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Published: 2012/07/27
by Alex Baker

Deconstructing Dubstep

Skrillex at Camp Bisco – photo by Dave Vann

Two days after Bluesfest and it’s finally catching up with me – two weeks of partying, drinking and inhaling dust has rendered my throat raw and my nose stuffed, but it was definitely worth it. The festival experience always is.

While it didn’t exactly end on the highest note for me, with Metric, the Trews and Wolfgang Gartner headlining their Sunday stages, Saturday night’s Full Flex Express dub-train blew me away. At the risk of alienating many of my friends and fellow jam-heads, I will say this: Skrillex blew my mind. It was an absolutely mind-obliterating, lobotomizing spectacle of light and sound and chaos and cacophony, combined with the technological wonder of that giant lizard-space-ship thing that moves and oscillates and helps focus the sheer soul pounding intensity of that show.

After seeing many of the DJs and dubsteppers brought into this year’s “Electro-fied” Bluesfest, including Deltron 3030, Wolfgang Gartner, A-Trak and Pretty Lights (part of the Full Flex Express Tour also), it was Skrillex that finally made me understand what that scene is all about. I’ve seen isolated shows before, including some of the guys at Bluesfest – Tiesto and MSTRKRFT, Bassnectar and various other DJs at fests – but experiencing the scene night in and night out at the Electro Stage gave me a new appreciation.

There is something visceral and instinctive about dubstep, in a sense that it communicates on a deeper level than lyrics and chords and verses. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t go so far as to call it “music,” and i should preface these remarks by saying im not a big fan of DJs who just remix other songs and spin verses from them with “squeeka-squeeka” and robot fart noises on top. However, the brilliance of a guy like Skrillex is in the sheer spectacle and raw energy created. I remember being similarly captivated by Tool when I saw them at Bonnaroo, that feeling of being totally entranced and unable to look away from it all.

To me, seeing a band like moe. or Phish and hearing the spontaneous creation, the artistic talent, letting the music wash over me and open my soul to beautiful harmony and organic oneness, is a different experience from what dubstep does – it takes your body and shakes and rattles and vibrates in a way I’ve never experienced before, and I never danced like that before, either. It wasn’t the happiness I feel at jam-band shows, it was a primal expression of animal instinct, like a bird flying above land that is heaving in an earthquake.

There is something else about this thing called dubstep, though – it seems to be truly different from anything else out there at the moment. Of course, all music is an evolution and a continuation of trends, but once in a generation there is a great change, a genesis, like the rock-and-roll of the ‘50s that grew out of the big band era but was so different, so completely transformational, that it created a movement. I see the same thing in the techno/dubstep movement of the past few years. This isn’t rap, it isn’t hip-hop, it’s definitely not rock or even “club” or “house” music. It takes elements of Europe’s house and club music scene, elements of the beats and bass and synth sounds from hip-hop, rock and techno, and adds a primal, instinctual, stop-at-nothing-and-never-let-up hard-core edginess.

In his Republic, Plato says that “the introduction of a new kind of music must be shunned as imperilling the whole state; since styles of music are never disturbed without affecting the most important political institutions.” I have always liked idea this because I see the truth in it – in the ‘60s, music was the catalyst for the entire protest movement and I see the same sort of change and reaction in dubstep. It seems new and unprecedented. This is certainly a greater evolution than my or the previous generation has seen, for example with punk or grunge, or the poppy alternative drivel of the late ‘90s and early 2000s. This young, emerging generation is embracing dubstep, with or without the party drugs and all-nighters than seem bound up with it, as well.

So, I take back all the bad things I said about Skrillex, at the very least. I’m not totally converted. I’m not rushing out to clubs and DJ shows. I’m certainly not listening to any of that stuff on my iPod or car radio. But in that festival environment, it works for me. I suppose I learned to keep my musical mind even more open than it already is. And that I can, in fact, do the robot.

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