Brostep Is Still the Subgenre That Should Have Never Existed
We look back at five years of music made exclusively for sweaty lads who like Call of Duty a bit too much.
This article originally appeared on THUMP UK.
Where does the time go? Honestly, where does it vanish to? We're all getting older—so much older—minute by minute. In the blink of an eye you and I will be decrepit ruins, looking back on ours wasted lives. Brilliant! The reason I'm feeling so old is that, somehow, it's been five years to the week since Spin published this seminal profile on "brostep."
That horrific label had been coined a year before by Kozee, but it was after the Spin piece that it really became a thing. Skrillex was ascending and North Americans were lapping up all the wubs they could get their hands on. Five years on, and apart from a sub-Reddit that claims to like its music "filthy as fuck," and a few YouTube channels that combine Call of Duty head shots with low-end gurgling, brostep's gone very quiet. Thankfully. Still, there's never been a better time to look back on the annoying little brother of the UK's beloved genre.
Now, any retrospective account of what brostep was and why it existed has to begin with the name itself. It might just be the actual worst name for anything in the world ever. Say it out loud. Right now. Sit on your own, in the toilet cubicle at work and say "Brostep." "Brostep." "Bro-Step." It's a gag reflex of an utterance, a verbally administered emetic. Now, there might be a smidgen of excusability if the name was always used as a pejorative but sadly, the joke label stuck, and and brostep boys embraced the name in a sweaty bear hug.
But hey, let's try and be fair here: you can't really judge an entire genre by its name, can you? After all, all those tunes we (weirdly) labelled "future garage" were great but the name sounds like something your dad would punch into a spreadsheet. What you can judge it by is the music, and when it came to brostep, the music was about as enjoyable as an ear infection. One of those horrible, painful, aching ear infections you pick up on holiday. The key differentiation between brostep and its more respectable older brother is that it's bigger and brasher, focusing on tinny mid-range rather than sub-aqueous bass excursions. In essence, it's a gym-bunny take on dubstep—beefed-up, hyper-macho and most likely on steroids. The subtle darkness of seminal records like Kode9's "Samurai" or "Night Vision" by Distance was replaced by an almost parodic sense of wonkiness and wobbliness.
Oh, and then there's The Drop. Brostep lived for the drop. It was the drop. The filthiest, gnarliest, dirtiest drops imaginable. Best of Brostep compilations tend to pick tracks solely based on how INSANELY HUGE DUDE the drop is. Almost every song in the genre follows the same structure: crescendoing intro, silence and then WUB-A-DUB-A-EHHHHHHH. This is the sound of Americans trying to do rave, the sound of 13 year olds making Minecraft videos. This is what Michael Phelps listens to while getting pumped. This is wrong. The understated magic of Skream's dub and jungle influenced "Blue Eyez," or the garage-beats of Burial's "Raver" turned into a cartoonish, soulless piece of trash.
And who is it that we should be throwing our Mala 12"s at? Skrillex. Obviously, it's Skrillex. Now, Skrillex seems like a really fucking lovely bloke and he also seems to have pretty decent taste in music. But, and it's a big but, a huge drop of a but, he was the pioneer of the whole thing, whether he, or we, like it or not. He was the asymmetrically-shorn crown prince of brostep. 2011 was a strange place.
It was around this time that it became in vogue for popstars to try their hand at dubstep, further shitting on the underground nature of the genre. Britney Spears spearheaded this with "Hold It Against Me," which included a brostep-influenced bridge halfway through, out of absolutely bloody nowhere, just for the sake of it. If appropriation of a genre exists, here it is in its finest form. Skrillex said of the release that it is "gonna inspire people" in an interview with MTV.com, in which the website asked him "whether Spears has hammered a nail into dubstep's coffin"—not understanding that, in a lovely drop of irony, they were already talking to the undertaker.
This brings us to a painful point. There are people out there—real people with facial hair and genitals, bank accounts and Empire subscriptions—who happily conflate brostep with dubstep. What has taken place is a kind of historical reframing, the creation of a new narrative in which dubstep has become an American invention. It's almost Orwellian. This is what our very own Angus Harrison looked at when, earlier this year, he analyzed Beatport's (now deleted) video on dubstep's history. The video claims that Benga, Burial and co. actually made "dark instrumental two step" and that brostep was real dubstep.
Taking the UK out of the dubstep equation is like trying to claim that fish and chips were invented by Australians. It can't be done. Dubstep was utterly embedded in the musical history of the UK. It was garage, it was jungle, it was grime, it was dub, working together in perfect harmony. With "pure" dubstep, as it were, becoming rarer and rarer, but brostep still stomping around like a three year old jacked-up on Innocent smoothies and gluten free Skittle-substitutes, history actually could be rewritten. Which is a terrifying prospect.
We're fortunate that, over here at least, five years after brostep started to ride a wave that it's largely wobbled off like a boozy uncle trying to negotiate a choppy bodyboard session in Hunstanton. If there's someone on our side of the pond we can look to as a proponent of the whole thing, after all these years, it's Rusko, the hyper-wobbly mastermind behind "Spongebob" which is the ur-brostep tune. But even he feels shame about it. "Brostep is sort of my fault, but now I've started to hate it in a way...it's like someone screaming in your face for an hour," he told MistaJam on Radio 1. It's testament to how awful brostep is that even its creator has denounced it, like an EDM Frankenstein appalled at the squelchy monster he had constructed.
Hopefully, in five years, it'll be forgotten or at the very least seen as the dodgy little brother that it is. We can only wait and see what the future will bring – while the rest, wearing their "I Heart Bass" tank-tops – will be sadly left, still waiting, waiting for the drop.