Thoughts for Tonight: Dubstep’s place in British Popular Music


POPULAR MUSIC in the more commonsense, could be explained by what mainstream radio is playing, what the charts are dictating, or what weekly music magazines are showing. Yet, it is my experience of a clubnight last Wednesday, that changed that opinion; to truly find what is popular at any given time, it is necessary to see what student club nights are playing.

This week I ended up venturing to a club that offers, what must be the cheapest liquor in London, and one that appeals (naturally) to a crowd of students living on pennies. The music selection throughout the evening was, in general, very poor. I was reminded of that scene in Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity (or perhaps it was just the film adaptation), when Rob was asked for his top five records, and immediately his response was “At home, or in a club?”

Herein lies the problem for the majority of the night; Florence and the Machine, and Noah and the Whale were amongst artists that were played. Two artists I do indeed like, but at home. In a club, they are the last artists I want to listen to. The night picked up when Nero’s remix of The Streets’ “Blinded by the Lights” got played. The pivotal track of the evening, as the DJ proceeded to play a selection of pop-friendly Dubstep, and in particular remixes of recent pop songs.

Dubstep’s popularity progression has spiraled over the past few years, with Dubstep purists debating the exact point that the genre went downhill. Indeed since the exclusion of Grime as the yang to Dubstep’s yin, many argue that the genre lost hope. The turning point is truly only an arbitrary date, for its demise, if you are of the disposition to believe it has had one, is subjective.

The Dubstep that has now popularised student nights, is certainly going to rile the purists. Lost are the days of the underground scene, true sub-bass, and, arguably, the spirit of genre. All that is left is a pop template that will continue to fill Radio 1’s primetime, and simulatenously, the country’s student nights. As long as 2009’s Dubstep producers continue to remix pop classics, much as a wave of electro producers did last year, then the genre will continue to find popularity.

Dubstep has, in the U.K., been popular for years, but its audience now definitely seems to have grown; it would be nice to believe that those who heard Skream’s remix of La Roux this week, will go back and discover his original tracks that helped mold the genre. Unfortunately, as is the nature of casual popular music, and those that listen to it, these originals won’t get heard. Instead they will remain in record collections, whose owners will arduously battle out the catalytic disintegrating point of a genre that they once loved.

La Roux – In for the Kill (Skream’s Let’s Get Ravey Remix)

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4 Responses

  1. Eklipse

    I believe with the economy the way it is, people just wanna make money so they can support what they love doing – making music. Its fact pop music = popular. Remix a track and if you do it well it will extend its popularity allowing you to cash in on it.. so the more people cottoning on to this, the more mixes made = more crap to sort thru.. so instead of dubstep becoming popular in a good way it gets branded “sellout”.. we seen it with techno, electro, dnb and in between.. its a phase and when the masses are over it, the purists can come out of there emo sulking skins and have it to themselves again, I for one am embracing this and exposing my friends to the origin behind the music and opening there minds one at a time.

  2. junglist 4 life

    I personally would like it to totally collapse and dissapear from the face of the earth. It’s so lethargic, devoid of and kind of soul or passion and you CANNOT dance to it. I’m hoping once the trendy crowd find the next big thing dubstep gets driven back underground so i don’t ever have to hear it again.

  3. joshua

    BBC is basically the main radio you get in the UK. There are a lot of commercial stations, and then speciality stations as well, but BBC Radio 1,2, and 3 are the main sources of music on the radio.
    Radio 1 plays popular music, while 2 will accomodate for more easy-listening, folk, rock ‘n’ roll, etc. Radio 3 will play mostly classical and jazz.

    I’m intrigued as to what the BBC plays stateside, and what station it is. Here, daytime Radio 1 plays pop as I’ve said. At night you have ‘rock’/’indie’ shows, and hiphop shows, and then a selection of electronic shows. The indie or rock shows generally are quite up to date as to what they’re playing, and what is happening amongst smaller bands around the UK. The electronic shows though, is where our radio falters; there is so much exciting underground dance music in the UK, that Radio 1 will take years to catch up to.

    Its a double-edged sword, a lot of people/snobs wouldn’t want their ‘underground’ music getting mainstream attention, and when it does it inevitably creates a backlash. Dubstep is one of the best examples of this, as Radio 1 started playing it quite prominently over the past few years, and naturally, i’ve heard and read so many complaints about Radio 1 for doing so.

    Its a nice compliment on behalf of our mainstream radio to say its ahead, but by the time Radio 1 will play something, there will, 9 times out of 10, be better music of the genre that they wouldn’t touch, because they need to cater for the entire public.

  4. Peter

    Hey MIS – I think it is interesting to hear the perspective of someone who has been listening to dubstep for years. For us in the States I feel like we’re still only just discovering the genre and personally, I still am thrilled by Skream and Joker and all those dudes who may have been doing it for years. They still sound fresh to me. Really fascinating how people can perceive differently based on experience.

    Also really interesting to hear how BBC Primetime can be too “pop.” But again, for the average American, BBC is totally cutting edge when compared to our average American radio (excluding KCRW, WFMU, etc…).

    Maybe it just proves how so far ahead you guys are compared to us. Not sure. But it is a good sign when Mary Anne Hobbs makes two trips to the West Coast to hear/play with American producers like Flying Lotus and Nosaj Thing…