Is Fun.’s Song “It Gets Better” an Anti-Dubstep Anthem?

Sure, Nate Ruess has come a long way since his folk-loving power pop days as Phoenix’s The Format, but does the Fun. frontman hate Dubstep now? The band best known for its current Janelle-Monae-featuring single “We Are Young” is unabashedly pop friendly, harking back to 70s rock bands with some modern theatrical production magic worked in. Personally, we prefer Ruess’ songwriting dressed down as with the Format’s 2003 Interventions and Lullabies, but Fun. is definitely, well, fun.

So imagine our sadness when we get deep into the band’s debut album Some Nights and–after many sleepless nights of dubstep on the brain–we realize that one song is not like the others (AKA, lacking in serious Freddy Mercury hero worship). And after getting it in our heads that Ruess’ latest band and album is trying to save theatrical rock, it’s hard to listen to the track “It Gets Better” and not see it as a blatant attack on the genre of dubstep.

The song abruptly starts with the “robots having sex” sound that many find offensive about dubstep and features about 20 seconds of this high-register wobbly 2-step electronic snare beat, complete with glitchy tweaks under a Skrillex-esque autotune voice that sings, “What have we done? Oh my god.”

But the whole song is not this offense-t0-true-dubstep. Instead the verses and chorus have an insistent rock beat and pop-chord progression that continues over lyrics such as “You never looked so bored” and “It’s hard to stay inside my head when words keep pouring out” (which could be a reference to how dubstep DJs often create their music in a solitary environment).  The chorus itself repeats the line, “It gets better,” perhaps directly nodding to the return of the glitchy dubstep beat that re-occurs briefly in the build-up line before each chorus. The back-and-forth between catchy rock beats and the more off-putting 2-step beats makes for a schizophonic song that seems to spread an anti-dubstep case across three and a half minutes.

Do you think the song itself a battleground for these two supposedly disparate music genres or are we just getting our panties in a bunch?

L.A. DUBSTEP: How the U.K. Import Landed on the West Coast and What Residents are Doing With It


How did Angelenos come here—to host an electronic-music revolution in our own backyard?

In the same way that no one is really from LA but they are still all part of it and it’s a part of them, dubstep is a musical export that has been adopted and adapted by the city. By the time that L.A. native and the (sometimes contentious) face of American dubstep Skrillex received the nod from the musical gods at the GRAMMY awards, dubstep had long been a living, breathing, beating entity in Los Angeles for almost a decade.

It wasn’t long ago that producers in the south of London were mashing up garage, 2-step dance music and Jamaican dub sounds to create the genre that was characterised by overwhelmingly rhythmic bass wobbles set within a range of 140 to 160 beats per minute. In 2005, the UK-born bass genre started filtering stateside and by 2006 two of L.A.’s biggest clubs—SMOG and Low End Theory—had already started to mold the unique shape and sound of Los Angeles dubstep.

Today, on any given night in the county—from Low End Theory’s Wednesday nights at the Airliner and Smog Sundays at Dim Mak Studios in Hollywood—there is some sort of dubstepping going on.

The world of dubstep in Los Angeles today, which incorporates art installations and wisps of weed smoke into its aesthetic, is the younger more successful sister of drum ‘n bass which remains in LA’s underground electronic dance music scene.

Dubstep’s infectious momentum has swept the city, replacing the upbeat, synth-heavy music that formerly dominated the dancefloor. Young people of all ages from Long Beach to Pasadena are now hosting, going to, producing, listening to—doing dubstep.

The UK’s dark and grimy basses have found new life in the bounce of West Coast hip hop, the splice and dice of remixed hometown jazz and the mid-range guitar-like synths of L.A.’s cock rock past. There are people who love dubstep—photographers and graffiti artists and t shirt makers, producers, DJs, MCs—who can be found at every show and have watched the music through its meteoric rise to ubiquity. For most electronic music fans, it’s been a long time coming and though the sounds have changed since it crossed the pond a few years ago (and many proclaim that dubstep is in fact already dead), it seems like Los Angeles is only just beginning to show its dubpresence.


AKA: grime, sublow, Eight-bar and eskibea

Example artists: Skream, Digital Mystikz,

What it is: A subtle wobble bass–often being played as a melody in a register so low it effects the bowels–under jazz, reggae and rock samples. Some variations feature a rapper or multiple MCs.

“It’s a sound coming from the imaginations of the first generation to have grown up surrounded by digital technology – from gaming consoles and computers to mobile phones, CD burners and MP3 players.” –Kevin Braddock, the U.K. Independent, 2004

“The sound evolved from the U.K.’s low-end-heavy garage and drum ‘n’ bass scenes. But instead of the hyperkinetic beats spawning light storms of glow sticks, dubstep focused on head-nodding swells of buzz-saw bass. Though the first word in the compound “dubstep” might lead people to associate it with dub, the instrumental chill-outs crafted by Jamaica’s most innovative producers are merely distant relatives.” –Drew Tewksbury, L.A. Weekly, 2010


Introducing Dubcore: From Jay Sean to Breathe Carolina, A New Genre Is Born


Yes, I was shopping at a Tilly’s, that Orange County-based chain that slangs surf-and-skate clothing to middle and high schoolers. More importantly, though, is that Tilly’s has in-store music video playlist that is ripe with the latest in teeny-popper fare. It was here and in the middle of a seemingly innocent electronic-infused emo song that my ears picked up a familiar wobble bass–the defining characteristic of the dubstep sound.

Breathe Carolina, from Denver Colorado, make party music on GarageBand that has been categorized as both electropop, and crunkcore. Their influences run deep in the post hardcore scene where throaty, screaming vocals and intense mid-song breakdowns are the norm. But their music goes forward, into the electronic realm, where pop hooks and dance music can be made without instruments.

They crossed the dubstep threshold with a cover of Bangra-R&B artist Jay Sean’s 2008 song “Down,” which for those who have never had the pleasure, is a song so catchy that it gets stuck in the inner depths of your brain for weeks. Two minutes into Breathe Carolina’s version, however, the harmless cadence of “Down’s” upbeat chorus fades away and the Autotuned vocals begin to growl, “Take it down low.” A wobbly, bass-fueled breakdown ensues for about 15 seconds before the growler returns with the bridge (rapped by Lil Wayne in the Jay Sean original). Is this dubcore? What about Skrillex, who used to sing for post-hardcore band From First to Last? Is the heavy wobble bass of dubstep the next step for breakdown-hungry fans?

Check out Breathe Carolina’s cover here. The dubstep comes in at around 2:20.

“Sex, Drugs and Dubstep” Has Us Wondering: Is Rock ‘N’ Roll Dead?

Dubstep goes with sex and drugs just like its predecessor

We’re all familiar with the phrase “Sex, Drugs and Rock ‘n’ Roll,” but what about “Sex, Drugs and Dubstep”?

Yup, the debaucherous-lifestyle motto originally made popular by Ian Dury and the Blockheads’ 1972 song “Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll” has now been re-purposed for a different genre–dubstep. From t-shirts to internet memes to eponymous tracks, the latest incarnation of this phrase seems to be everywhere we look. But words aren’t the only thing being replaced here. Dubstep very well could be the new rock ‘n’ roll.

Sixty-five years ago, white American teenagers were just beginning losing their minds to the illicit hip shaking and sultry crooning of Elvis Presley, who (according to many) is “the King of Rock and Roll.” So vastly different from the post-swing pop music of the 50s, Presley’s Memphis-bred guitar work–as well as that from others affiliated with the growing rock ‘n’ roll genre–taught rigid bodies how to move and transported listeners into a carefree state. It’s safe to say that dubstep serves a similar purpose for today’s fans, providing an alternate, rule-free reality, though now Presley’s body affecting guitar is instead a wobbling, electronically created bass.

The phrase “Sex, Drugs and Rock ‘n’ Roll,” however, doesn’t only refer to the music genre itself, but also the lifestyle associated with its performers and fans. With its wild beats and energetic choruses, rock ‘n’ roll almost calls for the no-care absence of authority and there is a long list of artists whose entire lives are emblematic of this long-standing cliche. But rock ‘n’ roll in any semblance of its original form is long gone from the mainstream (thanks a lot, Nickelback) and so to an entire generation of new music consumers, rock ‘n’ roll exists as a concept only, one that is easily absorbed by similarly transcendent sounds such as dubstep.

Should we be mourning the death of rock ‘n’ roll–even if it secretly lives on in tiny little pockets of the universe–or look positively on its ideological reincarnation in dubstep? WWARD (What Would Axl Rose do)?



Dubstep 101: A U.S. Primer


by Andrew Gaerig

Alongside Skrillex’s rise, “dubstep” is becoming pop’s buzziest new word. But figuring out what the hell it means is another story altogether.

Skrillex, shot for SPIN’s October 2011 issue by Jason Nocito

“Who gon stop me,” from Jay-Z and Kanye West’s Watch the Throne, begins with an orbiting, distorted vocal sample, then explodes into a rush of quaking bottom-end and pulsating, chunky mid-range. These are the blatant hallmarks of dubstep, the floor-shaking, multifaceted electronic music that began on South London pirate radio nearly a decade ago and now peppers U.S. pop radio. If you’re looking for a bellwether moment to signal this genre’s American takeover, you could do worse.

“Who Gon Stop Me” won’t break dubstep, though, because dubstep, depending on your perspective, already has arrived broken, dead, or unrecognizable. Similarly, recent dubstep-inflected pop tracks by Britney Spears, Snoop Dogg, Rihanna, and Korn are mile markers, not destinations. This is, in part, because American audiences and artists are caught in a geographical divide that has fractured the genre’s identity.

“The stuff that’s popular in America is different than the London dubstep sound,” explains Drew Best, cofounder of Los Angeles-based Smog, one of America’s first dubstep parties. “The scene in America is massive. It’s way bigger than it is in the U.K.” This massiveness is a tribute to the music’s power, but also to the support of Best, along with scene starters like New York’s Dave Q and Joe Nice, and the Bay Area’s Nick Argon and Bassnectar.

Dubstep may be the closest British analog to American hip-hop (though drum’n’bass and grime traditionally have played that role), with its sonic upheaval, aggressive posturing, and intense debate about the music’s origins and true nature. Roughly, dubstep began as a reaction to U.K. garage music, itself an innovative, underground club movement that had been polished to a pop sheen. Artists such as Horsepower Productions, El-B, and Digital Mystikz slowed the sound way down while looking to dub reggae’s dystopian worldview for inspiration. Influential DJs (the BBC’s John Peel and Mary Anne Hobbs) and stations (Rinse FM) spread the sound to a wider audience.

By the time dubstep crested in the U.K. in 2006, it was already rebelling against itself. Spare, moody subwoofer odysseys by Burial, Kode9, and Shackleton gave way to artists such as Skream, Caspa, and Rusko, who produced booming, disorienting tracks stuffed with jagged keyboard riffs. The music was still slow, but also intense and active, and more appealing to American teenagers raised on rock radio. It’s a sound that Caspa calls “noisy, mid-range-tearing-through-the-system dubstep. Americans like it pretty hard.”

For producers, this iteration of dubstep was fresh and exciting, but it was also convenient — tempos and textures aligned nicely with current rap tracks, particularly from the South, which blasted blocky synth melodies that seemed to split the difference between metal and techno. “Wobble,” as it came to be known for its oscillating bass, could rattle ribs in dingy clubs, festival tents, or on the radio.

“If you listen to the metal, aggro stuff, you don’t need a good sound system to impact people,” says Starkey, one of the first American producers to incorporate the sound.

Club nights began bubbling up: Smog in Los Angeles and Dub War in New York. Britney took her first stab at the genre back in 2007 (“Freakshow,” which she followed up this year with “Hold It Against Me”), and soon U.K. artists like Rusko, Chase & Status, and Nero were producing tracks for major pop acts. The large outdoor festival circuit converted groups of sweaty adolescents.

“I started turning to festivals that were usually associated with jam bands,” says Bassnectar. “Not because I liked the jam-band music, but because in America that’s where youth culture would go to experience frenzied music gatherings.” Live events became a focus of the U.S. scene, and if explosive, breakdown-oriented artists like 12th Planet and Flinch don’t inspire much dancing, they inspire the next best thing: appreciative, orgiastic headbanging.

Bonnaroo, Coachella, Electric Daisy Carnival, and Burning Man have booked American dubstep DJs en masse. Newer festivals, like North Coast in Chicago, seem uniquely tailored to the cross-section of jam, hip-hop, and dubstep. Fueled by club culture’s wane, Bassnectar and Skrillex have aggressively toured rock halls that hadn’t previously hosted DJs.

All of a sudden, dubstep looks, sounds, and pays like rock’n’roll. “Right now, in America, the work has been done, the road is paved,” says Bassnectar, who was instrumental in that progress. “If someone offered me Tokyo or Paris on a Saturday or Kentucky or Mississippi on a Tuesday, I’d take Kentucky.”

“You’ve got people like Skrillex who are on these 48-stop tours,” says Best. “He’s selling out amphitheaters in Idaho and Nebraska and Arkansas.”

American audiences have yet to embrace the diversity of U.K. dubstep (or “post-dubstep”), ranging from the pure pop moves of Katy B and Magnetic Man to the artful impressionism of James Blake and Mount Kimbie. Lurching and aggressive remains the prevailing style in the States, a sound sometimes derided as “brostep.”

“It’s just people taking it to extremes,” says Caspa. “Where they’re going wrong is that it’s just got no rhythm, and you can’t move to it or understand it.” Drew Best sums it up: “Bigger, badder, crazier — that’s embedded in us.”

Fights over dubstep’s meaning or terminology, and so-called brostep’s arrested development, notwithstanding, “bass music” (the insider’s preferred term) is arguably the most influential, grass-roots electronic movement in America ever. Neither house nor the rave-centric techno culture of the early ’90s penetrated middle America so deeply; the electronica movement of the late ’90s sold records but didn’t result in thriving local scenes.

“The next step is radio…someone having a big crossover hit in America,” adds Caspa. Dubstep’s viral, volatile pedigree in the U.S. suggests that such a hit may be as likely to come from a random YouTube hippie as from Kanye or Britney or even Skrillex. “It’s changed the way people think about making music,” he continues, “how they think about promoting music, how they think about DJ’ing.”

Even if fewer and fewer people agree on exactly what it is.

Skrillex: Eight Wild Nights and Busy Days With the Superstar

Inside the success, philosophy and love life of electronic music’s current king

By Neil Strauss
March 1, 2012 11:00 AM ET

“Want to go to a party at the drummer from Muse’s house?” Skrillex turns and asks.

“Sure, why not.”

Fifteen minutes later, the car is full and navigating through the Hollywood Hills. Skrillex is in the back seat with his girlfriend, U.K. singer-songwriter Ellie Goulding, and the bartender from the hotel we just left. In the front seat is his tour manager, Road Hog, who’s never been in the hills before.

Ratatat’s “Loud Pipes” is blasting through the car. Goulding and Road Hog are celebrating the moment, singing “the Hog is in the hills” to the instrumental track. Skrillex – nee Sonny Moore, known to close friends as Skrilly and drunk friends as the Skrill– is recording the jam on his iPhone. “This is going to be a track,” he says excitedly as we park. Behind us, another carload of Skrillex’s friends and crew unloads, and they all climb the hill, a mobile party. “Every night is like this,” Skrillex says, bounding up to the house. “It’s just totally random.”

To spend a week with Skrillex is to learn to operate with no sleep, no silence and no pause. Even sitting still, he’s moving – bouncing a leg up and down, tapping his fingers, looking around the room to take in everything going on. “He’s inhuman,” says his European booking agent, Simon Clarkson. “We gave him only one night off in Europe, and he calls and tells me he’s putting together a party that night so he can DJ. He doesn’t stop.”

“I book myself tight,” Skrillex confirms. “If I have any time off, I get antsy. I haven’t taken a vacation in, like, eight years.”

It is this tireless, jittery energy that’s propelled Skrillex through an accelerated music career: He joined his first indie and punk bands when he was 12, toured the world fronting the Top 40 screamo band From First to Last at 16, and signed a solo deal with Atlantic Records the year he turned old enough to legally go to the clubs he’d been performing at. Now, at 24, he’s performing 300 shows a year playing the most noncommercial music of his career – his tonally dirty, dynamically aggressive brand of bass-rattling dubstep – and to everyone’s surprise, most of all his own, he has become the most exciting thing happening in popular music this moment. He won three Grammys in February. His Facebook page has been growing by 300,000 new fans a week. And everyone is blowing up his phone, from Dr. Dre to Kanye West, who took Skrillex to Vegas in his private jet, watched him DJ and then invited him to his hotel room to cut some tracks.

“I’m aware of what’s going on, but at the same time there are parts I can’t see with any perspective and don’t know if I should,” he says as we stand in a bedroom with Muse drummer Dominic Howard and four girls who are cavorting around the room, hungry for the pair’s attention. “I mean, it’s surreal when you step back and see everything going on. But when I’m in the moment, I don’t realize it.”

If Skrillex continues to have his way, he will never realize it. “I don’t like being overexposed,” he says. “I don’t like being on covers. And I don’t like people talking about me.”

So in order to get a better understanding of who he is, here are a few scenes culled from eight days spent in a nonstop maelstrom of vodka, bass and late nights with pop’s reluctant phenomenon.