You Betta Recognize
I used to rock a Kermit the Frogg icon that had some iron-on 80’s T-shirt lettering at the top that simply said “you betta recognize”. No exclamation point or nothing. Kermit has some sort of Muppet hand-gesture going on, and it’s just delightful. Recognition: think about it. I’d like to recognize this phenomenon called Dubstep. It is–apparently–a relatively new and popular type of electronic music that has made its way into commercials and Hot Topic and youth culture in a way that I have not witnessed in a while. Little does the average Dubstep fanatic (or Skrillex-only brostep lover) know that this style of music has been around since the mid-1990’s. Vanity Fair is bemoaning that culture has been stuck in a rut for the last two decades, but I think that they are just not looking hard enough for novelty in this sea of multimedia we all swim in.
Those of you who have been to the Man-Cave known as Mordenkainen’s Parlour in person know that I have a lot of loudspeakers. And I have full control over the effects and equalization that eminates from these units. Kleptus, as I write this, is sanding the Saltillo tiles he laid upstairs at Edgemont as I write. Without playing music, the grinding sounds coming from through my roof sounded way too much like these 60 BPM Hybrid-esque breaks that have rocketed to public consciousness.
I am going to embed the video that I think was the springboard to Dubstep for me. I am a music fanatic; a DJ, even. I still marvel at these Video Disc Jockeys that can real-time juggle slices of video as they are mixing good tracks together–it is beyond me. However, I subscribe to the four elements of hip hop so fundamentally that I apply that litmus test to things I listen to when I detect an entire subculture developing in front of my ears. When I saw the dedication of Marquise Smith to a performance of a single track that he loved so much he believed in it, then you can understand why Dubstep is here to stay. Witness this. Recognize.
This reminds me of Mr Fantastic, Robert Muraine out of LA who auditioned for So You Think You Can Dance? and was subsequently featured on an Ikea commercial. I really think that the expression of dance actually adds the appropriate video element to an audio element that I already am entranced with. As a DJ, I always ask myself this question: how would I dance to this? It’s a fundamental concept if you are running a dance floor. It’s actually where all good DJ decisions come from. I remember in the phenomenal documentary SCRATCH, Africa Bambaatta would just hand unknown records to his DJ and say “the break is about two thirds from the start”. Boom. Play it. Trust. Recognize.
That is musical teamwork. Think Run DMC or Beastie Boys and how fast they can trade rhymes back and forth. Have you ever witnessed freestyling rappers beyond, say, Eminem in 8 Mile? Switch gears to DJs. Now shift again to (break) dancing. If I can extend you one more time, here is the least represented of the four elements of hip hop: (graffiti) artists. Speak, Mix, Dance, Art. This is how I judge musical culture.
I am getting older–I turned 40 in 2011–and I am trying not to become calcified as an “old guy”. I shamelessly use my godchildren–Tyler, Taylor, and Bélen–as Soundwave’s “little friends” to get a real idea of what is going on in their lives as a present tense report of what they are facing in this minute in America, and like all the brilliant young minds I have seen lately, are NOT CONCERNED about the future. Because they have not lost faith in their elders yet.
Tyler Rae has a buddy who makes Dubstep music, and frankly, he is pretty damn good; I am encouraging her to use her formidable skills to manage this artist.
Taylor has been crushing it in both his schoolwork and on the basketball court.
Bélen earned $10 from me by selling me a cat scratcher that she proved that my über-kitty Brother would actually use and love–after I stepped her through the process of selling product at outrageous prices and then applying a “family discount”. Kleptus and I then showed her the Marquise Smith video and gave her an impromptu (albeit poorly demonstrated) lesson in dancing to Dubstep in my living room.
My lovely niece Michaela just brought my first “blood” nephew into the world: Breslin Franklin Geddes, who is by all pictures and reports a bundle of joy. I asked when I could start sending video games and Lego kits.
I actually receive quite a bit of passive-aggressive shit that I don’t have kids of my own; hey, I don’t need them–I have plenty of responsibilities to insure these life forms generated by my friends and family grow up happy, healthy, wealthy, and wise.
Belen at Sheep's Canyon
What does this have to do with knighting Dubstep a relevant musical phenomenon that is worth paying attention to? There are a couple of reasons, but the most important is that Dubstep is the product of young people. Music is its own language, like math–although I have always been better at music than algebra or speaking Spanish–and as a language, it has dialects, is a creative endeavor, and is constantly morphing. Dance is a physical interpretation of a piece or pieces of music. Playing music, whether a live instrument (and that includes turntables, people), singing, or pre-recorded–hell, even clapping or whistling along–is an act of creation. I grew up doing yardwork with my dad, and when engrossed in a task, he would idly whistle. This is his equivalent of Michael Jordan hanging his tongue out of the side of his mouth when he was contemplating just how to dunk on an outmatched opponent. It made the chores go by faster, and fostered my personal philosophy that everyone has a soundtrack going on in their head-space. Some of us also have a laugh track and a sound effects track as well. I’m so in love with media that this is the best way that I can describe what ADHD is like. All of this is going on in my head, all of the time. YOU ARE NOT ALONE.
Dubstep accurately represents how gritty, slow motion, and ridiculous the present tense is. DJ Lurk firmly believes that the BPM meter has flipped: we have had enough of trying to communicate music at ever-faster beats-per-minute. 165+ BPM craziness has been around since the drum machine was distributed to the masses in a programmable and affordable unit. For crying out loud, Google “Happy Hardcore” and try to dance to that. It was a mid-1990s staple. But now we have rolled over to the bottom of the BPM spectrum. This is a stroke of genius.
Dubstep is fundamentally SLOW. As in slow down. Look at Marquise Smith: he is interpreting everyday–nay, every MOMENT–life. He ties his shoes. He’s just waiting for a friend or public transport. All the while amusing himself–and us–with an incredible display of interpretive dance. You can WORK to Dubstep. Folding laundry–a task I loathe for some reason–becomes fun when listening to Dubstep. I mentioned (and linked) Robert Muraine before; he’s a street performer from LA. Check out his audition for “So You Think You Can Dance”; spoiler: you betchya!
Muraine is not quite using Dubstep per se, but a parallel style that can sometimes be labelled as “Glitch”. Again, this is not exactly the type of club banger that you regularly hear on your normal 128-136 BPM dance circuit, yet talented dancers thrive when translating strange beat signatures, weird synthetic noises, and general wubwubwub. This stuff is not old people music; it is a blend of new, ever evolving technology with the oldest communication in the world: beats. And I find that there is almost no better way to understand the mindset of today’s youth than to figure out what they are listening to and how they dance to it.
It is possible that technology like samplers and drum machines makes our music lazy; a great 20 minute example of this is the Amen Break, which is the most popularly over-used sample in the history of music. On the other hand, I think that all of this tech allows for more freedom, more creativity, and the awesomeness of remixing and repurposing music. There is a whole movement of people who use loop pedals and effect units to do incredible things with just their voices as the only instrument they are playing, whether it is just straight beatboxing talent like Eklips or the jaw-dropping stylings of Hyperpotamus. Here’s a fan-made video set to Benny Benassi’s track Cinema remixed by the king of brostep, Skrillex, that was brought to my attention by the mighty Woodweaver.
For me, it is really all about dropping heavy-lidded into a sort of trance and almost seeing the composition; your body will then attempt to express this feeling through dance, through singing, through art, and through making your own music. Trust me, I still love the 80’s stuff I grew up on that was new and fresh and edgy, but there is no purpose in becoming trapped in your own set of oldies but goodies just because that is where you are most comfortable–and possibly nostalgic. Today’s youth culture is more vibrant than ever, and it is less frequently older generations that push the boundaries of sound. They used to say that teenagers built the original World Wide Web because they were the only ones with enough disposable time and passion to actually figure out HTML. The same thing goes with music. And art. And dance, and song. Pay attention! Recognize!