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London's dubstep scene
Time Out wonders if dubstep can replicate the crossover success of grime
If 2006 was the year that dubstep went overground via Radio 1 DJ Mary Anne Hobbs’ now legendary ‘Dubstep Warz’ session, 2007 is the year that it went overseas. Dubstep has been rattling ribcages since 2000 here, but recently it has lifted off internationally through its sprawling and devoted online community.
Travelling faster than a weblink, it’s come a very long way since Time Out documented it in October of last year. Dubstep’s first excursion abroad at Sonar festival in June saw golden boy Skream play out to more than 8,000 eager ravers – a historic moment for Hobbs. ‘It was biblical,’ she enthuses. ‘There were about six people before I went on but by the time Skream came on it was dream-like. He told me it was the greatest night of his life.’
But it’s not just at Sonar: ‘It’s permeating every conceivable kind of underground event, from Chile to Istanbul,’ says Hobbs. What’s more, it’s erupted through a combination of hard graft, sincere love for the music, incessant self-promotion, an anti-piracy approach and, perhaps most importantly of all, without it being rammed down throats by major labels.
This weekend’s events are testament to this. Pioneering night FWD>> celebrates its seventh birthday on Friday with an all-star cast, plus it’s upsizing to a 1,000-capacity warehouse in a secret Shoreditch location to cope with the inevitable demand. On a similar scale, Soul Jazz records, according to SJ’s Pete Reilly and Chris Jones, sold in the region of 10,000 copies of the first ‘Box Of Dub’ compilation last year and the second is launched at Electrowerkz on Saturday with big names Skream, Digital Mystikz and Kode9. Fabric has also jumped in and captured the talents of DJs and producers Caspa and Rusko on its ‘FabricLive 37’ (and first completely dubstep) release.
On the CD, Caspa and Rusko travel around the world taking in artists from the US (Santa Cruz’s Matty G), Finland (Tes La Rock) and Sweden (L-Wiz) on arguably the scene’s highest profile release. In 2007, the sound has moved far beyond the confines of south London, nor is it up to the original posse of Digital Mystikz, Skream, Pinch, Loefah and their peers to break it to a new audience. ‘It’s a landmark moment,’ says Caspa. ‘Even your mum has heard of Fabric, so the mix is going to take dubstep to a new market and reach more people than ever before.’
There is indeed a new wave coming through, although it’s more an organic mutation of the characteristic sub bass-fuelled sound itself. ‘The new sound is more experimental, more daring and a lot more up-tempo,’ explains Rusko. ‘The first generation and second generation are feeding off each other so there’s not really a ‘new wave’. I’ve been consciously trying to get hype music like jump-up drum ’n’ bass into my dubstep and a lot of the jump-up DJs have been playing my tunes too – that’s the crossover I go for. The important thing is that the producers’ different influences are all in the same room and dubstep doesn’t branch off into sub genres.’
Memorably Ross Allen dropped Rusko’s dancefloor hit ‘Cockney Thug’ to thousands of Arctic Monkeys fans at Old Trafford Cricket Ground in July. Burial has recently remixed Bloc Party, Skream has made over the Klaxons, so will dubstep ever really cross over with indie in the same way its cousin grime has? Hobbs talks of times when indie audiences themselves have crossed over instead. Of her experience curating a stage at Roskilde festival in Denmark she says, ‘People came up to me and said they’d come to see Kaiser Chiefs but what they’d seen on our stage blew them away and changed their lives.’ The dub scene linked with rock years ago, and on Saturday techno meets dubstep once again at Heavy Industries’ night where James Mowbray plays alongside Rusko, HOSH and Downshifter.
So is dubstep destined for mainstream success? Overwhelmingly, the answer is no. ‘The odd tune like “Cockney Thug” has Top 40 potential but that’s not the artists’ motivation,’ insists Hobbs. ‘This year was about testing the water and hopefully we can just continue to cross over into new underground territories next year.’ Dubstep may dominate in 2008, but as Rusko says, don’t go expecting any ‘Now That’s What I Call Dubstep’ compilations any time soon.
FWD>> Seventh Birthday is at a secret Shoreditch location on Friday. Box Of Dub 2 is at Electrowerkz on Saturday. Heavy Industries is at Life on Saturday. ‘FabricLive 37: Caspa & Rusko’ is out on December 3
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