The couple hundred people gathered at the TLA for L.A.-based dubstep musician Mimosa’s concert last Wednesday are like vultures swarming carrion. Their actions appear natural, biological, organic. They’re hungry.
A more precious simile: They’re like tiny kittens cuddling up to their mother’s furry gut for warmth. The way they converge in front of Mimosa’s DJ booth—a fortress-like arrangement of digital screens displaying spiraling colors, patterns and shapes—in one massive, powerful circle of collective energy is instinctual; they’re pumping their fists, yawping, swinging uncontrollably, bouncing off each other’s sweaty, convulsing, sub-bass-controlled bodies while piercing laser-beams zip inches above their bobbing heads.
“I want one of those,” an ecstatic man says, pointing to a flailing dude wearing a jacket with dozens of dangling neon green, yellow and orange glow sticks that flop around like jellyfish tentacles, vibrating manically along with each bass blast. They sync up perfectly with the radiant yellow hula hoop spinning around the waist and arms of the spandex-wrapped and entranced girl with whom he’s dancing.
Everyone’s dancing. Some not very well—they look like Elaine from Seinfeld, stiff and awkwardly poking about. But that doesn’t matter. No one here’s judging anyone else. Each person’s happily doing their own thing, and everyone’s doing it together—bouncing differently to the same booming, pounding, shifting drum.
When Mimosa—raging behind a Macbook, his faux-hawk whipping around like a rabid squirrel’s tail—squashes the sonic tension he’s so carefully built by unleashing a hard-as-nails, low-end accompanied beat, the whole damn club goes next-level bonkers. (see photo slideshow at philadelphiaweekly.com) “There’s so much amazing fucking energy in here,” yells a wild girl to the ceiling, eyes closed. She’s not talking to anyone in particular—she’s addressing the night itself, hollering the vibe.
Dubstep, a form of electronic dance music (EDM) that emerged in London in the early 2000s in underground clubs like Forward, with artists such as Skream and Benga leading the pack, is blowing up across the United States. According to the October cover of the typically rock band-toting music magazine Spin, contemporary dubstep and electronic dance music artists like Skrillex, Justice and Tiësto are victoriously leading “the new rave generation.”
Last week, following a sold-out Skrillex concert at the First Bank Center in Denver, in an article titled “Skrillex Helps Power Dubstep Deeper Into America’s Heartland,” the Chicago Sun Times wrote, “After umpteen previous declarations that various forms of electronic dance music were poised for a takeover of the nation’s popular tastes, 2011 has been the year it finally happened on a wider scale.”
When we look back at the past from the comfort of our spaceship-homes in the future, will 2011 be the year dubstep broke?
In Philly, evermore, the answer seems to be a resounding yes.
Yup. Philly, the city that’s prided itself for so long on the straight-ahead rock ’n’ roll sound of Bruce Springsteen. Philly, the town that never met a Grateful Dead ticket it didn’t buy. Philly, the city where John Coltrane found his lungs. Philly, the birthplace of Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff’s orchestral soul.
Call it the New Sound of Philadelphia: Dubstep. It’s varied. It’s loud. It’s violent. It’s youthful. It’s drug-fueled. It’s fast as fuck—140 beats per minute, typically.
Philly loves the stuff.
For those who missed out on the rave scene in the mid-to-late-1990s, it’s happening again, and it’s happening here in Philadelphia in a major way.
“I was a fan the first time around,” says Philadelphian Todd Rodeghiero about the electronic music scene of the ’90s. “But this time it’s already much, much bigger.”
Along with partner Mark Marek, Rodeghiero launched Trckd Media Group/AOE in 2010. They’ve since organized some of the larger dubstep and electronic events around Philadelphia, throwing ragers at venues like the Starlight Ballroom, Susquehanna Bank Center and the TLA.
The national dubstep craze is in full-swing, with significantly more tours stopping by Philadelphia (see tagline), and the local scene’s been slowly evolving over the last decade. Diplo and Low B’s Hollertronix events at the Eukie put the city on the map in the early 2000s, and Diplo’s annual Mad Decent Block Parties have undoubtedly contributed to local concert-goers’ increased interest in all things dubstep and dance.
In its earliest manifestations, the dubstep sound was atmospheric and gloomy. It’s hauntingly slow beats, pulverizing bass and echoing wobbles were chilling. But the chills didn’t provoke just heady existential suspense and tension, but also dancing.
In a 2010 Guardian article, “Grime and Dubstep: A Noise You Could Believe In,” music writer Simon Reynolds argues it was partly its “relationship to the real” that made dubstep (and its close, but more aggressive, rawer and hip-hop-oriented relative, grime) more than just humdrum dance music. By this, Reynolds seems to mean the music spoke for some sort of late-capitalist frustration and alienation—a loss of hope—brewing in London at the time. It captured the darker, semi-dystopic moods of the young generation. But, as Reynolds argues, dubstep’s menacing promise never truly materialized. Instead, the sluggish, eery beats fostered a more contemplative spirit, as opposed to an active or cathartic force . There was certainly rage, but it remained cloaked beneath blankets of ghostly beats and towering bass.
The opposite’s the case for the so-called dubsteppers who’ve recently captured the attention of audiences in the U.S. Far from contemplative, artists like Skrillex have more in common with 1980s hair-metal bands Poison and Guns N’ Roses than Burial (one of the dubstep artists from those early London days who exemplified the genre’s minimal, downtempo sound).