Fall preview 2011: Dubstep takes over the dance floor

MICHAEL RIETMULDER | Updated 8/17/2012

Low-end-loving dubstep and its controversial subgenres will be dominant sounds in the clubs this fall.

It's 11 p.m. on a Wednesday, and walking up the metallic staircase into First Avenue's Record Room, you can feel the bass reverberating beneath your feet. Inside, you can feel it rippling through your entire body, rattling your organs, as DJ Blaze One kicks off his set at Konkrete Jungle -- the biweekly drum and bass/dubstep night. He attentively tweaks knobs on a mixer and eyes an open laptop while banging a throbbing cut from the new Bassnectar record. The intimate dance floor is a blur of flailing limbs and synchronous swiveling hips.

Over the past five years, dubstep has seen a rapid growth in popularity, locally and internationally. With Konkrete Jungle celebrating its fifth anniversary Wednesday, a weekly dubstep night Tuesdays at Bar Fly and regular visits from touring artists thanks to local promoters TC Dubstep and Sound in Motion, Twin Cities fans have ample opportunities to get their bass fix. Like just about every dance-music genre, dubstep has splintered into many different subgenres, yet all remain beholden to one deity -- bass.

"[In dubstep] the beats are really slaves to the bass line, unlike other music where the beat carries the song and the grooves," said South African producer Martin Folb, who performs at the Loft at Bar Fly on Friday under his MartyParty moniker. "It's all about the bass, man."

MC Hyde, one of Konkrete Jungle's originators, said attendance has increased significantly since they began booking dubstep artists. The Minneapolis faction began as an offshoot of the long-running New York drum and bass night of the same name.

Contributing to dubstep's proliferation is the relative ease by which the music can be created and disseminated. All one needs is a computer and a program like Ableton Live (readily available via bootleg) to start whipping up tracks. Folb, a 41-year-old dot-com-executive-turned-DJ who holds a computer science degree, claims to have written and released 180 songs since 2005 and can complete a track in a single day.

"People don't really understand that modern producers in dubstep are all nerds," he said. (Google "Skrillex pics" if you want some proof.) "We're all just straight-up nerds because we spend 16 hours in front of a computer every day."

While a low-end love has united many a dance floor, dubstep has been incredibly polarizing in its few years of existence.

The genre, largely characterized by its wobbly bass sound, was hatched out of the darker side of the U.K. two-step garage scene (see Oris Jay) and popularized in the mid-aughts by artists like Digital Mystiks, Skream and Kode9. From there, the unfortunately named "brostep" subgenre emerged, causing a fan rift between dubstep -- which emphasizes the sub-bass -- and brostep's midrange, robotic fluctuations and metal-esque aggression. Purists also complain that many brosteppers are ignorant of the genre's origins and don't recognize its forefathers as dubstep.

"[Brostep fans think] if it's not aggressive and crazy new sounds, then it's not dubstep and you can go fuck yourself," said Folb, acknowledging that brosteppers make up part of his fan base. "Strange audience of people, the brostep guys."

Even Rusko, the English producer considered the progenitor of brostep, has distanced himself from his face-melting spawn. "Brostep is sort of my fault, but now I've started to hate it in a way," he said last year during an interview on BBC's "1Xtra" radio show. "It's like someone screaming in your face for an hour -- you don't want that."

Love it or hate it, brostep -- also known as bruvstep and midrange cack in the U.K. -- has been the predominant form of bass music nationally and in Minneapolis of late. Blaze One, aka Paul Znascko, estimates 75 percent of dubstep music currently being produced falls into the brostep category. "I play some stuff that you would consider brostep here and there, but it's kind of frowned upon," Blaze admits, smirking beneath his backward-cocked ball cap like a kid busted for misbehaving yet unshaken by admonishment.

Fans of other electronic dance music (EDM) genres like house and trance are often dismissive of dubstep. While local dance-scene fixture Zak Khutoretsky (aka DVS1) doesn't find most dubstep particularly compelling, the techno/house DJ sees the potential it has to attract new EDM fans.

"They have managed to get an entire following of people that really know nothing about electronic music," Khutoretsky wrote in an e-mail. "Potentially some of those people will find their way over to what we do, as well."

With young fans turning out in droves for dubstep artists at festivals across the country, Folb likens the genre's rebellious allure to that of rock music.

"It made you jump up and down and scream and punch your sister in the head. ... That's kind of what dubstep is. It's a music that appeals to the children," Folb said. "A lot of people that have come up through rock, hip-hop, house, techno don't understand dubstep at all. ... But the kids who have never heard house music and techno and rock -- this is their rock moment. This is their time."

With an influx of artists saturating the dubstep landscape, it seems only a matter of time before the bubble will burst on the genre as we know it. When it does, those left standing and a new generation of laptop-toting whiz kids will shape the future of bass music.

Konkrete Jungle

  • What: Fifth-anniversary bash for the dubstep dance night
  • With: Loxy, Easyrider, MBC, Modest, Blaze One, Will Smoke, MC Hyde and MC Brace.
  • When: 10 p.m. Wed.
  • Where: First Avenue Record Room, 701 1st Av. N., Mpls.
  • Tickets: $5. 18 & older
  • More information

Autumn of dubstep

This fall, a wide array of artists will pass through Minneapolis to showcase dubstep's diverse offerings.

The big gigs

James Blake at First Avenue (Sept. 28). His quiescent self-titled album earned him plenty of mainstream publicity and the critic-coined "post-dubstep" label. Blake ostensibly has little in common with others on this list, but listen to his early work and you'll find a shared ancestry.

Bassnectar at Roy Wilkins Auditorium (Sept. 30). Lorin Ashton (Bassnectar) has become one of the biggest American dubstep artists, hitting the festival circuit as hard as his bass drops. It'll be interesting to see if he can fill a hall as big as Roy Wilkins. We know he will sonically.

Skream and Benga at Bar Fly's Skyway Theatre (Oct. 20). It doesn't feel right to apply the term "legend" to a couple of 25-year-olds, but Skream and Benga are as close as it gets given dubstep's youthful pedigree. The U.K. natives were on the front line as dubstep infiltrated London's dance clubs.

From dubstep with bruv

Excision at Bar Fly's Skyway Theatre (Oct. 28). If a robot on a strict diet of heavy machinery ate a bus and regurgitated it to feed its robot offspring, it would sound like Excision. If he spins his Slayer mix, take cover.

Zeds Dead at Bar Fly's Skyway Theatre (Oct. 15). If you enjoyed the sound effects in the "Transformer" movies, consider checking out this Canadian duo. Exaggerated wobbles garnished with epic house and trance-like rises.

For the open-minded

MartyParty at the Loft at Bar Fly (Fri.). One half of PANTyRAiD, Martin "MartyParty" Folb likes to describe his mellifluous blend of hip-hop and dubstep simply as "purple music" to avoid being pigeonholed. Melody is nearer and dearer to Folb's heart than it is for many of his contemporaries.

Mord Fustang at the Loft at Bar Fly (Sept. 24). Similar to brostep's pencil-necked poster boy Skrillex, Mord Fustang blends dubstep wobbles with glitchy samples and 4/4 house tempos. Dubstep purists are unlikely to savor the Estonian DJ's electro house-flavored offerings.