a connoisseur’s sound: deep and dark, moody and meditational, appealing to an audience largely composed of former junglists and 90s-rave veterans… DJs such as Skream and Plastician found themselves playing bigger halls and, consciously or unconsciously, started gearing both their sets and their own productions to what would make a big crowd go nuts. Whatever the case, dubstep transformed into a big-room, peak hour sound: proper rave music.”

A number of dubstep DJs emerged out of the woodwork, each with their unique style. British DJs like Rusko, Nero, and Flux Pavilion wowed audiences with aggressive wobbles and powerful bass lines. Excision and Datsik took the intensity of dubstep to new extremes. “Excision isolated the most aggressive, industrial sounding tracks around,” Best explains. “Nothing but the hardest dubstep.” In Israel, Borgore’s hyper-sexualized and violent lyrics (“But the thing I love the most is cumming on her face. Suck it, bitch!” –Love, Borgore) seemed to perfectly reflect the grime of his bass. Canadian artists like Zeds Dead and Adventure Club integrated a cleaner, more slow-paced but equally monumental bass sound to their dubstep. In the United States, artists like Bassnectar, Skrillex, and Porter Robinson emerged as headliners at dubstep festivals across the nation.

Some of the newer dubstep, most notably Skrillex’s music, has been slandered by dubstep die-hards as “bro-step.” Considered overly rowdy and macho, many dubstep fans criticized “bro-step” as a degradation of dubstep. But these accusations did nothing to stem the tide of artists like Borgore and Skrillex from achieving stardom. Especially in the US, people embraced the aggressive tendencies of bro-step. Today, dubstep festivals are colossal in scale—both in terms of attendance and revenue. “With day tickets selling at around $125 and well over 300,000 attending over three days,” the Guardian calculates, “the Las Vegas EDC [Electric Daisy Carnival] must have grossed in the region of $40m.”

By 2011, dubstep had become established in American culture. “Whatever your opinion, it was undeniable this year [2011] that mainstream America throbbed with wobble, a development heretofore unseen,” said MTV. In 2012, Skrillex was awarded three Grammys—the first dubstep artist to win one. In the US, dubstep became especially popular among college students. The culture on college campuses has been changed by the genre, unifying under one rallying banner on party nights: the bass. Though certainly not for everyone, a walk around campus here at Tufts on a Saturday night would expose the muffled beats of hammering subwoofers from dubstep blasting in the basements of fraternities and house parties. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Skrillex (Sonny Moore) explains why he loves dubstep. “It’s so fun,” he says. “It just lets so many people in and there’s nothing about it that seems shoved down anybody’s throats. You can connect with it culturally because it brings so many different types of people together, from ravers to hip-hop people to whatever people like to dance.”

It’s hard to say whether dubstep is a fad or a lasting trend but its current popularity is undeniable. “Dubstep has become a locus for generational identity in America,” says Best. “The mid-range bass sound just captured the attention of young people. It’s like the high-pitched, aggravating sound of a guitar solo in the 70s. Something your parents are going to hate.” To an older generation, dubstep sounds like electronic garbage, worse than the crap their nine-year-old daughters listen to on the Disney channel. But the youth are always more impressionable, and college is an environment perpetually geared for something new. Our generation’s youth are a bunch of disenfranchised rebels waiting for something to unify them—just like our parents were with rock ‘n’ roll. “Dubstep was moving in to claim the space abandoned by rock,” Best argues. “That space was the perennial demand for a tough, aggressive but forward-looking sound for the release of pent-up frustration.” A dubstep rave is just that—an experience like none other, evoking a furious excitement, chaotic disorder, ground quaking intensity, and thousands of kids our age going wild. Though dubstep’s popularity may fade, the youth angst that made dubstep so widespread seems to be an integral part of American culture. Whether it’s rock n’ roll or dubstep, kids—especially college students—love to claim something new as their own. Like it or not, dubstep may be our generation’s rock n’ roll.