March 12, 2010

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Sach O feels compelled to defend beat music with an undeserved bad rep and an aggressive streak. Wonder why.

In his excellent new piece for Don’t Panic, Joe Muggs contends that Dubstep’s impact has changed the game for every genre it’s come in contact with from D&B to Hip-Hop to Grime to House and Techno. He makes a strong case: our own coverage of the genre increased exponentially once it started infecting LA’s Dilla-inspired beats. Ditto for IDM aficionados once the music started influencing their own core interests. That an underdog mutt of a genre would organically develop around a dedicated community and eventually blow up isn’t surprising (or shouldn’t be). No, the odd thing about all of this is that while everybody wants a piece of Dubstep, many people seem vaguely uncomfortable with the actual genre and the listeners that love it.

“Mocked as boring music for boys & bloggers” reads the aforementioned story’s byline. “Dubstep gets a bad rep, mostly due to its popularity,” writes Tom Lea at Fact. “To describe Dubstep as all good would be misleading,” wrote veteran chronicler Martin “Blackdown” Clarke way back in 2007. And that’s from eminent writers who LOVE the music and have been around it from the beginning. From its troubled birth (too dark), to its unexpected success (too aggressive), there’s always been someone with something bad to say about it. Or rather, there’s always someone with something bad to say about its audience. Unsophisticated. Ravy. Not enough girls*. Once the figurative boogieman of Grime lost its danger; the sullen, aggressive, dubstep raver havin’ it became an ideal target: so unsophisticated, so damn ladish…why can’t they listen to something proper and take off those damn hoodies!

It’s not as if the critics don’t have a point: this is essentially dark-sullen beat music. But is that really a bad thing? The critical consensus this decade has trended towards musical ideas inspired by the 80’s: brash, sexy, goofy, flamboyant. It’s unsurprising that a musical movement expressing emotional emptiness, urban decay and a grim matter-of-fact seriousness, all qualities that fly in the face of said consensus, would upset those with a vested interest in controlling the discussion. But as Tom Lea and Joe Muggs both point out, the music is far from one-dimensional. Even in its purest form untouched by adjacent genres, dubstep ranges from Burial’s twitchy Garage, The Bug’s bombed out Dancehall, Caspa’s incessant noise, Rusko’s popstep, The Digital Mystikz’ meditative emptiness, Joker’s Neon soundscapes, etc. We’re talking about a vast range of styles; the previous list only scratches the surface. No, it usually isn’t happy (and yet its that too, see how easily the music adapted to Joy Orbison’s euphoric Hyph Mngo?) but it never claimed to be. You don’t blame a dog for failing to meow.

Perhaps it’s critical chickens coming home to roost. Whereas music associated with women and the gay community (Disco, House, dance-pop) was once shunned by rock-critics in the 80’s, music embodying the angry, straight male is now persona non-grata amongst today’s musical gatekeepers. Rock’s dick has shriveled and fallen off after a decade of art school induced indie, Hip-Hop has been slowly choked to death by R&B and skinny jeans and pure dance music’s rise in popularity is slowly spilling onto American shores again via pop. Expressions of masculinity still exist in “authentically” black music on the mixtape circuit but to use a 5$ college word, that’s a representation of “the other” to be ironically appreciated by cultural tourists (and, you know… actual black people).

Of course, it’s just as shortsighted to dismiss music for being “guy” as for being “gay”. Garage Rock, Punk, Hip-Hop, Metal, the blues and countless other genres have predominantly drawn on the experiences of men. Furthermore, Dubstep has its fair-share of ladies creating and enjoying the music; that alone should turn the issue moot. But the point remains: the past decade has seen baggy go skinny, Noel Gallagher replaced by Bradford Cox and the world’s most blogged about gangster rapper is named after a line of haute-couture. Intelligent, disaffected listeners of all types who can’t identify with the hyper-stylised, consumerist, post-underground music promoted by the purportedly alternative music-media were bound to react. I doubt this is the last you’ll see of us this decade. We will be wearing hoodies.

*This last one puzzles me. Around here, pure Dubstep audiences split down the middle with many a hot chick attending.

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