09 January 2006


A perceptive quote from the opening paragraph of chapter 21 of Simon's "Rip It Up...":

"The true sign that you're living through a golden age is the feeling that it's never going to end. There seems to be no earthly reason why it should stop. It's an illusion, of course, like the first swoony rush of falling in love. "

Taken on these terms, then 2005 was certainly part of dubstep's 'golden age', and I'm optimistic that it will continue well into '06, but if there's one thing Simon's words reveal, it's that one should never be complacent, never expect things to continue in the exciting manner that one has grown accustomed to. When you look at all the major innovative musical styles, most seem to have a peak period of roughly two years, whether it's Psychedelic Garage ('66-'67), 'New Pop' ('80-'82) , Chicago Acid ('87-'88), Bleep 'n' Bass ('89-'91) , Jungle ('93-'95), after which time it becomes stagnated by endless copyists, or worse still, attempts to legitimise itself by developing into a 'mature' sound that ends up being the 'coffee table' sound of choice for middle-class/middle management/middle-of-the-road hipsters the world over (I'm not naming names, but Bristol groups have a long history of doing exactly that, which is why, apart from certain key artists like The Pop Group and early Smith & Mighty, I've never been interested 'Bristol music' generally).

I'm not saying that a sound should remain 'gutter/ghetto' for the sake of it. Far from it! One of the greatest periods for me was when rave went overground in the early '90s - a time when groups like LFO and Orbital could have hit singles without compromising their sound one iota. Yet last year, Grime's assault on the mainstream left a bad taste in my mouth. I don't begrudge anyone wanting to be a major success, but if the music's shit then there's no excuse for such flagrant 'watering-down' of the sound. Admittedly, I don't think dubstep could operate like that even if it wanted to. Without the 'rap' element of Grime, and the 'stardom' aspirations of the grime MCs, it doesn't have the framework to even attempt to break into the urban mainstream. It would need a major change in the overall cultural climate for dubstep to gain any kind of mainstream acceptance now. Joe Public isn't interested in instrumental electronic music at the moment. But still there are small increments of acceptance, particularly when you consider the increasing support from Radio 1. Tonight sees the first Breezeblock "Dubstep Warz" show, featuring dj sets and interviews with the big players like DMZ, Kode 9, and Distance. The general support that Mary Anne Hobbs has been giving to artists like Vex'd and MonkeySteak could prove significant in the long term too. This could be the start of a huge rise in dubstep's profile throughout the coming year, which of course I applaud, but with each new level of success one must remain aesthetically vigilant. One potential area for concern could be the current mini-trend for increasing aspiration to sound like conventional dub reggae, which is interesting for the time being, but could have long-term implications for dubstep becoming legitimised within an historical framework. When the media start rationalising dubstep as 'real music', that's when the rot can start to set in. There's no reason why the innovation should stop, but please let's not have any talk of working with 'real drummers', or pin-up vocalists, or creating lavishly packaged double-concept albums. I don't wanna see dubstep turning into 'artstep' or 'popstep' just yet, okay?