How Dubstep Works

Dubstep Meets the American Mainstream

James Blake has made noise both in England and across the pond in the U.S.
James Blake has made noise both in England and across the pond in the U.S.
Hayley Madden/Redfern/Getty Images

The arrival of dubstep to America traces back to Dave Q and Joe Nice, DJs who followed the electronic music scene in the United Kingdom. Smitten with the sound, the pair organized a dubstep-themed club night entitled Dub War at a Brooklyn bar in June 2005. The event's success spawned more festivals in other American cities, like Smog in Los Angeles, as well as events in Miami, San Francisco and elsewhere. With the low cost and easy accessbility of recording software available to aspiring dubstep producers, the genre spread to places like Japan, Australia and Brazil.

Mainstream record producers latched onto the sound, as well. In the latter half of the 2000s, R&B singer Rihanna, rappers Jay-Z and Kanye West, and the heavy metal group Korn all assimilated dubstep into songs. Even pop star Britney Spears incorporated the genre's tropes into two of her singles. Big-name music festivals like Bonnaroo, Coachella and Burning Man host dubstep performances. In 2011, two gatherings devoted to electronic dance music -- Electric Daisy Carnival in Las Vegas and Ultra Music Festival in Miami -- drew more than 380,000 attendees combined [source: Mason]. And in 2012, dubstep producer DJ Skrillex received three Grammy Awards, as well as a nomination for Best New Artist -- the first time a DJ was nominated for the category [source: Sinha-Roy]. And since the tempos sync up nicely with hip-hop tracks, it is not uncommon to see dubstep remixes of rap songs.

The entry of dubstep into the American mainstream spawned a sub-genre called "brostep." So named for the fraternity "bros" that embrace the sound, brostep embodies dubstep at its most aggressive: distorted bass lines playing at frequencies closer to mid-range, cartoonish or outlandish lyrics and themes, and tracks designed to whip live audiences into a dancing frenzy. Perhaps in response, a separate wing of avant garde artists has tailored moodier, more rhythmic types of dubstep less concerned with danceability. Another permutation sometimes called "lovestep" incorporates female vocals and tempos reminiscent of 1980s love ballads [source: Ricciardi]. Some musicians borrow elements from other niches of the electronic music world, while others borrow from wholly different genres, from classical to heavy metal to hip-hop. So, while dubstep has its own aural conventions, like any other genre of music, it isn't bound by them.

For lots more information on dubstep and other music genres, see the links below.

Related Articles


  • Clark, Martin. ''The Month in Grime/Dubstep.'' Pitchfork. Apr. 12, 2006. (Feb. 11, 2012)
  • De Wilde, Gervase. ''Put a bit of dub in your step.'' Telegraph. Oct. 14, 2006. (Feb. 8, 2012)
  • Dowling, Marcus. ''Interview: Joe Nice and the History of Dubstep in America, Part Two.'' The Couch Sessions. Jan. 17, 2012. (Feb. 11, 2012)
  • Frere-Jones, Sasha. ''Step Lightly.'' The New Yorker. Nov. 21, 2007. (Feb. 9, 2012)
  • Gaerig, Andrew. ''Dubstep 101: A U.S. Primer.'' Spin. Sept. 12, 2011. (Feb. 9, 2012)
  • The Guardian. ''Magnetic Man: A Brief History of Dub.'' Sept. 10, 2010. (Feb. 8, 2012)
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  • Jenkins, Peter. ''Dubstep Basics.'' Sound on Sound. July 2010. (Feb. 9, 2012)
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  • McKinnon, Matthew. ''South London calling.'' CBC. Jan. 30, 2007. (Feb. 12, 2012)
  • Ricciardi, Tiney. ''A Beginner's Guide to Electronic Music: From Scratching to Dubstep and Everything Between.'' Dallas Observer. Aug. 17, 2011. (Feb. 12, 2012)
  • Sherburne, Philip. ''Brostep, A Gentlemanly Introduction.'' Rhapsody: The Mix. July 27, 2011. (Feb. 8, 2012)
  • Sinha-Roy, Piya. ''Dance music finally invited to Grammy's big party.'' Reuters. Feb. 11, 2012. (Feb. 13, 2012).
  • ''What is Dubstep?'' 2011. (Feb. 9, 2012)
  • Vena, Jocelyn. ''Skrillex Nabs Three Grammys.'' MTV. Feb. 12, 2012. (Feb. 13, 2012)
  • Yenigun, Sami. ''The Year in Music: Dubstep's Identity Crisis.'' WBUR. Dec. 30, 2010. (Feb. 8, 2012)