Dubstep /ˈdʌbstɛp/ is a genre of electronic dance music that originated in South London, England. It emerged in the late 1990s as a development within a lineage of related styles such as 2-step garage, broken beat, drum and bass, jungle, dub and reggae. In the UK the origins of the genre can be traced back to the growth of the Jamaican sound system party scene in the early 1980s. The music generally features syncopated drum and percussion patterns with bass lines that contain prominent sub bass frequencies.
The earliest dubstep releases date back to 1998, and were usually featured as B-sides of 2-step garage single releases. These tracks were darker, more experimental remixes with less emphasis on vocals, and attempted to incorporate elements of breakbeat and drum and bass into 2-step. In 2001, this and other strains of dark garage music began to be showcased and promoted at London’s night club Plastic People, at the “Forward” night (sometimes stylised as FWD>>), which went on to be considerably influential to the development of dubstep. The term “dubstep” in reference to a genre of music began to be used by around 2002 by labels such as Big Apple, Ammunition, and Tempa, by which time stylistic trends used in creating these remixes started to become more noticeable and distinct from 2-step and grime.
A very early supporter of the sound was BBC Radio 1 DJ John Peel, who started playing it from 2003 onwards. In 2004, the last year of his show, his listeners voted Distance, Digital Mystikz, and Plastician in their top 50 for the year. Dubstep started to spread beyond small local scenes in late 2005 and early 2006; many websites devoted to the genre appeared on the internet and aided the growth of the scene, such as dubstepforum, the download site Barefiles and blogs such as gutterbreakz. Simultaneously, the genre was receiving extensive coverage in music magazines such as The Wire and online publications such as Pitchfork Media, with a regular feature entitled The Month In: Grime/Dubstep. Interest in dubstep grew significantly after BBC Radio 1 DJ Mary Anne Hobbs started championing the genre, beginning with a show devoted to it (entitled “Dubstep Warz”) in January 2006.
Towards the end of the 2000s (decade) and into the early 2010s, the genre started to become more commercially successful in the UK, with more singles and remixes entering the music charts. Music journalists and critics also noticed a dubstep influence in several pop artists’ work. Around this time, producers also began to fuse elements of the original dubstep sound with other influences, creating fusion genres including future garage, the slower and more experimental post-dubstep, and the harsher electro house and heavy metal influenced brostep, the latter of which greatly contributed to dubstep’s rising mainstream popularity in the United States.
The sound of dubstep originally came out of productions by El-B,Steve Gurley, Oris Jay, and Zed Bias in 1999–2000. Ammunition Promotions, who run the influential club night Forward>> and have managed many proto dubstep record labels (including Tempa, Soulja, Road, Vehicle, Shelflife, Texture, Lifestyle and Bingo), began to use the term “dubstep” to describe this style of music in around 2002. The term’s use in a 2002 XLR8R cover story (featuring Horsepower Productions on the cover) contributed to it becoming established as the name of the genre.
Forward>> was originally held at the Velvet Rooms in London’s Soho and is now running every Thursday at Plastic People in Shoreditch, east London. Founded in 2001, Forward>> was critical to the development of dubstep, providing the first venue devoted to the sound and an environment in which dubstep producers could premier new music. Around this time, Forward>> was also incubating several other strains of dark garage hybrids, so much so that in the early days of the club the coming together of these strains was referred to as the “Forward>> sound”. An online flyer from around this time encapsulated the Forward>> sound as “b-lines to make your chest cavity shudder.”
Forward>> also ran a radio show on east London pirate station Rinse FM, hosted by Kode9. The original Forward>> line ups included Hatcha, Youngsta, Kode 9, Zed Bias, Oris Jay, Slaughter Mob, Jay Da Flex, Slimzee, and others, plus regular guests. The line up of residents has changed over the years to include Youngsta, Hatcha, Geeneus, and Plastician, with Crazy D as MC/host. Producers including D1, Skream and Benga make regular appearances.
Another crucial element in the early development of dubstep was the Big Apple Records record shop in Croydon. Key artists such as Hatcha and later Skream worked in the shop (which initially sold early UK Hardcore / Rave, Techno and House and later, garage and drum and bass, but evolved with the emerging dubstep scene in the area), while Digital Mystikz were frequent visitors. El-B, Zed Bias, Horsepower Productions, Plastician, N Type, Walsh and a young Loefah regularly visited the shop as well. The shop and its record label have since closed.
Person who looks to be a teenage male putting a turntable needle on a record in a studio.
At the end of 2003, running independently from the pioneering FWD night, an event called Filthy Dub, co promoted by Plastician, and partner David Carlisle started happening regularly. It was there that Skream, Benga, N Type, Walsh, Chef, Loefah, and Cyrus made their debuts as DJs. South London collective Digital Mystikz (Mala and Coki), along with labelmates and collaborators Loefah and MC Sgt Pokes soon came into their own, bringing sound system thinking, dub values, and appreciation of jungle bass weight to the dubstep scene. Digital Mystikz brought an expanded palette of sounds and influences to the genre, most prominently reggae and dub, as well as orchestral melodies.
After releasing 12-inch singles on Big Apple, they founded DMZ Records, which has released fourteen 12″s to date. They also began their night DMZ, held every two months in Brixton, a part of London already strongly associated with reggae. DMZ has showcased new dubstep artists such as Skream, Kode 9, Benga, Pinch, DJ Youngsta, Hijak, Joe Nice, and Vex’d. DMZ’s first anniversary event (at the Mass venue, a converted church) saw fans attending from places as far away as Sweden, the United States, and Australia, leading to a queue of 600 people at the event. This forced the club to move from its regular 400-capacity space to Mass’ main room, an event cited as a pivotal moment in dubstep’s history.
In 2004, Richard James’ label, Rephlex, released two compilations that included dubstep tracks – the (perhaps misnamed) Grime and Grime 2. The first featured Plasticman, Mark One and Slaughter Mob, with Kode 9, Loefah, and Digital Mystikz appearing on the second. These compilations helped to raise awareness of dubstep at a time when the grime sound was drawing more attention, and Digital Mystikz and Loefah’s presence on the second release contributed to the success of their DMZ club night. Soon afterwards, the Independent on Sunday commented on “a whole new sound”, at a time when both genres were becoming popular, stating that “grime” and “dubstep” were two names for the same style, which was also known as “sublow”, “8-bar”, and “eskibeat”.