How Dubstep Works

The Intro: The Origins of Dubstep

Magnetic Man performs in Leeds, England.
Magnetic Man performs in Leeds, England.
Gary Wolstenholme/Redfern/Getty Images

Dubstep borrowed elements from the long, fragmented lineage of electronic music that preceded its arrival. The sound incorporates two-step (a style with soaring melodies resembling American R&B), grime (a cousin of hip-hop with aggressive, stiff beats), drum 'n' bass (a jazz-influenced, uptempo form), and dub (an offshoot of reggae emphasizing heavy bass and reverberated sound effects).

While the details of the genre are amorphous, most agree that dubstep first emerged in Croydon, a borough in South London, around 2002. Artists like Magnetic Man, El-B, Benga and others created some of the first dubstep records, gathering at the Big Apple Records shop to network and discuss the songs they had crafted with synthesizers, computers and audio production software. Their music tended drew on their stark urban surroundings for inspiration -- hence the often dark or spooky nature of dubstep. DJ Hatcha, a Big Apple Records employee and dubstep pioneer, began performing dubstep tunes at London's club Forward (which often reads as "FWD>>"), one of the earliest supporters of the genre. Ammunition Promotions, which ran the club, most likely coined the term "dubstep" in an XLR8R magazine story in 2002 [source: Clark].

The sound spread from there. DMZ Records, an early purveyor of dubstep music, organized club nights in the borough of Brixton. Online discussion forums centered around the new genre began to spring up. Dubstep songs became fixtures on Rinse FM and other pirate radio stations in England. The sound caught the ear of John Peel and Mary Anne Hobbs, who were DJs at the radio station BBC Radio 1. In January 2006, Hobbs broadcast a two-hour special entitled Dubstep Warz, which featured live sets from dubstep producers like Skream, Mala and others. An audio file of Dubstep Warz went viral, and the broadcast is now regarded an important moment in introducing dubstep to a mass audience.

Read on to learn how dubstep traveled across the pond and around the world.