Skrillex Killed Dubstep – Article about the state of dubstep today
2011 has been one of the biggest years ever for Dubstep, quite possibly the most significant since its decade-old inception in the UK. The Pop music industry as a whole has witnessed a massive transformation taking place over the last year, as major artists from all around the world have begun incorporating the instantly recognizable sounds of dubstep into their music. Britney Spears and Rihanna, two of the biggest female stars in American pop-music have already “jumped on the dubstep bandwagon” so to speak, harnessing the unrelenting, high-energy sound typical of the dubstep genre to infuse their music with a whole new dimension of appeal. Even more telling, industry juggernaut’s such as Jay-Z and Kanye West licensed the classic Flux Pavilion track “I Can’t Stop” in their official single “Who Gon’ Stop Me”. To top it all off, dubstep-icon Skrillex has not only released recent collaborations with several music-industry giants such as Korn and The Doors, he also just received a whopping FIVE Grammy Nominations, including the first “Best New Artist” nomination EVER to be awarded to a DJ/Producer.
What started as an entirely underground movement has begun to gain mainstream recognition, and the community response to this transition has been dramatic and highly conflicted to say the least. To fully understand the ramifications of what Skrillex has accomplished, we have to begin by looking at the structure of another genre that has gone through a very similar evolutionary process, the Hip-Hop industry.
The first lesson to be learned from the history of Hip Hop is the supposed fate of the underground and the role Skrillex is playing in “reshaping” the sound of dubstep. Hip Hop is by far one of the most influential and expansive musical genres currently in existence. New Hip Hop acts are constantly emerging, many of them reaching millions of followers within their first few months of touring. However, despite the monumental reach and power of contemporary Hip Hop, it has still maintained a wonderfully rich and vibrant underground culture that is hardly diminished at all by the explosion of Hip Hop and Rap in the mainstream. If Hip Hop becoming mainstream didn’t kill the underground, why would the story be any different for Dubstep? If anything, the underground has matured and evolved into a relatively unaffected category separate and distinct from the Hip Hop mainstream, but with the added benefit that underground artists are able to make a living from their craft.
There is another important aspect of Hip-Hop that deserves to be noted in order for this comparison to be relevant. The dominant role in Hip Hop is almost always granted to the MC (just as in pop music it is granted to the singer). This is not to say that it is impossible to gain attention as a Hip-Hop producer, but it is certainly significantly more difficult as the majority of the attention and praise is awarded by default to the MC. In many cases, incredibly talented producers are ignored entirely as relatively untalented figure-heads spit mediocre rhymes over their producers finely-honed instrumentals. Whatever your personal opinion concerning Skrillex may be, his nomination for Best New Artist as a dj/producer has the potential to completely change the way this model functions, opening wide the doors for a whole new generation of producers to gain the respect and attention they so rightly deserve.
At the end of the day, producers make music so that people can listen and enjoy it, just like all other musicians. Any success for the Dubstep community at large is ultimately a success for the industry as a whole. Brilliant producers like Skrillex are casting light on what the mainstream has been missing out on, and this illumination will only serve to benefit those who follow in his footsteps; whether they choose to produce in a mainstream or underground style is completely irrelevant . Until very recently, many critics have been reluctant or even unwilling to consider producers to be musicians, instead preferring to think of them as some other sort of entertainer unworthy of the “artistic” title of “musician”. With his boundary shattering nomination for Best New Artist, Skrillex has boldly demonstrated the falsehood of these unjust claims, stating that he’s “only hoping that his nomination this year will carry on to the next year, and open doors for more people to come up and be noticed and recognized as actual musicians.”
The important thing to keep in mind is that when people begin to accept Dubstep as a whole into what people refer to as “actual music”, the generally accepted value of the producer will increase dramatically. Before Hip Hop was recognized as part of popular music, it was extremely rare to find an artist that was able to support themself solely from their musical career. The same is true now for the producer; the general populace is relatively ignorant to the musical complexities of dubstep, and as a result it is extremely hard to get recognized as providing a service genuinely worth enough money to live on. Most producers are instead forced to rely on a side-job that prevents them from focusing all of the necessary energy on production, a vicious cycle that inevitably prevents many talented individuals from ever reaching their full potential. When the genre is accepted as an essential part of popular culture, talented producers will have a much better chance of being able to direct all of their energy at developing their musical career rather than struggling to support their musical through various odd-jobs. Although dubstep being incorporated into the mainstream may dramatically increase the number of producers (and many of them will surely copy Skrillex, as he is the very definition of “Whats Hot”), it is important to remember that there will always be an underground, and there will always be quality producers of all styles and varieties….it’s just a matter of finding them!
If bridging the gap between the mainstream and the underground helps clarify for the listener how they can personally relate to and interact with the music they are hearing, there is certainly no harm in such a simple endeavor. If Skrillex being nominated for a Grammy helps pave the way for a whole generation of up-and-coming producers, that is a tremendous accomplishment regardless of how you feel about his music.
By Ethan Baer and Jason Winter of Dubstep.net