That London sound: How dubstep took over America
This article is part of a series of Music Tour City Guides put together with our partner Miller – for more inside info on clubbing in London, visit the Miller Music Tour’s London Hub.
“In the next couple of years, dubstep is going to become a household name.” West London bass heavy Caspa AKA Gary McCann spoke these words to inthemix in 2007. For years before, the sound had been a quirk of the London underground, drawing in everyone with an ear for the cutting edge.
It was a musical movement that grew out of garage and grime earlier in the decade, with a host of other Caribbean influences melted into the pot – dub, reggae and soundsystem culture – reflecting London’s incredible multicultural diversity. The sound also had an early meeting place in the form of Croydon’s Big Apple Records; alongside its record label, this was the launching point for a number of the scene’s most seminal artists.
Dubstep rose from the dark, sweaty basement clubs of London, spaces that often had little more than a heavy-duty soundsystem primed to get those bass wobbles across with full impact (all that was actually needed, in reality). However, by 2007 the sound had rumbled its way into Fabric, London’s most iconic club for underground sounds, and one of the most popular in the whole of Europe. Caspa had started his Dub Police label a year earlier, with one of the first releases being the debut SNES Dub single from Leeds troublemaker Rusko, who’d recently moved to London; the pair were selected to curate the year’s final FabricLive mix.
And there was some heat on FabricLive.37 indeed. Dubstep had already grabbed the attention of the dance music underground, earning a reputation for its boundary pushing production. Caspa and Rusko’s FabricLive mix came at a time when dubstep had been marked with the potential to crossover into mass clubbing appeal. When inthemix spoke with Caspa in late 2007 shortly before the album’s release, he carried the tone of someone who was both excited and driven to be part of a sound on the cusp of exploding worldwide.
“I’ve been doing this since 2001,” he said. “I’ve seen it grow from nearly nothing into something really huge. And I think it’s going to be the next big sound worldwide. There’s already people playing it everywhere, all over the world, and it’s spreading so quickly. You might be able to put that down to factors like the internet and radio, but the music itself does the talking, you know what I’m saying? It’s going to become one those genres that is well respected across all the different scenes…and it’ll take its place alongside house, techno and drum’n’bass. I do believe that it has potential to do massive things.”
Caspa probably didn’t realise how right he actually was. Dubstep went on to blow up so big and so quickly, it became a beast well beyond the control of any Londoner. It was eventually picked up on a massive scale in North America, as the country embraced electronic music itself on a massive scale, and in Caspa’s own words, “it changed the way America perceives dance music.” Before that, though, it transformed the way the world viewed the London clubbing scene.
“In all honesty, I can hands down say to you, that FabricLive mix changed the game,” Caspa told inthemix in November this year, on the cusp of releasing his Past Present Future dubstep compilation. “It changed the scene, it changed bass music, it changed dance music. That mix was so pivotal, it put London on a pedestal, and it told people, ‘this is official now’. I don’t think we really understood that at the time; it’s only from looking at it with some hindsight”.
It’s ironic then, that the mix that “changed the game” was put together in such an unassuming fashion; the tracklist was half made up with tracks from the duo’s own studio sessions. Detractors will argue the mix strayed far from the deeper, more thoughtful side of dubstep that was being pushed by artists like [aa:artist:Burial], whose heralded and seminal Untrue album also shook the music world that same year. For Caspa and Rusko, though, their FabricLive mix was simply about showcasing what was in their record box at the time.
“We didn’t even decide which tunes we were going to play against each other,” Caspa told inthemix in 2007. “We actually just took our bags down to Fabric and recorded the mix live, tune after tune, with just whatever happened to be in our bag at the time. It was very natural.”