What is Dubstep Music? - Definition, Types & Artists

Instructor: Benjamin Olson
This lesson will explore the basic elements and history of the electronic dance music subgenre known as dubstep. Other genres that have influenced dubstep will be discussed and the trajectory of the subgenre will be detailed.

Defining Dubstep

Dubstep is a subgenre of electronic dance music that originated in England around the turn of the 21st century. Bass is the key element to dubstep and serves as the defining feature of the subgenre's sound. The herky-jerky rhythmic element of dubstep takes its cues from related genres like drum 'n' bass, garage, and grime. Beyond two basic structural elements - heavy bass and skittering beats - dubstep is a rather open-ended genre with significant room for variation and incorporation of other styles.

Putting the Dub in Dubstep

Before getting to dubstep, we must begin by looking at the genre known as dub. Dub is the most experimental and abstract of the family of Jamaican musical genres that emerged from the Kingston music scene in the 1960s and 1970s. These genres are often grouped under the heading reggae, but dub can be considered a distinct genre in its own right.

According to ethnomusicologist Michael Veal, dub was one of the first genres of popular music to use the studio and the recording/remixing process as a musical instrument. Dub takes fragments of recordings and cuts and pastes them into new arrangements, then layers them over a repetitive, grooving reggae beat. The result is a psychedelic mélange of bass-heavy, reverb drenched sound. Voices and snippets of instrumentation echo around the track in a disorienting, hypnotic haze. The sound and technique pioneered by dub were immensely influential to many later forms of popular music including hip-hop, house, and techno, but most notably for the purposes of this lesson, dubstep.

Drum 'n' Bass, Garage, and the Rise of Dubstep in the U.K.

Electronic dance music subgenres derived from house and techno gained immense popularity in the U.K during the late 1980s and 1990s. Fashionable clubs in London and Manchester eventually gave way to huge outdoor raves that reoriented how British music fans experienced music. These massive raves enraged conservatives within British society who feared the drug culture that came to be associated with the rave scene. In 1994 the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act contained provisions explicitly designed to crack down on raves.

As a result of the official crackdown in outdoor raves, dance music returned to the clubs. Many fans felt that house and techno were becoming too commercial and sought a grittier, more hardcore sound. Subgenres like drum 'n' bass, jungle, and garage filled this void with frantic, skittering beats and a hip-hop oriented aesthetic.

The connection between Jamaican music and the music scene in the U.K. runs deep. The faster, more hectic strain of Jamaican music known as dancehall had been gaining popularity in Jamaica since the early 1980s, and was a heavy influence on drum 'n' bass and other related genres. The back-and-forth between Jamaican music and the U.K. dance music scene would continue throughout the 1990s, eventually producing dubstep.

Croydon and the Jump Across the Atlantic

In the South London borough of Croydon, a small scene of DJs and producers began remixing 2-step, garage, and drum 'n' bass tracks with lower bass frequencies, more syncopation, and more elements drawn from dub music. These remixes eventually came to be known as dubstep. Producers like Zed Bias, Youngsta, Digital Mystikz, and DJ Hatcha were early innovators of the new subgenre.

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