we don’t want no war tonight

It’s very gratifying so see it all kicking off in the comments boxes below.

To give him fair credit, Red Eye has clearly paid his dues with this stuff. He’s thought about it a lot. If he is who I think he is, he’s been to endless sessions, bought tunes and given enough love to things he appreciates. There’s enough material in his postings to disagree with (not least the stuff about the last 10 years of reggae, which warrants another post) but he has touched a nerve for sure.

Dubstep isn’t criticised enough. I’m not saying that because I get some kind of sadistic buzz out of people slagging it off. I’m saying it because dubstep should be BETTER. The fact that it seems to be one of the most interesting musical developments at the moment isn’t good enough, because there is little else happening which is even vaguely interesting (to me, right now).

ancient memories

Red Eye has every right to compare dubstep to other scenes and other eras. In fact that depth of perspective is exactly what is missing from places like the dubstep forum, where dubstep records are compared to other dubstep records and people relentlessly big each other up. Of course having a mutually supportive scene encouraging newbies (and pros) is one essential element to keep the ball rolling. But in isolation it doesn’t make for very interesting reading and I can only think that it encourages more of the same rather than moving tings FWD.

word bombs

As well as being my best mate, Paul Meme has done some of the best writing about dubstep. Paul is relentlessly positive about everything, but can at least string a few words together instead of “your chest” or “big tune”. Ditto Boomnoise and Paul Autonomic. Ditto K-Punk and Blackdown‘s coverage of the Burial album, which I haven’t heard, but at least now want to. (Although Burial seems like a special case – and it is probably of crucial importance that the LP marks the exact point of re-entry of The Wire magazine into the debate, for good and for ill.)

my dubstep box is fully unloaded

I don’t own any dubstep records. The only dubstep records I own are:

  • Tempa02 12″ and some weird remix of WeareIE that Kode9 did (I have to confess that I picked these both up 2nd hand, dirt cheap)
  • A Hyperdub promo CD for “Spit” which Kode kindly sent me and I cursorily reviewed here. I liked it, but I have to confess it never really grabbed me despite Paul evangelising about it.

I was never really into garage, so I just missed out on all this stuff in the early days, despite Paul’s best intentions and his great tapes of pirates.

Virtually everything recent I have heard has been from online mixes, or stuff Paul has played me, or down at BASH. As Woebot has said, a lot of the tunes sound unfinished – like someone has forgotten to put the hook in. Kode9 has made a virtue out of this by saying that, post-jungle, we can use our imaginations to fill in the gaps ourselves. He was talking about beats tho, not the whole arrangement! Plus, he’s also said that there may be a need for more vocal tunes in the future, which shows as clear as a bell why he’s regarded as being facing the future – he’s prepared to tamper with the blueprint, the DNA. Ditto Loefah and the Digital Mystikz. I’m sure there are others. As I said in the comments box below, there will always be some people pushing, some not. Dubstep is not a monolith, but it could quite easily become one…

electricity runs through a cable, that’s how we get the power for the turntable

People say you can only understand dubstep when you hear it through a big system, which strikes me as being very limiting – or an excuse. Jungle still hit you when you heard it through little speaker via a pirate station. Reggae made sense when you heard it on John Peel or wherever. But yes, when you experienced either for the first time through a soundsystem, you got the full impact and it added another dimension (pay close attention…). If people are content to make music which only works properly in one particular environment then I respect their focus and integrity, but wonder about how long it will last. Plus, there seems little point in buying the tunes to play at home.

BASH revelations

That said, when Mala and Loefah dropped some of their productions during their sets at BASH, I loved it and did begin to understand what all the fuss was about. When Mary Ann Hobbs dropped Benga’s “Zombie Jig” I was off – glued to the floor, but floating somewhere else. I had to grab hold of Boomnoise and ask him (3 or 4 times!) what it was.

When Kevin Martin played the Mystikz’ “Anti-War Dub” last month I had the jump on him ‘cos I’d already checked it on Paul’s mix. But but but… when Space Ape came on the mic all the pieces in the jigsaw fitted together. “There’s a Bug in the system, there’s a Bug in the system…” Fellow novice Danny was next to me on the dancefloor and turned round to say “If that’s dubstep – I’ll have some of that!” we were both blown away…

ready for the dancehall tonight 

People criticise the music because of their frustrations with it, not because they want to ruin the younger generation’s fun. There is no need to shoot the messenger because ultimately we should all be aiming for the same thing here. Surely the scene isn’t so fragile that it can’t withstand a few jibes from Red Eye and me? I’m more positive about it than him, true. But I still feel that there is something missing, and not in a good way.


  1. Wahey! everyone’s got an opinion on dubstep now! bring on the haters – let the backlash commence, it deserves a damn good kicking. i’m not that bothered, cos dubstep was last year’s thing, innit. it’s all about minimal techno from germany and finland now 🙂

  2. ps. i’m experiencing serious nicotine withdrawal right now, and am completely incapable of rational intelligent comment.

  3. Nice one, John…! Dubstep is (hopefully) not writtten in stone…it mutated out of UKG and will hopefully mutate on into other equally exciting things…it’s part of that continually evolving thing called urban bass music….if I’m still listening to same tunes (or the same kinds of tunes) in 2 years time then feel free to shoot me and take me to the taxidermist….music should all be about growth and forward movement…

  4. Excellent post.

    I’m confident in saying that many dubstep producers really want to push it forward – add soul influences, do vocal cuts. The limitation right now is MONEY. You can’t push it a lot beyond this without significant extra funds – like 200 quid to pay a vocalist. That much cash cripples a release’s budget. Even so, check out stuff like Mark One’s new tune with – wait for it – SIZZLA. Not quite wild enough in my view but still good.

    It’s not monolithic and judging by the demos I’m hearing now it’s getting more varied. Plus check out Hotflush Records – the R&S of dubstep, and not just with Boxcutter. The only people wanting to stick to the formula seem to be either complete newbies (fair enough) or d’n’b refugees (“yeah, dubstep’s really simple to make, you just put the lfo on the filter and do half-time drums” — errrr NO.).

    And while there’s a sensitisation / revelation from hearing it live, I caught the virus proper just from listening to rinse sets.

    Finally – you really need to hear more Skream! Specifically, Dutch Flowers. Not out yet, but oh my gosh – like all your melodic, groovy digidub dreams came true at once…


Comments are closed.