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It’s difficult to know how to approach something like this. What should one expect from a compilation series called This Is Dubstep? The bold orange cover, press release claims of iTunes chart domination, and proclamations about ‘bringing dubstep into the mainstream’ don’t exactly inspire confidence. But are we not obliged to never judge a book (or in this case a double-CD dubstep mix) by its cover?
So let’s try taking that This is Dubstep title seriously, not just as a name, but as a bold statement of intent. Let’s assume that the folks at GetDarker are putting this compilation out there not just as a collection of songs but as an answer to an increasingly tricky question – what exactly is dubstep?
Right now dubstep appears to be going through that identity crisis that seems to befall electronic genres emerging from adolescence. Adjectives traditionally used to describe it – words like 'dark', 'dirty' and 'brooding' – now seem increasingly less relevant. Take, for example, Joy Orbison’s ‘Hyph Mngo’, arguably the most important dubstep tune of last year, with its upbeat, house-inspired rhythm and the excited vocal sample at its core it hardly seems to fit the standard dubstep template of sub-bass drops and minimal 2-step beats. Similarly some of the genre’s breakthrough producers, like Joker and Ikonika, are currently making music focused more around mid-range, 8-bit computer sounds and arpeggiated synths than dubstep’s trademark heavy low-end.
So is that still dubstep? And more to the point, does it even matter? Recently, each time a producer or remixer has experimented with the sound someone (and this where us music-journos need to put our hands up and claim some responsibility) has inevitably felts the need to announce the arrival of a new, poorly named sub-genre (joystep, brostep etc) but this just seems like splitting hairs.
So what am I getting at? That dubstep is currently at its most exciting at its fringes, where these artists are taking the basic format and incorporating ideas from other genres. These fringes are noticeable by their absence on this compilation. While a couple of the aforementioned artists, Joker and Ikonika, appear across the comp’s 40 tracks, neither are showing off their most forward thinking work. Joker turns up in the form of both a remixer and in collaboration with Ginz and, while both offerings are good, neither represents the Joker that’s produced such huge tunes as 'Psychedelic Runway' or 'Digidesign'. Similarly, while Ikonika’s ‘Space Ugly’ is one of the compilation’s highlights, it isn’t necessarily an example of her best work.
In other places the track-list seems dated and backward looking; sure Chase and Status’ ‘Eastern Jam’ was a pretty big club hit, but wasn’t it released about two years ago? And the appearance of Caspa’s remix of ‘Where’s My Money?’ feels as tired and unwelcome as the inevitable airing of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ at the end of a sub-standard wedding disco.
Ultimately these criticisms aren’t all that relevant; as previously mentioned, the press-release accompanying This Is Dubstep Vol.2 states its intentions of bring dubstep to a mainstream audience and to repeat Vol.1’s success in the download charts. By these terms it’s likely to succeed, becoming a success with the type of person who sees electronic music as something to fill the subwoofer installed into the back of their Vauxhall Corsa. But to be fair, while this may not be how I’d chose to introduce people to the genre (I’d still opt for the Five Years of Hyperdub compilation for that purpose) that’s not to say that the music contained within is by any means bad – it’s just a little too regressive.
So how about as an answer to the big question: is this dubstep? Well, yes; the straight down the line approach taken here makes this a pretty decent example of the basic dubstep template. But this collection of wobbly basslines and 2-step beats is more of a Wikipedia description of the genre than a showcase of its potential. Yes this is dubstep, but don’t mistake it for being all that dubstep is capable of.
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