A History of Dubstep

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Dubstep is a relatively new genre of music. It originates from the UK, with Jamaican and British roots. Dubstep music is created with computers and synthesizer equipment, and is characterized by engulfing bass lines, drum rhythms, and vocal clips.
Around the 2000's some of the first dubstep tracks were made and the music began to be promoted in London clubs. There are two main influences, we see that in the 1960's many Caribbean immigrants came to the UK. Culturally they brought music and carnival traditions with them which spread to the UK culture. Dubstep was influenced by Jamaican sound system and dancehall music styles. Those styles were developed from Jamaicans gathering at large dancehalls if they wanted to hear music, and the heavy bass created by these professional sound systems drew crowds. Secondly the UK genre drum and bass (which was influenced to an extent by the Jamaican sound system too) shared some of its musical components with dubstep, and that keeps a similar electronic sound between the two.

The early origins of dubstep come from 1950's Jamaican music. Because the masses of jamaica did not have access to radios, they congregated at dancehalls in order to listen to music. At these a DJ with a microphone controller would rap, this was called "toasting." The DJ would voice the concerns and problems of the lower class who made up the audience. This music scene advanced as the DJ's recorded their music and created dub mixes. As more technology became available multi-track recording allowed for riddims (repeating patterns of drum and bass) to be created and allowed multiple layers to be put on top one another. The music was stored on acetate discs called dubplates, these wax discs held up to four songs which would vary depending on the dancehall operator. This gave way to the names involving "dub" and the music can be compared to bare bones reggae, with a pounding drumbeat and poly rhythms. That is not to say that dub music is simple. The DJ would utilize a range of effects including delays, echoes, reverberation, and flanges to achieve many sounds. Aspects of sound system music are present in dubstep and some forms which led to the emergence of dubstep, including distortion, echo, and reverberation, and the use of sub-bass (a tone less than 100Hz.) Unlike dub reggae, the entire bass line of a dubstep track may be sub-bass for even more emphasis.

With influences from the Jamaican culture and DnB, dubstep has become its own unique form of music. As put by Christoph Harter "...dubstep music does not simply apply forms of sound system culture, but transforms the aesthetics of the sound system with the sound system's own narrative means." In general tracks have a darker feel, and deep bass that is often coupled with minor keys and dissonant harmonies. It is also common for a wide variety of music samples to be mixed into the tracks. The tempo is normally around 140 bpm; and rhythmically uses a 2-step drum beat. 2-step is used to describe the irregular rhythms used, most commonly a drum kick sounds on every first and third beat. The rhythms in dubstep are different than those used in other electronic music such as techno and house. Those styles use what is known as four to the floor and feature a 4/4 time signature with a bass drum thump on each beat. Gradually the use of a 2-step rhythm declined, in favor of a half-step rhythm and hip hop styled beats. Losing the jerky rhythms made the music and rhythm easier to feel. In dubstep the percussion is also on a longer loop to achieve a double time feeling. To keep the song from sounding too slow the piece is often driven by a faster bass line. Early on DJ's used their available means to alter the music, and because dubstep had fewer layers and textures than DnB other sounds could be added without making the music too complex. Now there are an abundance of computer programs and other hardware that allow a producer to modify the sound in many new ways that weren't previously possible. Even for dubstep remixes to be made of other non-dubstep songs, by taking key parts of the song and adding dubstep bass lines and rhythms. Before computer technology spinning the record backward to rewind a portion was a common technique particularly useful and popular in performances. Dubstep has become mainstream in recent years, and where it goes and what it becomes is limited only by the artist's innovation.

Dubstep was created not too long ago. Although the sounds are somewhat different, the early origins and inspirations of dubstep can be traced to the Jamaican dancehall. The fusion of reggae rhythms and pounding bass with forms of DnB made dubstep. The attraction to a deep wobbling bass is apparent across cultures and present in numerous musical styles. Dubstep is not the first to feature such a persistent bass line and it certainly won't be the last.


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