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What Is Dubstep?

By Emily Daw
Updated Feb 12, 2024
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In the early 2000s, electronic music gave way to a new sub-genre in south London, known as dubstep. An Internet-based subculture developed around the music style over the next decade. Its most distinctive feature is its heavy, repetitive bass line.

DJs in south London dance clubs became the first dubstep artists around 2003. Beginning with existing styles of techno music, they increased the intensity of the bass and dubbed treble lines and minimalist lyrics over the top. The music was usually entirely synthesized. Dance club dubstep was meant not only to be heard, but also felt throughout the entire body with its pounding bass lines.

Dubstep differs from other techno spin-off genres in several important ways. It has a much smoother, less jarring sound than garage or grime styles, which often feature harsh, ragged or grinding melodies. Some critics have even described the style as "minimalist" in comparison to its precursors, since the entire focus of the music is on the bass and sub-bass.

From south London, dubstep began to make its way onto the Internet. Its fairly simple structure made it easy to compress into Internet-friendly sound files, which quickly made their way to North America. A subculture spanning the Atlantic Ocean grew up around dubstep, as anyone with basic music editing software and a good ear for the style could then contribute to its progress. Enthusiasts created message boards and blogs devoted to the style, where contributors could upload, modify and redistribute music. As a result, many tracks cannot be attributed to a single artist, because they are in fact compilations of the work of many producers.

Perhaps due to of its collaborative nature, few major record labels had picked up dubstep artists as of 2011. Some smaller record labels have produced tracks, but sales have largely been modest. Despite the vibrant subculture, dubstep remained largely an underground musical style.

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