Dubstep: Friend or foe?

Last Friday, we launched into our five-part debate series with some vigorous back-and-forth about whether making dance music is too easy. Well, now comes the time to chew over a new topic – and just like last week there are prizes for getting involved in the debate. All this is powered by Hyundai Veloster, and of course the need to stay entertained on Friday. So let’s get stuck in.

This week, UK music site Dummy uploaded a 2003 BBC Radio 1 documentary about the emerging dubstep scene. The half-hour show titled The New Step – which we’ve plugged in below – profiles the mongrel sound bubbling up on murky dancefloors around London, including the now-seminal FWD>> club night. “The garage scene is going downhill,” says one interviewee at the show’s opening. “They’re now calling what used to be UK garage ‘urban house’.”

The consensus of all involved – from Zed Bias to a 17-year-old Benga – is that garage and two-step has become more about courting the pop charts than the clubs. “This new sound is coming through,” says one commentator. “Everyone seems to be in it and pushing the sound. Hopefully it’ll stay underground rather than come commercial like garage did, and now it’s dead.” While even then there’s no agreement on what this new sound’s called – ‘underground breaks’?; ‘new-step’?; ‘a FWD>> sound’? – the most resonant is ‘dubstep’. “If the main players have their way, underground is where it’ll stay, so keep it to yourself,” quips the host Rowan Collinson towards the end of the show. Nine years on in 2012, it’s looking something like dance music’s worst-kept secret.

Late last year, a meme did the rounds that condensed the evolution of dubstep into two photos. ‘It used to be like this’: a huddle of dudes including Benga and Mala watching fellow Londoner Distance DJing. ‘But now it’s like this’: a huddle of young festival kids in garish colours and goofy ‘rave’ paraphernalia. Plenty of people found it chucklesome enough to share, including Skream, who jokingly posted it to his Facebook page and got 1,769 comments in return.

A Photoshop effort that probably took its creator five minutes to knock up still managed to make people very, very angry. But that’s what the word ‘dubstep’ does. When Justin Bieber is uttering it in an interview about the direction of his upcoming album, you know we’re not in 2003 anymore. “I don’t think it’ll go overground as such,” predicts the teenaged Benga in The New Step. As 2012 kicks into gear, we’re looking at a new status quo: how much more overground can it possibly go?

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