BBC Home

Explore the BBC

4th August 2015
Accessibility help
Text only

BBC Homepage

Contact Us

Like this page?
Send it to a friend!

features /  music feature
editor content by: editor
DMZ 1st birthday - picture courtesy of Georgina Cook,
the sound of dubstep
Bass in the place.

Brixton, London. On a bitterly cold March evening hundreds of expectant faces file into 3rd Base, a tiny club under St Matthew’s Church. The first birthday of dubstep night DMZ has attracted representatives from all over the UK and worldwide, including this evening’s party-starter, the hugely charismatic Baltimore DJ Joe Nice. Inside, the room rattles to a sound that incorporates UK garage’s sparse clipped beats, techno’s futurism, jungle’s skanking half-time rhythms and the sheer bass weight of dub reggae. The bass is the thing. “Chest bass” as DMZ host Sgt Pokes has it. That moment of delicious weightlessness before the b-line drops.

Kode 9: “The sub-bass is the thing that’s consistent. Anything goes on top of that”. For the Glaswegian producer that means cinematic samples and the booming tones of his vocalist, Spaceape. A Digital Mystikz tune can range from gnarly halfstep to uptempo 4/4. While Skream productions might mean fluttering arpeggio’d synths as on Midnight Request Line, arguably dubstep’s biggest tune thus far. As upcoming producer Burial notes, in an interview with key blogger Blackdown, the absence of an easily defined formula baffles bandwagon jumpers. Or: “There are no highway lights to attract rubbish producers. Everyone’s just off wandering.”

Joe Nice selects a dubplate, Loefah and Mala who (with Coki) run DMZ label/night.

Each of the principals are keen to stress that dubstep did not happen overnight. As with so many “new” dance genres, it evolved in increments, imperceptibly over time. It was born around the millennium, in the margins of the capital - places like Croydon’s Big Apple record shop where producers like Hatcha, Benga and Horsepower Productions became attracted to the sparser, dub end of UK garage; pirates like Rinse FM, where DJ Youngsta debuted aged 13, and any number of bedrooms illuminated by PCs running Fruityloops.

Kode 9, Joe Nice and Skream; Youngsta behind the counter at BM Soho.

Certainly there were markers announcing that dubstep had become more than a collection of like-minded producers: the three volumes of Tempa’s agenda-setting Dubstep Allstars mix CDs, Skream’s 'Request Line getting props from a range of producers as diverse as Wiley to Ricardo Villalobos throughout 2005, and Dubstep Warz, when long-time supporter and Radio 1 DJ Mary Anne Hobbs gave over her Breezeblock show to the cream of dubstep DJ/production talent. However, there’s no better illustration of the scene’s rapid expansion than DMZ’s first birthday. The club run by Mala & Coki (aka Digital Mystikz) and Loefah was interrupted mid-dance and ravers asked to file upstairs to the considerably larger Mass in order to accommodate the hundreds in the queue, snaking off into the night.

Photographer Georgina Cook, one of her pictures of DMZ's 1st birthday.

It’s a peculiar turn of events for a scene with such an apparent disinterest in crossover success. There’s none of grime’s chart-focused bling or the over-reaching ambition (albums, “proper” instruments) that dulled jungle. Anything that distracts from the music is ignored. The dancefloor at (Shoreditch club) FWD is pitch black, whilst DMZ consists of two monster speaker stacks and little else. Kode 9: “There’s one blue light. The sub-bass makes the air heavy. It’s like doing a rave 20,000 leagues underwater on the seabed. You might see some fish, sharks, maybe a dolphin.”

Loefah is more prosaic. “We just wanted a room with some big speakers and that’s that. You come down and you dance. If you don’t wanna dance, there’s nothing else to do.” Mala agrees, “We had lights once, but it didn’t work. It’s all about the darkness”.

James Cowdery 06 April 06
Main picture and gallery © Georgina Cook 2006.

Relevant releases:

- Various Artists - Dubstep Allstars Vol. 3 , out now on Tempa.
- Digital Mystikz - Haunted / Anti-war dub, out now on DMZ.
- Kode 9 - 9 Samurai/Backward ft The Spaceape, out now on Hyperdub.
- Skream - Skreamism Vol. 1 out now on Tempa.
- Skream - Midnight Request Line / I, out now on Tempa.

Top 5 2006 dubstep tunes to look out for:

- Skream "Deep Concentration" (Tempa)
- Digital Mystikz "Ancient Memories (original and Skream remix)" (DMZ)
- Loefah "Mud" (dubplate)
- Kode 9 "9 Samurai/Backward ft The Spaceape" (Hyperdub)
- Scuba "Dreams" (Scuba)

Top 5 original dubstep tunes to dig out:

- Artwork "Red" (Big Apple)
- High Planes Drifter v Goldspot "Sholay" (Tempa)
- El-B "Express" from Dancehall EP (Ghost)
- Phuturistix "551 Blues" (Locked On)
- Steve Gurley "Hotboys" (Hotboys)

Dubstep - further resources

Drumz Of The South
Georgina Cook's photoblog.
Blogger/journalist/DJ/producer Blackdown aka Martin Clark.
Pitchfork – The Month in Grime
Blackdown's regular grime/dubstep column.
Boomkat: Skream interview
Skream interview with online record store. Plus mix.
Breezeblock: Dubstep Wars
Mary Anne Hobbs hands over her Radio 1 Breezeblock show to the cream of Dubstep DJs and producers.
For all things dubstep...

Read members' comments related to this music.
Dubstep post 13
comment by sunsetbeach    Jan 29, 2008
Great link, lcdubs. I'm enjoying this. Excellent post on Burial in the blog on the site as well.
complain about this page
Dubstep post 12
comment by lcdubs    Jan 28, 2008
A community based dubstep internet radio station:
complain about this page
Dubstep post 11
comment by missingthumbs    Jun 3, 2007
this mix is off the shelf

proper heavy.

Bowser - the independents vol 1

bass clef's lp 'a smile is a curve that straightens most things' is a beauty too.

: D
complain about this page
Dubstep post 10
comment by tha-illsta    Jun 3, 2007
yo where's my props you fuxx???
know where your bread is buttered.
otherwise, superb little movie: very good overview of the scene
complain about this page
Dubstep post 9
comment by martwaar    Jun 2, 2007
wow i luv it. dirty bass lines and heavy beats there needs to be more nights across the UK. If it wasn't for Thu 2am BBC radio 1 and night shifts i would be non the wiser.
complain about this page
Dubstep post 8
comment by NOODLESDPR1    May 30, 2007
i'm just amazed by the passion for dubstep; coming from 2step originally it's grown into a global movement, it's kool that true creative spirits can stand the test of time..
complain about this page
Dubstep post 7
comment by DJ_Reech    May 12, 2007
There truly is nothing new under the sun but I like this. I come from the school of original Hip-Hop, ie. funk breaks, b-boy'ing, writing & MC'ing-REAL Hip-Hop not this gangsta cr*p nowadays. I've seen the progression thru the years but always loved reggae music, bass & breaks. This is fresh & I rate it.
complain about this page
Dubstep post 6
comment by joelaze    Apr 24, 2007
ola eu sou de portugal e conheci o dubstep ha pouco tempo!!
fikei completamente agarrado ao som,muito fora e muito completo!!adorava ver em portugal
alguns dos dj`s ,mas sem duvida SKREAM e de longe o melhorzinho!!!send me news to portugal!!!
complain about this page
Dubstep post 5
comment by dubmind    Oct 31, 2006
I found these guys streaming a dubstep session from Brighton every Tuesday night,
tune in and let them know what you think.
complain about this page
Dubstep post 4
comment by Dubsteppa    Oct 14, 2006
Dubstep is the new phenomenon!!
Never have i known a genre of music that can rattle your rib cage violently and make you over the moon at the same time.
complain about this page

see also

music archive
Watch music sessions and interviews from 2002 to 2008.

books and comics archive
Author interviews and reviews from 2002 to 2008.
6 music
6 music club fandango

About the BBC | Help | Terms of Use | Privacy & Cookies Policy