Dubstep it up
Fans of dubstep are divided over attempts to merge the sound with other genres. But DJs and producers are adamant that cross-pollination is good for the scene. Rebecca Lindon talks to the pioneers
Friday 24 April 2009
Born out of a merging of garage production and grime rudiments in the early 2000s, dubstep emerged with a small but devoted following centred largely around the seminal London dubstep night FWD>>. Attracting an influx of media attention in 2006, the sound and scene began to spread out across the globe from its London epicentre.
Since then, small dubstep communities have become established in cities across Europe, Australasia and the US with international producers and DJs coming to the fore. More recently, there has been a cross-pollination of dubstep elements observed within techno, drum'n'bass and IDM with more and more producers using components traditionally associated with the sound. This has largely been viewed as healthy interest in a growing genre until three weeks ago when a track was unveiled featuring Snoop Dogg's vocals over Chase and Status's "Eastern Jam". The reaction was immediate and frenzied, with some recognising the benefits of a commercial artist becoming involved in dubstep and others arguing that the original spirit of the scene would be lost forever. In 48 hours, the track had appeared all over the internet and been played on Radio 1, 1 Xtra, Rinse FM and Choice FM whilst a 30-page long heated debate about "Snoop Dogg Millionaire" raged on dubstepforum.
"I just don't want to see dubstep go down the road hip-hop has... money being the main priority," worries one fan before the voice of reason responds: "Time and time again, in every scene, there is a cashing in, so to speak, on a commercial level, while a thriving underground scene runs concurrent. Nothing new under the sun. Don't freak out." Half joking, one forum member posts: "Oh god. I can live with Snoop, but as soon as all those Ciaras and Rihannas turn up, I'm out." The unyielding passion of dubstep's fans and originators had never been more evident.
Chris Reed, AKA Plastician was one of a small group of DJs and producers who were present at dubstep's inception and have been instrumental in the growth of the scene. Reed started playing at FWD>> in 2003 and witnessed a steady growth of the night and the dubstep sound as the press picked up on the genre and overseas interest began to strengthen.
"The first time I went to FWD>> was in 2001 at Plastic People in Shoreditch and that's when I realised t hat the night was all about this dark 2-step that I had heard Hatcha playing on his radio show," remembers Reed. "There were probably only about 40 people in the club but they were all producers or involved in the industry somehow. I went again about a month later and I remember standing in there and really making sense of the sound and the stripped-down production. I thought it was something very credible and a sound that I could really get into."
The link-up between Chase and Status and Snoop Dogg is part of an upcoming mixtape fusing dubstep producers with US hip-hop emcees. Xzibit and Busta Rhymes have been linked to the project as have British dubstep producers including Joker and Plastician, who has remixed "Snoop Dogg Millionaire". Reed was instrumental in pulling the project together at the request of the LA music marketeer Kosta Elcher.
"Kosta mentioned the idea to me after he came to see me at a gig in San Francisco and he asked me to send him some tracks that I thought might work," explains Reed. "I thought it sounded exciting and could provide a whole new take on dubstep. The general public only really listen to what they hear on the radio and this will help open up their ears to something new."
Fans have expressed concern that Snoop Dogg and his US counterparts are cashing in on a scene that has been lovingly cultivated here in the UK. In fact, Elcher is a knowledgeable fan of dubstep and an integral part of the growing scene in Los Angeles.
"I got in to dubstep in early 2008 when it was starting to bubble over here. At the time, we were listening to grime so it was a natural progression. Electronic music is very popular here right now. Last year the radio stations were playing a lot of hip-hop but now we're hearing more electronic music. I figured out that this was the next big scene when Rusko came to play at Roxy on Sunset Boulevard, which is a big club here. I could see interest growing and I already had these connections within hip-hop and dubstep so I decided to bring them together."
Exposing US hip-hop artists to dubstep was the first step for Elcher. While artists such as California's Living Legends hip-hop crew were aware of dubstep, it was a brand new sound for Snoop Dogg and Xzibit.
"When I played the Chase and Status track to Snoop and his manager their faces were disgusted," laughs Elcher. "Snoop was like, 'How did they get the bass to do that?' They were intrigued. Dubstep is an appealing sound but kind of disturbing and dark at the same time. It's actually a hard sound for rappers to work with because there's so much bass and other elements that drown out the vocals.
"We're not jumping on the bandwagon here, it's just that no one has taken the initiative yet to mix these two sounds. It's not some amazing new genre of music – we've seen it before with hip-hop using elements of electro and this is really a similar thing. We're trying to bring dubstep to the forefront of what's happening in the clubs here. The rave scene is very big right now and mixing dubstep and hip-hop allows us to cater to all kinds of people. We want to bring that griminess and the whole culture of dubstep over to the US. We're trying to help it grow and take it to more people."
Elcher admits that placing Snoop on a track that was already well-known may have been part of the reason why some dubstep fans reacted so badly to it. Reed also anticipated some negativity from purist fans.
"I knew this track wouldn't be well received by some of the forum guys. It's the first track from the mixtape and 'Eastern Jam' has been so big for such a long time that some people jus t don't want to hear it anymore. There are a small group of fans who don't want to see dubstep go mainstream and don't want 'mainstream' people turning up at what they see as 'their' nights.
"It's been a long time since we've seen someone of Snoop's stature link up with an underground artist and it's already being supported by mainstream stations and UK hip-hop DJs. For me, whether you like the track or not, you can't deny that this is a massive step forward for dubstep and for British music. We have a lot of good underground producers on our own doorstep who are often overlooked in favour of people like Mark Ronson and this is a step towards changing that."
The mixtape 'Mr Grustle and Tha Russian Present Dubstep LA' will be out 22 May on Dubstep LA
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