For Me, ‘Post-Dubstep’ Was Never A Fad

Words: Jack Garofalo

Rewind back to the early 2000s when rave culture and bass music dominated the British landscape with a breathe of fresh air. A new chapter of British culture had been ushered in and the soundtrack was fuelled by electronic innovation and the inflation of the so-called ‘bedroom producer’—grime, dubstep and UK funky ruled the roost in the underground kingdom of eclectic nightlife and pirate radio.

As a result, the music industry was in disarray, with Napster essentially cutting the middleman out of the consumer/musician equation entirely. It was equally as exciting as it was fearful, with big labels scrambling away to resurrect the situation and ultimately start making coin again. For the listener though, a world of originality and true quality music was just a few clicks away—which then transpired to the accessibility of becoming a producer themselves. The whole game was flipped like never before, especially with software programs such as Fruity Loops and Reason available for nothing through illegal downloads.

The unpredictability soon slowly reverted back to normality, in a business sense, yet creatively the producer held the keys and had now arguably overtaken musicians in nightlife culture. Characters such as Mike Skinner, Artful Dodger, Plastician, Digital Mystikz, Benga, Andy C, Zed Bias, MJ Cole and a whole host of other pioneers gave empowerment to the listener whilst achieving god-like status on stage. This revolution gave rise to an offshoot of electronic music that galvanised a whole culture of its own. Dubstep reigned supreme from 2003, coming to prominence through FWD>> (the club night first held at The Velvet Rooms in Soho, before solidifying its cultural status at legendary Shoreditch venue Plastic People) and the fabled Big Apple Records shop in Croydon, which shed a blinding light on the sound. Youth culture became obsessed with its distinct use of wobble bass, shuffled syncopation and its unique 140+ BPM which was championed by the legendary DJ John Peel and Mary Anne Hobbs.

Its close relationship with grime, in particular BBK, cemented its credibility and reputation as an experimental yet dedicated artform, however it wasn’t until one of its pioneers, Kode9, started his own record label, Hyperdub, that dubstep really grew beyond its boundaries. Hyperdub’s first signing was a little known South Londoner called William Bevan, a misfit inspired by the Metalheadz era of raw jungle/D&B. Bevan went by the menacing alias of Burial, creating mood-enhancing melodies using the software program Soundforge, designed to submerge raw vibrations together simultaneously. The result was pure minimalist yet painstakingly uplifting music, conjuring heartbreak and ecstasy synchronously, completely unheard of at the time to anyone who bothered to listen.

Burial’s self-titled debut was released in 2006 and achieved widespread critical acclaim for its invention of taking rave culture to a more subdued, imaginative perspective. It spread like wildfire and portrayed London in all of its glory and dystopia. Dubstep’s shift in emphasis from upbeat, heavy vibes to sombre and pensive proficiency coined the term ‘Post-Dubstep’, used to refer to the digression to 130BPM tempo and its association with ambient and early R&B. Despite the meteoric jump in attention, Burial decided to remain anonymous, perhaps to add weight to his artistry or perhaps because fame just wasn’t his thing. His low-key mindset was as taunting as it was respectable.

Burial’s second album released a year later, Untrue, continued in the same vein of mind-altering, progressive production and catapulted him to a somewhat household name, particularly with his Mercury Music Prize nomination. Despite missing out on the Mercury (which many people believe was because of his non-attendance), the album was and still is hailed as a defining magnum opus of the dubstep genre, with its unique skipped drum patterns and distinctly melancholic sentiment. The identity of the rogue producer was discovered anti-climatically in 2008, after speculation that he was an alter ego of Aphex Twin or Norman Cook proved to be a hoax.

Artists who followed in the same footsteps rhythmically as Burial were the dulcet-toned Jamie Woon, the eclectic Four Tet (who coincidentally attended the same school as Burial, Elliot School in Putney), Mount Kimbie, Fantastic Mr. Fox, Jamie xx and the majestic James Blake, all of whom came to be associated with post-dubstep and its contemplative nature. It heralded a new era of dance music and took away its rigid relationship of going out clubbing to enjoy it in its purest form.

Arguably, dubstep lost interest as fast as it gained it, with only the die-hards fixating on its existence. An offshoot of dubstep, championed by Skrillex, made huge movements overseas, however its raw roots were butchered into something vastly different, relying on a heavily diluted party/EDM sound rather than jungle and bass roots. It was forced into the category of heritage nostalgia and gradual exile from youth culture; the core of its original audience slowly transitioned to house music and grime, pushing the genre to the history books.

As with all subcultures, they age, evolve or are replaced, but the post-dubstep scene—in hindsight—has matured more gracefully than ever expected, as proved by Burial and Kode9’s recent 74-minute mix for Fabriclive. Still today, the subgenre sounds otherworldly and will hopefully stand the test of time for generations to come.

Posted on January 09, 2019