Mimosa, whose TLA concert last Wednesday was presented by Trckd, agrees. “These shows are more appealing to younger people,” he says lounging in his tour bus a few hours before shaking the stage. “This is aggressive music, so it’s a good way to release tension.”
When Mimosa speaks of aggressive dubstep, though, he’s talking more about Skrillex than he is himself. His music, like on his recent LP, Sanctuary , is much more ambient, psychedlic and intricate. As his TLA set proved, it’s every bit as cathartic, but Mimosa’s more devoted to atmospheric builds that avoid bashing while still bumping.
“The production levels of this music have created a hyper-interactive experience for fans,” says Evan Weinstein, a founding partner of Steez Promo, which organizes dubstep concerts up and down the east coast. “Rock music got stale ... It’s just a few guys playing, and maybe a banner with the band name on it behind them.”
“The popularity started to grow,” he continues, “when we started placing more emphasis on stage design and production. We tried to create a stronger visual appearance with lights, walls of subwoofers, multiple video screens, custom DJ booths, lasers, and so on. It’s increased across the board—bigger numbers, bigger venues, bigger production. Everything’s going in the direction of dance music right now. It’s this music’s time.”
This Thursday night, at the TLA, Steez presents a headlining performance by Steve Aoki, a California-based electro-house DJ who’s had a huge impact on dance music’s recent rise.
In the late 1990s, Aoki founded Dim Mak Records, which has since dropped acclaimed albums by leading EDM figures such as MSTRKRFT and Tiësto, as well as indie-rockers with electro cross-over appeal, like Bloc Party and the Kills. Known for his insane, over-the-top live shows, Aoki’s also a party promoter, and his second annual Pacific Fest brought more than 50 EDM-centric acts to Silverado, Calif., in August. In Washington, D.C. on Nov. 26, Steez pulls off their biggest event yet—the Fall Massive.
“It began with an idea,” says a scary, quasi-totalitarian voice streaming on the Fall Massive website. “An idea that we will all be united under one culture. An idea that people from all walks of life will form a single unit ... this vision is massive.” Across multiple, interconnected tents and five stages in a lot at RFK Stadium, and with a maximum capacity of 15,000, Massive’s bringing together well over 50 artists representing a diverse range of the EDM scene—from London dubstep OGs Skream and Benga to Moby and Diplo.
The new dubstep scene has several key players, but chilling at the apex is Skrillex (whose Baltimore and varous Virginia performances were also booked by Steez). He’s harnessing both the aggression and larger-than-life stage-production that exemplifies the scene’s maximalist ethos, and, as a result, he’s become a spokesman for dubstep’s American invasion.
The former frontman of screamo band From First to Last, the 23-year-old approaches it from a rock ’n’ roller’s perspective. He’s managing to take the rage and grandiosity that contemporary popular rock music once had but now lacks, and translate it into the wobbly, grinding, sub bass language of dubstep. One track from his breakout album, released in 2010 on Canadian DJ Deadmau5’s label, Scary Monsters & Nice Sprites, is called “Rock ’N’ Roll (Will Take You To The Mountain).” That’s exactly what his live performances do. Well, that’s really only half of it—Skrillex takes you to the mountain, then he takes you much higher, and then he blasts you, like a fucking missile, out into space.
His music hits hard , like a sledgehammer to the dome—moshpits formed at the Electric Factory stop on his recent Mothership Tour. And his stage-production’s unlike anything anyone’s ever seen. Using a body motion suit, sensors pick up his frenzied moves from behind the DJ booth and are then visualized through a towering, 20-foot-tall DJ projected on a huge video screen behind him. It’s as if he’s a god-like monster/alien/robot leading the most epic party in the history of mankind, except the party’s on a planet nobody’s ever been to before. Call it Planet Skrillex.
He’s definitely introduced a stadium-rock mentality to dubstep, but the dude’s onto something. People needed something new that was big, loud, fast and mean, and Skrillex has provided it. He’s captured the hearts and minds of an undeniably large segment of young concert-goers, and the consequence is a major alteration of the fundamental principles of dubstep music. His version doesn’t have a “relationship to the real,” as Reynolds argues London’s early music did, but has more of a relationship to the unreal , and to the maximalist spectacle , and to the aggressive desires of mainstream audiences .
“A few hundred people might be bitching on a message board,” Skrillex says in a recent interview with Rolling Stone about purists and naysayers who accuse him of destroying the original version of dubstep. “But you can go to a festival and find 100,000 people dancing to my music. No one gives a fuck.”
One of the sets at this year’s fourth annual Mad Decent Block Party was Luvstep, the DJ team of Philadelphians Flufftronix and Dirty South Joe. Like the new breed, their production deviates from the sacred dubstep mold, but in a much mellower, smoother, chillwave and indie-inspired way. Flufftronix, a Philadelphia resident since 2008, has also hosted events in Philly under the Rad Summer banner, bringing many big artists from the London scene (e.g., Benga, Joker and Ikonika) for their first local appearances. His monthly event, PHLTH, features local artists throwing down sets packed with everything from dubstep and grime to hip-hop and electro-house.
These dubstep deviations and variations, like Starkey and Dev79’s Street Bass, are typical in Philly’s scene, one that’s not easily defined.
Last Friday, for instance, in a sweaty warehouse near the York-Dauphin subway stop in Kensington, a couple hundred people cram in for some Street Bass action at a party called Dubmasters II. Hitting the stage around 2 a.m., Dev79 destroys a set of original music and bangers by Seclusiasis artists Kastle and Siyoung. It’s nothing—nothing—like a Skrillex show. It’s classic DIY Philly shit, nothing like the dubstep exploding elsewhere around Philly and the rest of the country.
“You’re gonna get an education at Dubmasters II,” Dev79 says about the somewhat academic survey of the music’s history he sneaks into his live sets. “DJs gotta make the party pop off, but they should also bring some knowledge to the table. Many people now are playing this homogenized, dumbed-down version of dubstep, and it’s not doing anything positive for this scene’s culture.”
“It’s been crazy to see dubstep go so far,” Mimosa says about the music’s recent nationwide popularity. “Nobody expected it would reach the heights it has. The parties are much bigger, and we’re able to bring more people together for a unified experience ... there’s a very special moment that happens where all these lights are going along with the music, everyone is dancing in the same motion, and it all feels like one living, breathing thing.”
The “unified experience” Mimosa speaks of is what the new dubstep scene’s all about, and it’s another critical reason kids are flocking to the raucous parties.
Starkey attended Skillex’s sold-out Electric Factory show, and while his music differs wildly from the current king’s, he knows he bore witness to a special kind of spectacle.