James the Savior: Dubstep Goes Mainstream Part 2

Written by: Jacob Kleinman

James Blake
James Blake is on the Cusp of Dubstep Super-Stardom

Although Dubstep music could be heard in the darkest clubs of south London as early as the late 1990s, the first musicians to cross over into the mainstream didn’t make it onto the scene for another ten years. Their music is often referred to as post-Dubstep, but really it’s just Dubstep re-imagined for the masses.

The mad thumping beats of Skrillex may be ruling this genre for the moment but across from his insane spectacle of a stage stands a young British songwriter focusing quietly behind his laptop. James Blake released his eponymous debut album in February 2011, containing 11 songs mixing the tools of Dubstep with the sensibility of gospel and soul.

“If Blake really does cross over and become the pretty white male who introduces a broader audience to dubstep, with its foundations in Jamaican music and black musicians in South East London, he’ll receive the tired, requisite backlash,” wrote Grayson Curry in a review of the album for Pitchfork.  “But these 11 songs– gorgeous, indelible tunes that are as generous in content as they are restrained in delivery– will last a lot longer.”

Although Blake is still mostly known in European clubs and American hipster enclaves, his album’s first single, a cover of Feist’s “Limit to Your Love” has exploded onto mainstream radio. The song cuts down Feist’s lyrics to just a few depressing phrases which are first sung normally and then chopped up, slowed down, electrified and repeated for almost four minutes.

James Blake manages to walk the line between completely out there and extremely approachable. His music is disjointed and dark, but also melodic and emotional. He presents himself as a humble DJ with a unique sound to offer to whoever will listen.

“Blake is, by some considerable distance, the most experimental artist in recent memory to make the annual hotly tipped lists,” writes Alexis Petridis for The Guardian, and later adds that, “Blake is exceptionally good at what he does, and what he does is hugely original.”

Blake may be at the tipping point of winning over the mainstream audience (he came in second in BBC’s Sound of 2011 poll), but for the time being he’s content to continue to toil away at his laptop.

“I was never thinking; ‘This is going to sound really good on the radio,'” Blake told the Guardian in an interview.

If he take his brand of Dubstep into the mainstream it won’t be because he tailors his own sound for the masses—James Blake refused to work with a studio producer on his debut album—but because the people give him the chance he so truly deserves.

Skrillex the Destroyer: Dubstep Goes Mainstream Part 1

Written by: Jacob Kleinman

Skrillex in concert

Skrillex performing at the 2011 Cisco Ottawa Bluesfest

You’re living in the Dubstep decade and you may not even realize it yet. This rising music genre can be traced back to the dank underground clubs of south London at the end of the 20th century, but has only taken root in American youth culture in the last few years. Leading the charge is Sonny John Moore, better known by his stage name Skrillex, a California-born music producer who is as well known for his bizarre haircut and stage spectacle as he is for his music.

Dubstep has no instruments in the classic sense. Instead the studio itself becomes an instrument. Allmusic.com defines the genre as “tightly coiled productions with overwhelming bass lines and reverberant drum patterns, clipped samples, and occasional vocals.” On urbandictionary.com you can find more creative definitions that give a better sense of the aural experience; Dubstep is “the music that is created from Transformers having sex,” according to one Urban Dictionary user.

The earliest versions of Dubstep were dark and experimental, but what has translated across the Atlantic Ocean is a futuristic take on electronic dance music that’s heavy on the bass, distortion and occasional high pitched robotic vocals.

Skrillex’s music doesn’t ask you to think or analyze, it just demands that you dance, and his concerts are jam-packed, sweaty dance marathons, which the artist oversees from behind his computer with the occasional fist bump or rapid drag from a cigarette.

On December 17, Skrillex tweeted, “I love miami crowds….super dancey n groovy. I like groovy fings tingz things.” And on the last day of 2011 he wrote, ““Flex your bums it’s your last chance…of 2011 GO!”

Skrillex and his legions seemed poised to consume all in 2012. Each concert is bigger than the last. Each album sells better than the one that preceded it. And each music video gets more hits on YouTube. This is great news for his fans, but if Skrillex’s music gives you a headache the future may be beginning to look bleak.

There is, however, a ray of hope in the overcast sky that is Dubstep, and his name is James Blake, a young British musician who is returning Dubstep to its experimental roots by mixing gospel elements with his own melodic voice and Dubstep studio techniques. In the part two of this article I will go into further detail on Blake, and why he may be the perfect counterbalance to Skrillex.