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Nobody comes out and says Skrillex-as-Unabombe​r or Skrillex-sans-fun because Skrillex is uncool.

Robert Christgau, from his review of Death Grips’ The Money Store.

Wait, no. That isn’t true anymore. Sure, a year ago when I was e-mailing Brandon Soderberg about this guy named Skrillex, who was leading this new music that soundtracked far too much of my freshman year of college, Dubstep. Back then, no one (read: Critics/Indie Music types) were talking about Skrillex, even when he was still selling out shows last year! But, fast forward to Spin’s EDM cover story, Tom Breihan’s defense of the guy at Stereogum, and a Pitchfork interview (despite the only coverage of him before being a SXSW live review). 

The narrative on Skrillex is kind of weird, because he was lumped in with “Bro-Step” that was pitted against Post-Dubstep (James Blake type music), then people started to wonder why such a dichotomy existed and started embracing the dude. He’s got cover stories, sold out more shows, and even got pieces from respected music writers (Mark Richardson & Nitsuh Abebe) have discussed the guy. It’d be hard right now to call the guy “uncool”, even if there are plenty of people that passionately dislike his music. But, by now he has carved out a niche so large—if not too large for critics, who stopped caring about Dubstep in 2008, and don’t know Zeds Dred—that whether if he’s “uncool” or not stopped mattering to those who like him, and probably never mattered to him. 

I Thought Only Boys Dubsteped?!

DUBSTEP! Rihanna with her album Rated R can take credit as one the first US pop star to really have some strong Dubstep influence in their music. Since then, Britney Spears released a pretty good dubstep influenced pop album last year in Femme Fataleand all of the stuff that has happened on this chart has lead to Dubstep being the next big thing people are stumbling over themselves to cover. Last year, I wrote about the slight dubstepiness of “On the Floor” by Jennifer Lopez, and here is a quick update on that idea looking at “Love You Like a Love Song”, “You Da One”, and some general ideas on the Skrillex.

"Love You Like A Love Song" by Selena Gomez is hard to exactly figure out how popular the song truly is, as it came out last summer, but it took some time for it to gain a moderate amount of radio buzz. So, maybe it took some time for the rest of the world to appreciate the bass oddness instead of finding it off putting. It’s a love song about love songs and with an odd pairing of some of the glossiest vocals I’ve heard in a pop song in recent memory with over active bass sounds. But, considering how loose the definition of dubstep has gotten in the last few years that is still enough for music writers (this one included) to say that there is dubstep influence in the song and one of the better ones with roots in pop music to get that distinction.

Dubstep went from something so under-covered in music circles, I’d bet a year ago most music critics would have been asking “What is a Skrillex?” while mocking those people who were saying “Who is Arcade Fire?” after their Grammy victory.  But, where we stand now, dubstep is the music of the young people that must be covered. So, great writers are now wrestling with the music of Skrillex and other more American based Dubstep producers, whose names are usually never mentioned in Dubstep articles, because Skrillex serves to be the head of this second electronic music revolution and conveniently the only one most writers can name.

Not to be too crabby, but when I first heard Skrillex more than a year and half ago I thought he was garbage, so seeing people stumbling over themselves to praise the man is strange to say the least. Which accounts for the name of this article, because early on Dubstep pieces would characterize it as music for bros to mosh out and go crazy to, which while not untrue as people started to pay more attention to the music, it became obvious this was music both genders equally enjoyed. Also, for all of the Grammy nominations and sold out shows that Skrillex will play, the way that dubstep is entering the mainstream is through female artists, who take some dubstep elements are work them into their music far better than Skrillex and his peers (Flux Pavilion, Zeds Dead, Nero, and a the UKF group if you want some other examples of this stuff).

“You Da One” is a weird Rihanna single still trying to find another life to eventually top the charts like so many of her songs have already. Yet, focusing on bass drops in dubstep, quickly loses the fact the drums of most dubstep songs have an instantly recognizable slowed up lurch compared to other more bland four on the floor pound of most pop songs on the radio today. That is the most notable dubstepish part of “You Da One”, as while the bass is noticeable the drum pattern is what gives the anticipation of a bass drop eventually happening, even if it doesn’t really happen. I don’t really enjoy too many Skrillex or Rusko (supposed originator of this Bro-step style) dubstep songs that are heavy on bass drop and not much else, but considering they are probably the reason a songs like “You Da One” or “Love You Like A Love Song” were even considered for a major label means I will begrudgingly accept their place in the world. 

Still, listening to the title track, which is as enjoyably overwhelming as everything Skrillex does, does make us wonder why this is the stuff that crossed over and gave dubstep chart ubiquity and not the more “palatable” and sedate James Blake and Jamie Woon version of the form.

Paul Lester, from a Guardian article highlighting the young talent known as Skrillex. 

Okay, yeah that 2000+ word piece on “Dubstep” is going to happen. Also, pop critics shouldn’t be too surprising when more dance friendly music is ruling the charts over coffee table music. 

Rappers cannot do the Dubstep

Just as “Dubstep” is becoming the new word young people are associating with electronic music (a dubstep Southpark episode, not really but close enough), so rappers and their producers are branching out trying to appropriate the sound. The bass heavy and mood filled genre known as dubstep in the last decade has changed and expanded from its UK dark Garage origins. The last couple years have seen producers taking the music into more party and rave directions, where there is a focus more on extremely wobbly bass sounds and a harsh meshing of electronic sounds. This has been jokingly referred to as “brostep”, but for rap producers approaching dubstep this sound nor the genre’s originators seem to be key touchstones. Some rap producers may sample a dubstep song, but as producers are feeling their way around the sound most stick to that bass wobble; which might upset genre purists, as for rap producers it is just another sound to work with not unlike rap’s awkward tango with techno the last few years.

The last track on K.E. on the Track’s latest mixtape Best Beats in the World 2 is called “Dubstep Nation”, but even familiarity with the dubstep genre—or any of it variations—”Dubstep Nation” could be unrecognizable. The song is a couple minutes of slowed up Dr. Luke glitter-filled Ke$ha production—pretty far removed from anything having to do with dubstep. K.E is most known for his production of Roscoe Dash (“All The Way Turnt Up" & "Show Out”), so maybe it is better he is not attempting a direct copy of Skrillex or Skream. But, the title of the song is not a misnomer: what dubstep means to K.E. on the Tracks is different than Skrillex today or Skream of 2004—which is even different than Skream of 2011—but the feeling of working with new exciting music is shared between them.  

Other rap producers who are a little bit more experienced in varied production styles have song that have started to approach the bass wobbles of dubstep: Young L and Droop-E. Young L of the rap group the Pack (best known for the minimalist minor hit “Vans”) has been making strange rap beats for years now, and while they might be odd for the rap world they are not too far removed from other electronic music acts. Young L’s recent mixtapes and songs (“Beating up the Block” and “Pound”), show that he is not afraid to show his non-rap influences, so dubstep seeping into his tracks is not too surprising as it is continuing to grow in popularity. Droop-E’s “Tonight” might be the best song in this entire piece (spoilers), and it was not produced by him but by UK producer Silkie, but the sample and bass while not Droop-E’s own are not too far from his own production on BLVCK Diamond Life (“Like a Tattoo”). 

 

While rap producers have been filtering with these new sounds, other producers have not been afraid to start mixing up rap vocal onto of dubstep tracks to mixed results. “Run This”, which mashes up Birdman and Lil Wayne’s “I Run This” with Bassnectar’s “Timestrech”: the result is a song that sounds far more epic than it really should as Birdman’s boasts are sitting atop of bass warbling and oscillating with little regard to the rap verses. This problem starts to appear with dubstep remixes of rap songs where the instrumental seem to be fighting against the vocal track with neither side conceding any ground.    

 

Andrew Noz raised this problem with rap over dubstep when giving praise to Bricksquad producer Southside on the Track. Whose production features a similar gloom and doom mood of darker dubstep tracks, but sticks with a rap template so rapper do not sound out of place, when they are trying to rap over the track. The overstuffed bass of Southside on the Track and his producer twin Lex Luger is closer to Skream or even Digital Mystikz than anything currently being done by Skrillex. 

 

Will any of these variations of rap and dubstep catch on in a wider way than they already have? Maybe. “Gucci Gucci” from hated on mostly white woman rapper Kreayshawn produced by DJtwostacks has bass wobbles throughout the song; and its over 2 million views in only a few weeks, points towards it not being too soon to say someone found the harmony between the two styles. Still when a rap producer says they are trying to create a dubstep song that should raise alarms, because rap music has done pretty well for itself when it adds sounds to it template instead of following tracks of another genre.