The name “dubstep” was first coined to apply to bass-driven electronic music in 2002 in a town called Croydon (South London), England. The actual roots of dubstep are a bit tough to pinpoint because it is a merge of dozens of types of electronic music, and even after it began to achieve popularity it has continued to evolve and grow. Still, here we bring you this article to offer a general history of events that went into the formation & growth of a new genre.
Early Formations (Pre-1999)
Dubstep is thought to have evolved out of “Jamaican dub music” and other soundsystem cultures. The Jamaican soundsystems emphasized disco-type sounds with reproduced bass frequencies underlying. This eventually gave rise to the dub variety of reggae music that had features like sub-bass (bass where the frequency is less than 90Hz, a.k.a. really really deep), 2-step drums and distortion effects. All of this development eventually churned out the more modern British sounds of “jungle,” “garage” and now “dubstep.” It is important to note that many of these features existed individually prior to dubstep, but were only brought together under one roof in the early 2000s.
Here is a sample of sub-bass being used in 1992, “Some Justice” by Urban Shakedown:
The Origins of Dubstep (1999-2002)
Ammunition Promotions, who run the club “Forward>>” are thought to be the first to use the term “dubstep” to describe this style of music. The club, located in Soho London, was instrumental in the formation of dubstep music because it was really the first venue that was dedicated to playing the genre. Additionally, Forward>> ran a radio show on “Rinse FM” that was hosted by Kode9 to premier new music. The electronic style gained traction as the term “dubstep” was used to refer to the genre in a 2002 XLR8R cover story. Finally, under the Tempa record label (managed by Ammunition Promotions) we saw “Dubstep Allstars Vol 1 CD” released by DJ Hatcha that solidified the movement and established the dubstep name.
Big Apple Records (Benga and Skream pictured)
Ammunition Records was certainly one of the big reasons that dubstep was able to gain momentum, particularly because of the many London dubstep record shops and labels labels that they promoted, Club Forward>> and Kode9′s radio show. One other piece of the puzzle that really allowed the music style to spring roots was Big Apple Records in Croydon, South London. A lot of influential artists, particularly Skream and DJ Hatcha actually worked in the shop… and many more were frequent visitors. The store has since shut down, but the influence is undoubted.
Growth and Development (2002+)
In 2003, DJ Hatcha began to give a new direction for dubstep on Rinse FM… using 10″ dubplates (reggae-style) to form a dark, clipped & minimal sound that is largely used in dubstep today. An event in 2003 called “Filthy Dub” started happening regularly, and was where quite a few popular DJs like Skream, Benga, N Type
Dubstep night clubs have become more and more popular
and Cyrus made their debuts. It was around this time that Mala and Coki (together Digital Mystikz) started combining reggae to form yet another extension of dubstep that had orchestral and jungle sounds.
Digital Mystikz, along with Loefah and Sgt. Pokes, began to manage the club DMZ in 2005 — along with it’s predecessor FWD>>, this is one of the most influential clubs. One of the landmark moments in dubstep history was the night of DMZ’s anniversary, where a line of over 600 people forced the club to move dubstep into the main room. The music has continued to accelerate, and after BBC Radio DJ Mary Anne Hobbs gave it attention on a national circuit across the U.K., we started to see regular dubstep night clubs popping up in New York, San Francisco, Tokyo and Barcelona. Still, it is worthwhile to note that
The Progressive Era of Dubstep (2007+)
More recently, the influence has spread to the commercial market with artists such as Britney Spears adopting the sound in newer tracks. In 2010, dubstep songs like “I Need Air” by Magnetic Man started hitting the pop charts in the UK. Undoubtedly, the 2010-2011 period was one of the most notably on the dubstep music scene, where progressive artists like Flux Pavilion, Noisia, Bassnectar and Zeds Dead began to redefine the traditional dub sound with
Progressive artists like “Knife Party” (pictured above) rule the modern dubstep world
increasing portions of mid-range bass and vocals. In a nod to more universally-accepted club music, these new artists have begun to bridge gaps between progressive house and traditional UK Bass to form more high-powered mixes that hinge on the increasingly-used “drop” of a track.
With the ongoing “sound wars” in modern music making, traditionalists like Burial point to the sonic superiority of classic dubstep, with dynamic bass lines and complex arrangement patterns that focus on heart-stopping sub bass more than anything else. However, there is certainly room in the genre for artists like Grammy-award winning Skrillex, who choose to focus on progressive basslines, heavy distortion and gut-wrenching drop sections that maintain sub bass while covering more ends of the frequency spectrum. The age of social media has allowed almost anyone to have access to at-home production studios. More independent artists join the arena every single day, and so dubstep has never been as far reaching with many artists searching for their first big hit.