Year-End 2010

The Year In Music: Dubstep's Identity Crisis

Day two of the Electric Daisy Carnival electronic music festival at the L.A. Coliseum on June 26, 2010 in Los Angeles, California. i i

hide captionDay 2 of the Electric Daisy Carnival electronic music festival at the L.A. Coliseum on June 26, 2010, in Los Angeles.

Michael Tullberg/Getty Images
Day two of the Electric Daisy Carnival electronic music festival at the L.A. Coliseum on June 26, 2010 in Los Angeles, California.

Day 2 of the Electric Daisy Carnival electronic music festival at the L.A. Coliseum on June 26, 2010, in Los Angeles.

Michael Tullberg/Getty Images

Dubstep music started in London around the turn of this century. Derived from styles such as garage, dub, and drum and bass, dubstep is known for downtempo rhythms with an off-kilter shuffle. A strict definition of the music continues to elude taxonomists, in part because the genre has broken down into two broad categories, with dark, melancholy, low-energy beats on one side and aggressive, bass-heavy dance music on the other.

The grimy, danceable side of dubstep is bombarding college campuses across America. Many electronic-music purists call this sound "bro-step," for the fraternity-brother types drawn to it. Rusko is a British producer who's championing the dance-heavy end of the genre. This year, he released his debut album, O.M.G.!, on the label run by Diplo, a taste-making, globe-trotting DJ with a reputation for keying into local scenes. Diplo also put out a dubstep compilation this year, with the stated mission of sharing the rising genre with a larger audience.

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If the crowds at electronic music festivals are any indication, the sound is already being passed around. It was reported that the Electric Daisy Carnival brought in more than 100,000 people in a single day, which neither Coachella nor Bonnaroo managed to do. And at just about every electronic music festival, the DJs with the youngest and most energetic audiences were playing bass-heavy, grimy dubstep.

At the other end of the spectrum, groups like Mount Kimbie focus less on the danceable elements of dubstep in favor of rhythmic complexity and mood. Because their music is more cerebral — and even difficult to dance to — artists like Mount Kimbie, Untold and James Blake may not attract the rabid hordes seen at a Rusko show. Their music is better suited for bedroom listening.

Many who favor this side of dubstep feel that artists like Rusko are creating a bastardized product of a common ancestor, but the kids likely can't hear the griping over the bass line.

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