Dubstep Poised to Take Philly's Music Throne

By Elliott Sharp
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 33 | Posted Nov. 16, 2011

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Dayglow: Diplo and several others got down at a sold-out Navy Yard show this summer.

This popular new dubstep’s all about externalized aggression and rage, and it’s made audiences across the country fill large clubs and stadiums to get sonically pummeled and dance their asses off. As the Spin cover notes, the past year’s seen a radical increase in the number of EDM festivals, like New York’s Electric Zoo, Miami’s Ultra Music and the Electric Daisy Carnival, which brought 230,000 people to Las Vegas this year.

It’s not just festivals, though. Exponentially more dubstep and EDM artists are touring the country in a way only rock, country and hip-hop artists have in the past. A national circuit’s blown wide open, and tickets are selling out in record times, like when Skrillex played the Electric Factory back in October.

Dubstep purists might scoff at the new generation, but there’s no denying its potency and popularity. The changes aren’t only of an aural aesthetic, either.

“The biggest change I’ve seen since the 1990s is with stage-driven performances and hard-ticket DJs,” says Rodeghiero. “The difference is between concerts designed to sell tickets at pre-sale—like live rock shows—versus club environments, where tickets are primarily sold at the door. Now, we can have DJs selling out theaters and halls with full-on production, which wasn’t possible a few years ago.”

While EDM artists in the past were banished to small clubs, now they’re selling out venues historically reserved for radio-friendly mainstream acts like the Foo Fighters, Britney Spears or Kanye West. The demand’s increased radically, especially among college audiences. This Thursday night in State College, Trckd is hosting the first large-scale EDM show on the Penn State campus with Avicii. The Swedish DJ sold out the Philadelphia Navy Yard in June (see photo slideshow at philadelphiaweekly.com), and returned for a headlining set at Susquehanna Bank Center in August. The Penn State bozos may not get their football coach back, but they’re in for a rave they won’t forget any time soon.

In November alone, there are a number of dubstep/EDM events happening across Philly. On the 19th, Dub Set are set to take the stage at Starlight Ballroom. A few nights later, on the biggest party day of the year, Thanksgiving eve, Israeli electronic act Infected Mushroom will rock the TLA. Then, on Nov. 25, Trckd co-presents Dancegiving at the Electric Factory, as the EDM festival that premiered last year in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., makes its first Philadelphia stop. Once electro-house artist Wolfgang Gartner wraps up his headlining set that night in Philly—the only other stop on this year’s Dancegiving tour—he’ll zip down to headline the main stage the next night in Florida after a set by Diplo.

Those are the touring acts making their way through town. Philly has several critical dubstep players on the come up, and the real unsung hero of the scene is Starkey.

Born Paul Geissinger, Starkey’s an Allentown native who’s lived in Philly since he was 18. He completed his graduate studies in music production at Temple. You’re more likely to read about the 30-year-old dubstepper in British mags like The Wire or NME than you are in the local press—he also performs more in Europe than in Philly—but he’s been swinging fierce since the mid-2000s. His albums, like Ear Drums and Black Holes and his two-volume Space Traitor series, represent some of the finest American dubstep music made so far. He slightly modifies dubstep’s signature sound by mixing in vocal melodies and more pop-friendly tropes, but he has a deep relationship with the music’s early days.

In the early 2000s, Starkey studied for a year in London, at the same time the dubstep and grime scenes were emerging. A couple years after returning to Philly, he hooked up with Philadelphian (and DJ Nights columnist for City Paper ) Dev79, who was also knee-deep in the London scene and was already hosting events and doing radio shows under the Seclusiasis banner. The two began organizing two-floor dubstep and grime parties called IN and FM at La Tazza on Second and Chestnut streets. One night in 2006, they brought genre-pioneer Jammer over from London for a few shows in Philly and New York City.

“Everyone had a blast,” Starkey says of the Philly show. “In New York, people were just standing around, but here, everyone went nuts. We’d been playing this music at parties for almost two years, so everyone here knew it. Philly was hype to it, but the New York audiences weren’t prepared. We were already playing records nobody [had] ever heard, steadily getting our hands on whatever we could and ordering records from the U.K. by the box. They were hard to get, but we did it.”

While Seclusiasis continues to host DIY-type dubstep events in Philly, it’s also an internationally regarded record label that has dropped records by its two founders, as well as dubsteppers like DNABEATS and Distal. The two also run Slit Jockey Records, which was initially launched to curate music from London’s grime scene. On the sonic tip, Starkey and Dev79 are articulating their own sound, which they call “Street Bass.”

“When we started our parties, we wrote the words ‘Street Bass’ really big on the fliers,” says Starkey. “It encapsulates what we think’s going on in Philadelphia—street music with heavy bass. Philly’s always been in the shadows of other places, but, honestly, I don’t think there’s much going on in New York. People here are willing to take chances that people in other places aren’t.”

“The U.K.’s the epicenter, so the whole world looks there for electronic music,” says Dev79. “But this music really resonates in Philly. Like London, we have a grey, darker, harsher vibe.”

“It’s a party,” says Rodeghiero, attempting to explain why these dubstep/EDM events are bringing in bigger, younger audiences. “There aren’t any ballads, and there are no slow songs. The performer’s goal’s to keep the [beats per minute] changing, moving and flowing ... they gotta keep it hot or they lose people.”

Losing people. It’s what indie rock music, which for many years has been the go-to musical vehicle for youthful, rebellious kicks, might be doing. The shoot-first-ask-questions-never glory days of Mudhoney and Sonic Youth—who pushed the boundaries of sound while carving out a new, exciting cultural world—are long gone. And as second generation bands like Pavement and Guided By Voices now offer little more than a nostalgic experience, cashing in on the reunion tour racket, indie rock’s more openly becoming an old-timer’s market.

The anthems of popular bands like Montreal’s Arcade Fire—who broke down the indie/mainstream barrier this year by being the first indie label artist to win a Grammy Award for Album of the Year with their very rural-sounding The Suburbs —exemplify the less amplified, less defiant and extra-sappy path the music’s taken. The band’s highly celebrated debut, 2004’s Funeral , certainly paved the way for the current crew of oh-so-precious indie-rockers now plaguing radio and cloudwaves.

In a recent New York Daily News column, “Stop Being So Sensitive! Burly Men Become Girly Men, Turning Pop Music Into A Wuss-Case Scenario,” writer Jim Farber argues the rise of indie bands and artists like Sufjan Stevens, Iron and Wine, Bon Iver, Fleet Foxes and the National have signified that the “wimps inherit(ed) the earth.”

Despite the problematic gender issues implied by Faber’s choice of language, he’s right. While the tunes are conducive to sipping wine by a cozy fireplace, they lack the fire and guts needed to keep younger audiences satiated. The last thing little hell-raisers wanna do on Friday night is watch some old dude whine/cough into a microphone while playing an acoustic guitar. And no matter how many mandolins, ukeleles, banjos or violins the band incorporates to create a indie-rock-as-orchestra vibe, the music’s still boring. One of the main reasons young concert-goers are pledging allegiance to dubstep ragers like Skrillex is they want music that’s more aggressive.

They need energy , and they want fun . They need spectacle . They need an event, and as indie-rock gets cozier with the WXPN and NPR set, the kids are finding fresh ways to get their kicks.

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COMMENTS

Comments 1 - 33 of 33
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1. Anonymous said... on Nov 16, 2011 at 11:12AM

“nice! although anyone who really knows the scene will tell you that flufftronix and his parties are a tiny almost non-existant blip on the philly radar. there are plenty of other producers/djs/promoters that are worth mentioning in this article that are doing big things in philly that deserve the recognition.”

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2. moonchild215 said... on Nov 16, 2011 at 01:46PM

“plenty more dja and producers in philly..moonchild,unicron,ruxbin,dr.ew..and many more...if you are going to write an article on philly dubstep then talk to the ones who are doin the weeklys and other event on the regular...please if you are going to write about the philly dubstep scene..please talk to the ones who are on there grind everyday!!”

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3. Anonymous said... on Nov 16, 2011 at 01:59PM

“Not really. As far as relevant producers making waves in the Philly dubstep scene AND BEYOND into the greater world of dubstep, I think this article is right on point with the people that were mentioned.”

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4. JackDeezl said... on Nov 16, 2011 at 02:11PM

“Though I do agree with moonchild that there were a few people left out of the article that should've been mentioned, overall I think PW did a great job of highlighting our scene for people that aren't well acquainted with it. It feels great to see that we're being noticed.
Would've been great to see a shoutout to the dudes that are throwing all the underground stuff like DubMasters II (Ruxbin, Shane SixTen, BHB, TheNewPhiladelphia, etc.)
Still though, great to see our scene getting noticed. And if you wanna check out some great up and coming producers/DJs that are helping this scene grow...
http://www.facebook.com/pages/Actual-Records/142941169055703
http://www.facebook.com/IAMBHB
http://www.facebook.com/drewdoctor
http://www.facebook.com/pages/Speaker-for-the-Dead/105864099433656
http://soundcloud.com/agentzero
http://facebook.com/jackdeezl ;)”

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5. D$J said... on Nov 16, 2011 at 03:03PM

“To the obviously asshurt commenter reflecting on Flufftronix' contribution to Philly's dub-step scene -
The only people bringing dub step to Philly pre-his moving here were the Seclusiasis crew. While Flufftronix may not be as active a "dub step promoter" in this post-Skrillex TV commercial era that we're experiencing now, his vision and bookings definitely held this city down (along with the aforementioned Seclusiasis bols) for years, before dub step became synonymous with Hot Topic.
Combined with the fact that our Luvstep project has been heard by millions of people worldwide, and is now considered a commercial and viable sub-genre within the movement...it should leave absolutely no question that he is very worthy of being mentioned in this article.

Big up Starkey and Dev 79 for sticking to their guns, and finally getting some well deserved shine!

Big up everyone in Philadelphia, pushing, promoting and producing new and exciting music in all genres and arenas!

<3 Dirty South Joe”

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6. Anonymous said... on Nov 16, 2011 at 03:03PM

“The only people missing from this article I would have liked to have seen mentioned are Krueger and Copout.. they've not been recognized in Philly so much, but -have- attracted international attention, with releases on influential French and Belgian labels in the past couple months—look em up!

As for as the DJs/producers mentioned in the comments: do something that matters outside your circle, outside your Facebook friends, outside Philly. Then maybe you'll be recognized?

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7. Anonymous said... on Nov 16, 2011 at 03:19PM

“"As for as the DJs/producers mentioned in the comments: do something that matters outside your circle, outside your Facebook friends, outside Philly. Then maybe you'll be recognized?" <------ BINGO”

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8. Anonymous said... on Nov 16, 2011 at 03:29PM

“umm...isn't this article about PHILLY? let's not turn this into a pissing contest, but as someone who actually GOES to these parties and knows these people i'd say pretty much everyone mentioned has made an impact. the scene is flourishing, the genre is growing...thanks to everyone who throws a party and spins the tracks. more articles will be written, everyone has a chance to get some shine.”

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9. Anonymous said... on Nov 16, 2011 at 03:38PM

“I think the point of the article is who is taking over the throne in Philly. And lets keep it real. The Luvstep movement does not sell a significant amount of records/downloads or concert tickets. Nobody goes to the releases in Philly. You aren't going to take the crown with Luvstep. Its not that significant by any means. I agree the mixes are cool to listen to occasionally. But lets keep it real.”

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10. Michael / Flufftronix said... on Nov 16, 2011 at 03:45PM

“Thanks for the shout! Without Mad Decent and Seclusiasis, ALL of Philly would be a blip on the map globally in terms of bass music. I'm always grateful to be thought of as a peer to these folks.”

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11. Anonymous said... on Nov 16, 2011 at 03:53PM

“I think all of the producers/DJs/promoters mentioned in this article are respected the most in Philly because they think and do bigger than Philly. Who really wants to be the coolest dubstep DJ... in Philly? You gotta think bigger or you're fighting for scraps.”

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12. dropthabass said... on Nov 16, 2011 at 04:52PM

“just wanna give a shout out to my boy architekt. hes a sick rising producer/dj coming up in the philly scene! im a regular at the underground north philly basement dubstep partys and im absolutely inlove with the feeling that comes with this music so im not misleading you when i say check out i am the architekt on youtube! dirty as h*ll”

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13. Anonymous said... on Nov 16, 2011 at 05:19PM

“philly lacks hard in quality bass music and quality sound systems to handle good bass music.. anyone who is in it knows this. we get a solid act from time to time but philly gets looked over. As for the local scene.. very lacking and mostly same people all the time. get it together philly.. your electronic scene BLOWS!”

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14. Anonymous said... on Nov 16, 2011 at 06:16PM

“Dubstep is THE WORST. I'm so fucking tired of hearing about it. Ahhhhh”

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15. Bryon said... on Nov 16, 2011 at 06:21PM

“Dev79, Starkey and that crew have been doing this before anyone. They are the true Philly Pioneers.”

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16. Anonymous said... on Nov 16, 2011 at 06:24PM

“The Philly dance scene is so FUCKED it's not even funny. We have commercial tech house DJs playing the biggest clubs and HORRIBLE dubstep at the big concert events. I've heard several (quality) house and progressive DJs that are big names say they won't even think about coming to Philly because their music is so unrecognized here. All the best parties with quality music seem to be underground at small venues. It's easy to pack those. Try bringing someone like Jody Wisternoff (who has a huge following worldwide) here and I doubt more than 20 people would show up. Unfortunately, it's all about who you know and the shittiest local djs here know everyone and monopolize the big events. Things MUST change.”

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17. yo!karate said... on Nov 16, 2011 at 06:47PM

“As a relative newcomer to the Philly dubstep/street bass movement I can attest that the scene is on the verge of an explosion...once the scene produces a Viable dj/MC/producer that can expand the already growing scene (and it WILL happen soon) philly could poise itself as one of the meccas for dubstep/street bass....as long as the aforementioned djs/MC/producers don't tear each other apart @ 140bpms


As always

F*ck the world...Save the Club Kids. Ayo!

www.Letsplaykarati.wordpress.com/music”

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18. yo!karate said... on Nov 16, 2011 at 06:47PM

“As a relative newcomer to the Philly dubstep/street bass movement I can attest that the scene is on the verge of an explosion...once the scene produces a Viable dj/MC/producer that can expand the already growing scene (and it WILL happen soon) philly could poise itself as one of the meccas for dubstep/street bass....as long as the aforementioned djs/MC/producers don't tear each other apart @ 140bpms


As always

F*ck the world...Save the Club Kids. Ayo!

www.Letsplaykarati.wordpress.com/music”

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19. Anonymous said... on Nov 16, 2011 at 07:15PM

“www.soundcloud.com/koldfront
Philly Label with upcoming releases from Nightwalker, Genr8, EndBoss and more gangsta ishhhh!

check one!”

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20. Anonymous said... on Nov 16, 2011 at 08:51PM

“mehh this article is pretty weak; no real mention of the local djs who are putting in work and throwing the legit events

also the big parties mentioned aren't that great, just a bunch of amateurs running around on methcathinone

and since when is steve aoki dubstep?”

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21. adam said... on Nov 16, 2011 at 09:39PM

“Sadly, the only dubstep that comes through philly is the popular brostep which is god awful to those of us who really love innovative, forward thinking bass music. Case in point, 40 people showing up to see the mother of dubstep Mary Anne Hobbs spin at silk city. Would love to see bookings similar to her and Joker a few years back. These back to back shows of Borgore/skrillex/flux pav, etc is just not cutting it for those of us who know what is going on.

This isn't to hate on the philly crew as they have been doing their thing and in the end, they need to make a dollar too. But serving to the lowest common dominator gets old for those of us looking for some legit bass music.”

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22. dr. ew said... on Nov 16, 2011 at 09:39PM

“big ups to Starkey and Dev79 !! also mad love for the article extolling how different the Philly dubstep scene is.”

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23. Dregster said... on Nov 17, 2011 at 06:23AM

“Oh please, stop it. Dub step, Thug step, Bro step, and the like, are all fads. And terribly boring fads at that. It's dance music for people that can't dance. For people that would rather document a party than experience it. The kind of people that take video of... dj's... on their cell phones. Absolutely lame. What has happened is a large part of philadelphia, mostly new jersey, and the youth have forgotten how to actually enjoy a dance party. Aka, lost it's soul. That's the real story here. Seriously, Korn has done an album with skrillex... since when has Korn ever been on the cutting edge of anything? Yes they were large, but definitely not on the tasteful/progressive side of anything. Well, actually, they were responsible for inspiring a wave of terribly tasteless easily forgettable music along the lines of limp bizkit and slipknot. Way to go dub step, you are the nu metal of the 21st century. Please.

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24. DZA said... on Nov 17, 2011 at 07:52AM

“Articles like this always bring out the haters en masse. It's cute. Stay classy.”

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25. Anonymous said... on Nov 17, 2011 at 09:10AM

“Dregster is obviously someones mom who is upset”

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26. Booskie said... on Nov 17, 2011 at 02:28PM

“Dubstep is proof that any tard can play around in a music software program and call the dump they create "music."”

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27. Agent Zero said... on Nov 17, 2011 at 04:38PM

“Love to see you try Booksie.”

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28. Anonymous said... on Nov 17, 2011 at 11:41PM

“hmmm thats funny, the scumbag/white trash capital of the US is now obsessed w/ dubstep....didnt see that coming”

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29. ? said... on Nov 18, 2011 at 05:16PM

“dont forget DJ SUGA SHAY AKA THE DUBSTEP DIVA”

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30. Tom Seraph said... on Nov 19, 2011 at 01:18PM

“Dubstep WAS my favorite band but man, DUB SET is that hot new ish!!! Check out their new Justin Bieber Skrillex remix!!!”

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31. the ecstatic man said... on Nov 21, 2011 at 04:14AM

“Yesssss, totally got quoted.

On a less-ecstatic note, calling MiM0SA "dubstep" is like calling Mozart "some guy on the piano". That genre is out of control, and I'm very disappointed that a music journalist has fallen for the meme that dubstep has become.

On a more-ecstatic note, MiM0SA fuckin' THREW DOWN.
There was no possible better use for that $12...
If you are a true electronic-music enthusiast, you must see him.
And do it soon before his ticket prices double.”

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32. The Realest Dubstep Head said... on Nov 25, 2011 at 02:15PM

“I'm really trying to figure out why Khadafi Dub is not mentioned at all. Every big name artist or all the biggest shows in Philly i see his name is on every flyer.

Also nobody can argue that Dubstep Mix, Global Warming Promo, and Steez Promo bring all the biggest shows to Philadelphia. In regards to Dubstep in Philadelphia these are the people bringing the most people out and pushing the genre to the next level.

I don't think anybody can present an arguement to go against this! If u do your prob high on something or stuck on stupid.”

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33. Anonymous said... on Mar 1, 2012 at 05:50PM

“Check out Xaler. This new star on the rise will be playing a show with Steve Aoki in Philly this summer.
"LIKE" him on facebook for free downloads and more!
http://www.facebook.com/weneedtoxaler”

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