fbpx

What Is Dubstep Music? Full Explanation With Examples

Music is an ever-evolving beast, and with every technological innovation comes new genres and styles for us to sink our teeth into. Electronic music has seen a massive rise in popularity over the years, but one of the most meteoric rises and falls in the music industry came in the form of dubstep. It was an electronic style of music that took over the world for a few years in the middle of the 2010s. But what even is the genre? Why was it so popular, where did it come from, and where did it go? Learn about dubstep below!

What Is Dubstep Anyways?

Trying to accurately nail down what dubstep is can be incredibly difficult, thanks in large part to the extreme experimentation the genre has undergone over the last two decades. The easiest way to describe it is that it has a fast space that feels like a slow groove, with heavy basslines, and glitchy effects. It’s one of the most celebrated electronic dance music genres today, but the complexity of breaking down the numerous subgenres of dubstep can be a daunting task.

James Starkey, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

In essence, it is a type of UK garage music that mixes techno, reggae, and electronic music together to create something new. 

While millions fell in love with the genre, others had their criticisms. These usually boiled down to a few points that included overuse of bass drops, lack of diversity in individual songs, threatening or aggressive themes, or cultural appropriation by artists not from the UK.

For the most part, these arguments are all rubbish. Dubstep was spread by the internet so of course it’s an international genre. Lack of diversity isn’t an issue for trained listening ears, and they love the bass drops in the tracks. And while some songs or artists may rely on aggressive themes, the negative influence on young listeners was vastly overrated. 

Why is It Called Dubstep?

The term dubstep originated from the two genres that helped give birth to it. 

The dub portion of the word comes from reggae music. It’s a technique that is used in the genre that removes original vocal tracks from songs and replaces them with an instrumental version. It typically places the most emphasis on drums and basslines to create new rhythms in the song, rather than just creating an instrumental track that mimics the vocals. 

The step portion of the word comes from the phrase “2-step garage.” This is the more important part of the word, as dubstep is basically a minimalist approach to the 2-step garage genre. Really, it relates to the word dance, as you would dance a 2-step. But the step portion can relate to either the dance moves performed during a song or the rhythm of a track itself. Finally, it can refer to the step sequencing software used in creating the genre’s rhythms. 

The History of the Dubstep Genre

Dubstep originated in London, England, in the early 2000s as a new style of electronic dance music. The earliest music that you could call dubstep was first produced in 1999 and 2000, though the genre had a long way to go before it reached any mainstream success.

HP Cheung, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

With any sort of music, it’s almost impossible to determine the true inventor of a genre. Dubstep is no different, and you’ll probably get a different answer from every person you ask “Who invented dubstep?” Several artists are given credit for it, including the likes of Oris Jay, Steve Gurley, Zed Bias, and El-B. Who made it first is really unknown, but the first one to do it isn’t as important as the fact that it went on to become one of the world’s most popular genres. 

But where did dubstep even come from? The beats that make up dubstep largely grew from experimenting with the sound party systems used in Jamaica during the 1980s. They were much like the drum machines used in the US a few years earlier, though they had a lot more features and could produce all kinds of sounds. Generally, the duo of Digital Mystikz, made up of Mala and Coki, are recognized as the fathers of dubstep thanks to their work under the record label and night club DMZ.

Dubstep grew out of an underground movement in London but quickly gained popularity and even influenced other genres of music. It was essentially a blend of garage music and electronic dance music that was popular in the UK during the early 2000s. 

For those who are unaware, garage music is essentially music you can make at home. It tends to be lower fidelity than music made in a studio but that’s because it doesn’t require the intensive software and equipment that music studios employ, thus cutting costs quite effectively. It has had several runs of popularity across different genres, with one of the most notable entries being garage rock in the US decades before dubstep came into the picture. 

But how did dubstep even rise to popularity? One of the first people to help it on the way was BBC Radio 1 DJ John Peel. Starting in 2003, he played dubstep over the radio, helping it move from an underground and internet fad into the homes of mainstream audiences. Local scenes were abundant, but it was dedicated internet sites that sprung up in the mid-2000s that really pushed the genre to global audiences. 

By the end of the 2000s and the early 2010s, dubstep had grown a massive following in the UK. This in turn led to commercial success, seeing singles and remixes entering the music charts for the first time. It would also mark the first times that dubstep influences became apparent in the music pop artists were creating.

By the 2010s, producers were pulling elements of dubstep and fusing them into new subgenres of dubstep, experimental electronic genres, and all manner of dance music. Eventually, producers like Skrillex popularized the genre in the US. 

Key Features of Dubstep

Even though we’ve already described dubstep as a whole, it’s nice to break things down in a simpler way. Here we’ll give a list of the most important characteristics of the genre, helping explain what makes it what it is. 

  • Heavy basslines that fluctuate throughout the songs
  • Dark soundscapes
  • Syncopated rhythms
  • Electronic genre elements, from garage to dub reggae
  • Dub, filter, and wobble effects
  • A fast beat that feels like a slow groove

Different Types of Dubstep Music

Dubstep is already a subgenre of electronic dance music, but it further branches out into an incredible number of niche sub-genres. The most popular of these include classic, filthstep, wobblestep, glitchstep, chillstep, neurostep, robostep, techstep, deathstep, and ganjastep. The only thing missing is Ciara’s 1, 2 Step—and my grammar software had an aneurysm trying to correct all of those.

While remembering all of these is nearly impossible, each has unique traits that help set them apart from other subgenres of dubstep. Finding an accurate number of these subgenres would be difficult, but it’s likely over 50. We’ll stick with the ones we already listed and dive into the details of each one just a bit for now. 

Classic Dubstep

Classic dubstep is full of all the sounds and effects you would expect from any other genre of electronic music. It’s the most basic form of dubstep, devoid of the experimentation found in other subgenres, consisting of a lot of different bass sounds working together to create something unique. 

Filthstep

If you’re familiar with lo-fi music, you’d probably understand filthstep. It is simply classic dubstep if you laid a lo-fi filter over it to make it sound like the computer games of the 1990s. This sort of dirty and gritty approach is the reason it’s called filthstep but that’s not the only reason. It’s also full of noisy sounds and banging on things, lacking melodies and generally sticking to aggressive rhythms. Perfect for if you’re feeling both nostalgic and angry.

Wobblestep

Once a synthesized bass gets enough work done to it, it creates a wobble sound with a lower pitch to it. Wobblestep is built around those sounds, favoring the wobble effect of other dubstep genres and making it the focal point of the music. 

Chillstep

Chillstep is one of the most popular subgenres of dubstep, largely thanks to its relaxed style that to me seems like a dubstep version of lo-fi hip hop. It’s meant to make you feel as though you’re in a calm dream, fantasy-style music that is both soothing and relaxing. 

Neurostep

While some styles of dubstep rely on mechanical sounds, neurostep swaps that out for science fiction inspiration. It’s meant to come off as philosophical, employing mechanical sounds with a deeper design than the ones you’ll find in robostep or deathstep. It’s often cold and atmospheric, originating from neurofunk and the classic dubstep genres. 

Robostep

Robostep takes the science-fiction style of the subgenre to another level by incorporating more metallic and robotic sounds into their songs. If you like the theme and don’t mind squeaky robot parts moving in your tracks, this is the subgenre for you. 

Deathstep

If you’re a fan of both death metal and dubstep, deathstep is your best friend. It mixes the vocals of screamo metal with distorted electric guitars into the dubstep genre to create something unique, even in comparison to all of the other subgenres we are talking about in this section. 

Glitchstep

Glitchstep is a subgenre that places emphasis on a glitchy sound in the songs, just like you’d expect. Instead of the heavy bass and wobble effect of the other styles, this one designs the beat with those glitch sounds, often coming off as fast and high-pitched. 

Techstep

Techstep is—unsurprisingly—heavily influenced by the techno music genre. It contains a lot of synths, synthetic sounds, and out-of-the-box creations. It will also have some elements of robostep, like clanging mechanical sounds that seem to be from a post-apocalyptic scenario. 

Ganjastep

Ganjastep is the perfect blend of reggae and dubstep. It essentially keeps the typical rhythms and beats from the reggae genre but makes them use typical dubstep drum sounds. It’s fast-paced like all of the other ones here, but you can still sit and relax while listening to it. 

Popular and Notable Dubstep Artists

We can’t talk about a genre without discussing some of the most notable music creators to represent it, so in this section, we’ll go over some of the biggest and most important names in the dubstep genre. 

Skrillex

SKRILLEX - Bangarang feat. Sirah [Official Music Video]

Skrillex is widely regarded as one of the most important dubstep artists in the history of the genre. He was the pioneer that helped popularize it in the US, winning untold numbers of awards for his work in the genre that include eight Grammy Awards, the most of any electronic dance artist. While he would eventually shift his focus into other genres, few can argue another artist did more to popularize dubstep around the world. 

Deadmau5

deadmau5 & Kaskade - I Remember (HQ)

Deadmau5 may not solely be a dubstep artist, but his work popularizing electronic dance hall music while he dabbled in dubstep is more than worth noting. Working with other DJs, he is one of the most notable dubstep artists that are still making music in the genre today, long after its popularity peaked. 

Bassnectar

Bassnectar - Bass Head (Official)

Bassnectar got his start in a death metal band, which is the reason his music comes off so heavy. He eventually began DJing and played house parties, foraying into dubstep and other electronic dance genres to become one of the biggest names in the industry. 

Skream

Skream was another one of the biggest early influencers in the dubstep genre. He started off releasing singles but eventually moved into a full-length album before shifting into music production. He would later form a musical group called Magnetic Man, but his influence in the early stages of dubstep should not be taken lightly.

Knife Party

Knife Party - 'Bonfire'

Knife Party represents the Australian side of the electronic dance music genre. Working through electro house, dubstep, and drumstep, they drew their name from the Deftones’ song Knife Prty

Flux Pavillion

Flux Pavilion - I Can't Stop

Flux Pavillion is an English EDM producer, DJ, label owner, and songwriter. You probably know them from their international hit song I Can’t Stop.

Dubstep’s Up and Down Popularity

While dubstep exploded in worldwide popularity during the 2010s, it didn’t stay near the top forever. We already sort of went over the genre’s rise in popularity in our section that described its history. But what about the decline of dubstep?

While dubstep is just as viable as any other genre, I can’t lie and tell you that it’s made for everyone. And I also can’t say that it is actually easy to make, regardless of whether the songs can be created on a computer. Without a DJ with excellent technical skills, it can fall flat or sound absolutely awful. It’s simply a genre that wasn’t made for everyone to play or everyone to listen to. Some people can’t enjoy any kind of electronic music. 

By the middle of 2014, dubstep began a rapid decline in popularity. While hardcore listeners held tight, casual listeners began to enjoy other genres as the worldwide dubstep fad faded into the background. It also helped that it had already made a huge impact on other genres, with those other kinds of music taking elements of it and implementing them there.

What also sped up the decline was that creators that became popular alongside the dubstep craze began exploring other styles of music, pulling chunks of their audience away from the genre. Skrillex and Skream were two of the biggest dubstep artists to shift their attention elsewhere. 

Other artists like Mount Kimbie and James Blake stayed closer to the dubstep genre but went more towards a soul-infused style of electronic music. This sort of evolution is the reason many say the genre is still alive and strong. And those people have a point. 

While dubstep’s mainstream popularity has likely peaked and the genre seems to have largely died off, underground circles still have huge cult followings. On top of that, it is still incredibly popular at EDM festivals and in clubs, and there are still many online communities dedicated to it. With the fusion of more genres into the dubstep fold, it’s still possible that it will see an uptick in popularity again, so dubstep lovers out there shouldn’t have any concerns about the future of the genre.

Recommended Next:

What is house music?

What is R&B music?

What is pop music?

Leave a Comment