by Jonno Seidler (One A Day)
I’m not going to be the first or last person to tell you that dubstep was at once the most horrific and interesting thing to crawl to the top of the dance music heap in 2011. Of course, the roots of the movement go way back to British garage and 2-step and have been kicking around for longer than most Stoney Roads readers have had email addresses but for the sake of the argument let’s isolate the apex, or the dangerous prepice, if you will, of the sound and how it influenced foreign markets, particularly America and Australia. There’s something very weird about the cross-disciplinary and socially varied appeal of this genre in the last two years, something which may have to do with how we use our two feet when confronted with recorded music blaring out of a speaker.
Ignoring the very able and svelte immigrants from African nations, most regions of South America and, to an extent, Mediterranean Europe, the basic truth for anyone who isn’t deluding themselves is that Australians (and white Americans) can’t dance. It’s a quality about us that is as reliable as our suntans and surfboards and the further we move on from the 1950s, when everyone was taught how to swing, jive and jitterbug, the worse it gets. One thing had to give in these situations, particularly once black music – funk, soul, hip-hop, rap – started becoming popular to make everyone stop looking bad. And historically, it’s been the sound that has changed before the legs and the hips. When we couldn’t hack Motown, God gave us disco. It’s the fountain of youth from which most dance music drinks and everything from 4/4 bass drums to rigid slap bass comes from there. All of these things are much easier to groove to when you’re a white person. The time is marked out for you. There’s a strong emphasis on repetition. The sections don’t really vary that much. And perhaps most importantly, nothing swings.
When I was in highschool trying to illegally get myself entry into clubs as a teenager, every single one of them was playing serious, no-frills hip-hop. But once we got inside the only thing that became patently obvious was that nobody except the black kids had any idea what they were doing. Americans rectified this problem very simply, by dancing like they were having sex with each other. It really doesn’t require much innovation to stick your body to a girl’s body and simply shimmy up and down her torso without ever letting go. Go to any d-floor in any college town and you’ll be hearing hip-hop but you won’t be seeing the dancing associated with it. Australians went the other way; we booted hip-hop out of the clubs (until it was repackaged in the mid-’00s) and replaced it with techno, house and whatever else allowed us to shuffle from right to left or dance on the spot. Nobody had to be Michael Jackson. Everyone was saved.
Now, how does this all relate to the last 12 months of dubstep? Apparently even grooving to a 4/4 beat (and let’s be honest, busting out to LMFAO is like reading a picture book with phonetic spelling) has become too difficult for the current generation of Australians, and with that statement I particularly focus on Australian men. The terrible endpoint that is ‘bro-step’ (Skrillex, 12th Planet) isn’t called that by accident. If there’s one thing that’s more enjoyable and requires even less brain power than shuffling, it’s moshing. Go to any festival over the summer and you’ll see swathes of kids piling into each other like they’re at an Incubus concert in 1998.
Dubstep, like most musical movements, was created as a reaction to what people inherently want, even if you may maintain that you personally don’t. It’s harder, louder and more offensive that most other forms of dance music – save for that trance your stoned neighbour plays at 4am on a Thursday – and rather than encouraging the typical form of presentation and display that performing arts like dance enable men to do it lumps them all into a mass of testosterone and shoots them straight towards the nearest tattoo parlour. Sociologists have pointed out that even before popular music, the men who danced better took home the best women. Instead, we’ve regressed right back to the beginning, where the dude with the biggest club knocks her out and drags her back to the cave for another round of Caspar tunes.
So what’s next? Given that we’ve already lost most of the tempo, harmony, lyrics and tonality typically associated with popular music, where dance goes in 2012 is anyone’s guess. My money’s on industrial noise with advertising slogans shouted overhead.
See you in the club. With your club.