This story is over 5 years old.

You Need to Hear This

Checking Dubstep's Vital Signs

Has Skream killed off the genre that made him? Joe Muggs investigates.

If you’ve followed the craterous waveforms of dubstep for a while, then you’ll understand that every three months or so a bunch of forum barbarians, intent on living by an “I was there first” mantra, decry the genre. They’ll blame whatever artist is currently doing well for themselves, while the rest of the world gets on with going out and having their hair blowdried by subwoofers regardless.

And yet…maybe it’s different this time. Because this time, it’s Skream who has turned away from the sound, which is a little bit bigger than Pinch or Loefah getting bored of abusing Fruityloops and pretending they've come up with a new genre. Even if he was misquoted as saying “dubstep is dead” in the Daily Star, even if he only said he’d played his last dubstep show, “until further notice,” it seems like enough people have taken it seriously to make it a talking point. Ministry Of Sound are winding down their hyper-commercial TV advertised Sound Of Dubstep series with a final, retrospective edition and the biggest dubstep-centred night in Berlin has its final night next month, it looks like something is afoot.


I spoke to one well-known scene insider – he didn't want people to know who he was, fearing death by a thousand FACT commenters - who said: “I think Skream being misquoted was the nail in the coffin as far as its industry appeal is concerned. I feel sorry for dubstep producers who got signed to major labels a couple of years back and will now never get their albums out, because all anyone wants is a new Disclosure. Bookings have plummeted this year – in fact, you might say promoters are more to answer for the death of the scene than anyone. The kids are still out there after it, but nobody in the UK is booking it, so producers are having to evolve, or move on.”

So what's the future for dubstep producers? Are they just going to take their P45s and go and work in Fopp? "People can carry on, but it’s like a band making a living touring their old material – they will be busy forever, but stuck in time until they fade away. Nobody even really knows what dubstep means anymore, you say the word, but they don’t know whether that means Knife Party or Mala.”

Perhaps this is just a readjustment back to the days when dubstep was about creativity and sweat infused raves, rather than the Official Soundtrack to a Motion Picture. There’s constantly young producers emerging. Whether that’s rave centric artists like Subzee D and Pixel Fist, or subtler maestros like Bukez Finezt, Prism or Compa, who are all building decent careers for themselves.


What's more, I can’t see Hatcha, Distance, Tunnidge or even Caspa and Dub Police, turning their backs on dubstep for a very long time to come. On a personal tip, I’ve been helping the always irrepressible Hatcha get his new Hatched label underway (pat me on the back!), and seeing the flood of demos coming in for it, I know how hungry certain people, including youngsters, are to make and hear this stuff.

Dubstep has never been particularly cool. It’s always had its place just outside of the rapid burble of hyper-accelerated post-internet culture. Ironically, it’s this insistence on taking things at its own pace and avoiding hype, that allowed the genre to build a solid base and thus expand as dramatically as it did. It was never a betrayal of underground ideals, just a natural growth of a highly infectious agent.

Which means that, if there has been a speculative bubble, and that bubble has burst, there’s still something very deep rooted within the culture and music that will remain viable for a long time to come. If Marcellus Pittman, Omar S or T.Williams put out an amazing house record now, would you dismiss it out of hand because it superficially resembles something 25 years old? No, unless, you’re a really sour person who hates dancing. House rhythms are still viable, because they are wired to the way the human body works in a dance environment, and, in a different way, so is dubstep. Sure it might not reach the dizzying heights of 2011 again, but its a sound that began being played to crowds of 30 people, so it can definitely survive a little downsizing.

Even if a dozen of the Croydon Class of ’03 never make another 140 BPM track in their lives, this style has too many impassioned fans worldwide, and is too embedded in the fabric of sub-culture to go away. Genres are hydra-like. If you cut one head off, three more can grow. The past decade of techno and drum and bass prove that if a creative spark is there, then new ways of expression will always be founded. A look at Google Trends is especially instructive. Last year, globally, dubstep was more popular than hip hop. And, though the numbers have dropped off a cliff, we’re only back down to 2010 levels of interest. Which, if you don’t remember, is a pretty high level of popularity.

There’s a readjustment going on. Yes, the movement of Skream away from the style he helped create is news, and, so is the hysterical reaction to it. But, dubstep dead? Are you serious?