Year in Music: Sub obsession

Pub date December 12, 2007
SectionMusicSectionMusic Features

When listeners go mad for a track they hear on London’s dubstep pirate radio station Rinse FM, the DJ quickly backspins the vinyl or CD turntable and says, "All right, from the edge!" It’s an apt metaphor for music that has San Franciscans like myself clinging to bass bins and feverishly tracking the music’s forward march from South London across the globe.

Dubstep was 2007’s most fun and relevant electronic music form. The sound encompasses our war-weary planet’s apocalyptic throb, with the promise of technology’s tones twinkling in the distance. It welds dub reggae’s weighty bass with UK garage’s insistent rhythmic pulse and, like a massive black hole, draws in techno, grime, industrial, drum ‘n’ bass, and other electronic subgenres.

This year, seven years after its gritty South London birth, dubstep music was everywhere in the Bay Area, from small bars like Underground SF to multiple Burning Man camps. Parties like Grime City, Narco Hz, Brap Dem, and Full Melt drove the music, while promoters like SureFire booked big out-of-town acts. Brit expat Emcee Child ruled the mic with Axiom and Audio Angel contributing vocal vibes, and DJs like SamSupa!, Djunya, Ripple, Cyan, Subtek, Kozee, Jus Wan, and Kid Kameleon sorted the platters.

So why dubstep, and why now? Well, house, techno, hip-hop, and mashups have mined familiar, even worn, territory for years, addled by heaps of cocaine and mediocre productions. Meanwhile, innovation is dubstep’s main component: London’s Benga dropped electro-influenced steppers, local artist Juju gave us dub-fueled tunes, Skream issued acidy tracks, and new names like Elemental offered glitchy breaks as dubsteppers broke all the rules. This inspired a clutch of devoted SF enthusiasts to launch a full-scale takeover, with club nights, legal and pirate radio shows, and labels and local producers getting international acclaim. SF is now respected internationally as America’s dubstep ground zero.

The good news: this scene is more down-to-earth than the city’s notoriously cliquey drum ‘n’ bass crews were in their mid-’90s prime. The first time you go to a dubstep party you’re more apt to be handed a shot than shot down as a newbie. And remember: when you hear a sick dubplate rinsed out there, don’t forget to put five fingers in the air and shout, "From the edge!"


1. Various artists, Hotflush Presents: Space and Time (Hotflush)

2. The Bug featuring Killa P and Flow Dan, "Skeng" (Hyperdub)

3. N-Type’s Sunday radio show, Rinse FM

4. Benga, "The Invasion" (Big Apple)

5. SamSupa!, Fallinginto DJ mix

6. Cotti and Clue Kid, "The Legacy" (–30)

7. Burial, Untrue (Hyperdub)

8. Babylon System, "Loaded" (Argon)

9. Coki, "Spongebob" (DMZ)

10. Skream, "Skreamizm Vol. 4" (Tempa)