Dubstep Music: The Art of the Genre

This article is a collaborative effort, crafted and edited by a team of dedicated professionals.

Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,


A look at the history and rise to popularity of dubstep music, from its early origins in London to its current status as a worldwide phenomenon.

What is Dubstep?

Dubstep is a genre of electronic dance music that originated in South London in the late 1990s. It is generally characterized by sparse, syncopated rhythmic patterns with prominent sub-bass frequencies. The style emerged as an offshoot of UK garage, drawing on a lineage of related styles such as 2-step and dub reggae.

In the late 2000s and early 2010s, dubstep became increasingly popular in the US, especially in the Midwest and the South. By the mid-2010s, the genre had been powerfully influencing pop music around the world, with songs by Rihanna, Justin Bieber, and Lady Gaga incorporating elements of dubstep.

Despite its popularity, dubstep has been criticized for its often dark and violent lyrical content, as well as its association with illegal drug culture.

The History of Dubstep

Dubstep has its origins in the UK garage scene of the early 2000s. Producers like Skream and Benga were making music that was a far cry from the soulful sounds of 2-step garage. Dubstep was a dark and dirty sound that was all about the bass. The early days of dubstep were all about the pioneers of the sound, like Benga, Skream, and Plastician.

The Early Days

Dubstep music has its roots in the early 1990s, when a group of producers in the UK began experimenting with incorporating elements of Jamaican dub and reggae into their own productions. This new style of music, which came to be known as dubstep, quickly gained popularity in underground clubs and soon began to spread to other parts of the world.

In the early 2000s, dubstep began to gain mainstream attention, thanks in part to the success of British DJ/producer BBC Radio 1 DJ/producer Benga. His 2006 track “Night” became one of the first dubstep tracks to gain widespread popularity, and helped pave the way for other artists such as Skream and Magnetic Man.

Since then, dubstep has continued to evolve, with new artists constantly pushing the boundaries of the genre. Today, dubstep is popular all over the world, with fans spanning all age groups and cultures.

The Rise of Dubstep

The dubstep sound first began to emerge in the late 1990s, drawing elements from two distinct genres: two-step garage and drum and bass. The former was characterized by its use of breakbeats, while the latter placed a greater emphasis on basslines and sub-bass frequencies. These two genres would ultimately come to be known as “UK garage” and “jungle,” respectively.

While dubstep would ultimately draw from both of these genres, it would also come to be defined by its own unique style and approach. One of the most important innovators in early dubstep was producer Oris Jay, who helped to pioneer the use of Amen breaks – often sampled from classic jungle tracks – in dubstep productions. Jay’s track “Speakers Corner” – which featured a prominent Amen break – is widely considered to be one of the earliest examples of dubstep music.

another pivotal figure in the early days of dubstep was El-B, who is often credited with helping to define the genre’s signature sound. His 2000 track “Buck Fosters” is often cited as one of the first true dubstep tunes, characterized by its use of sub-bass frequencies and atmospherics.
Despite its origins in London, dubstep would eventually spread across the UK and beyond. In 2006, BBC Radio 1 DJ John Peel – a major champion of underground music – devoted an entire show to dubstep, helping to raise the profile of the genre among a wider audience. Dubstep would continue to grow in popularity throughout the late 2000s and 2010s, with artists like Skream, Burial, and Mount Kimbie helping to shape the sound of modern dubstep.

The Sound of Dubstep

There are few genres of music as deeply intertwined with the art of its time period as dubstep is with the 21st century. The heavier, more industrial side of electronic dance music, dubstep emerged in the early 2000s as a darker, more mysterious sounding alternative to the likes of house and techno. The genre has since taken the world by storm, with its unique blend of heavy basslines and syncopated rhythms.

The Bass

Most people who listen to dubstep music say that the bass is the most important part of the genre. The bass lines in dubstep are often very intricate and can be hard to follow if you’re not used to them. They often have a lot of echo and reverb, which gives the music a spacey feeling. The best way to appreciate the bass in dubstep is to listen to it on a good sound system.

The Drum Pattern

In its simplest form, a dubstep beat consists of a deeply syncopated bass drum on the 2 and the 4 (the “amen break”), with snare or clap accents on the 2, 4 and the 6.8.10. Some producers also useopen high hats on the off beats while others use ride cymbals or even snares to emphasize certain beats. The tempo is usually between 140 and 160 BPM, but some artists stretch it to 170 BPM or higher.

The Synth

In dubstep, the synth is used to create the main melody of the song. The synth can be played by any instrument, but is most commonly played by a keyboard or a computer program. The synth is usually the highest sounding instrument in the song, and is often the only instrument that is heard in the drop.

The Culture of Dubstep

When one thinks of dubstep, they might think of the music that is popular among teenagers today. What they may not know is that dubstep has a rich culture and history that has influenced the music of today.

The Clubs

The earliest dubstep tracks were mostly played by DJs in clubs in South London, often as one-off tracks or in specially-arranged dubplate sets. 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. These early tracks brought together R&B-influenced vocal samples, Jamaican dub sound system traditions (largely owed to the influence of King Tubby and Flying Cymbals Sound System), garage MCing traditions, and dark atmospheres. Producers began to isolate the percussive elements, creating more eerie, sparse tracks that still relied on strong basslines and sub-bass frequencies.

The Festivals

Festivals are a big part of the dubstep culture. In the United States, there are two major dubstep festivals: Bangon NYC and Bassrush Massive. There are also a number of smaller festivals that have popped up in recent years, such as the Soundset Music Festival and the Midwest bass Music Festival. In Europe, there is the Outlook Festival, which is held in Croatia.

The Music Videos

Dubstep music videos are characterized by their dark, often neon-lit, color schemes and their focus on complex visual effects. The videos often feature dancers performing intricate routines to the heavy basslines and fast-paced beats of the music. In recent years, dubstep music videos have become increasingly popular, with many artists releasing videos that have gone viral on social media.

The Future of Dubstep

Dubstep has come a long way since its beginnings in the early 2000s. The genre has evolved and grown, and has even found its way into the mainstream. Despite its popularity, there are still some who say that dubstep is a passing fad. So, what is the future of dubstep?

The Mainstream

With the declining popularity of mainstream pop and the rise of streaming services, it’s no surprise that dubstep is becoming more popular. In the past few years, we’ve seen dubstep artists like Skream, Burial, and Mount Kimbie break into the mainstream. Even established artists like A-Trak and Flume are incorporating dubstep into their music.

What does this mean for the future of dubstep? It’s hard to say, but one thing is for sure: the genre is evolving. We’re seeing artists experiment with different sounds and styles, and as dubstep continues to gain popularity, we can only expect more innovation in the years to come.

The Evolution

The origins of dubstep can be traced back to the late 1990s in London, when a new style of music called “garage” was starting to take hold. This type of music was characterized by a dark, bass-heavy sound that was perfect for the underground club scene. Around the same time, another type of music known as “2-step” was also becoming popular. This style was defined by its use of odd time signatures and a more syncopated, broken beat. These two styles would eventually come together to form the sound that we now know as dubstep.

Over the past two decades, dubstep has evolved and changed considerably. The early 2000s saw a rise in popularity for the genre, with artists such as Dizzee Rascal and Wiley helping to bring it to mainstream audiences. Around this time, dubstep also began to be used as a label for any type of electronic music that had a dark or bass-heavy sound. This led to some criticism from purists who felt that the genre was being diluted.

In recent years, dubstep has once again begun to evolve. publicradio’s very own producers are experimenting with the genre, pushing it in new and exciting directions. Only time will tell where dubstep will go next, but one thing is for sure: it is here to stay.

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