This is not an article for people with tickets to Bassnectar's sold-out New Year's Eve show at Bridgestone Arena — y'all are the ones who know what's up. No, this is an article for everyone asking, "What's a Bassnectar, and why is it at my hockey rink?" This is for everyone who doesn't know what dubstep is or how it became the main event on the biggest entertainment night of the year — in the country music capital of the world. This is for everybody hanging out downtown this weekend wondering where the hell the swarms of DayGlo youth came from, for everybody scratching their heads at the flat-bill ball caps and Muppet-fur boots running around willy-nilly in a place better known for Stetsons and cowboy boots.
First, a really truncated, arguably inaccurate history of dubstep: In the beginning, there was disco, which was a far more experimental and avant-garde genre than your mom's Rick Dees records would have you believe. When disco was driven out of the spotlight by ... well, seething racism and homophobia, it splintered and recombined to give us the genres of house, techno and garage. (Not "garage rock," but rather a sound based on the pioneering New York venue Paradise Garage and its helmsman, the legendary DJ Larry Levan — yes, it gets confusing.) House, techno and garage would all swap spit for a few years, letting hip-hop and reggae cop a feel now and again, and eventually there were babies named jungle, drum 'n' bass and speed-garage — all genres built around outsized bass tones.
As the '90s closed and those sounds matured, they gave birth to U.K. garage (a more R&B-derived sound), grime (a British dance-rap hybrid) and — most importantly for this article's purposes — dubstep, which combined the production styles of classic dub-reggae with the infinite options of electronic music and an, ahem, irie pace. For many in the dance community, it was a really exciting development — a genre that embodied many of the attributes we had fetishized over the years. It was intelligent, it was progressive, it was the product of people constantly pushing the bleeding edge. And then it hit America, where it became bigger and brawnier, snatching genetic material from America's own bass-heavy traditions, specifically Dirty South hip-hop. And then it exploded, becoming the primary driving force in American dance music virtually overnight, propelling artists like Bassnectar, Pretty Lights and Skrillex into the arena-packing stratosphere.
And this is where the old-timers — the folks who had stuck with electronic dance music through the lean years, who had lived through the "call an answering machine to get a password to give to the dude standing on the corner who will give you directions to the party" years — started yelling, "Get off my lawn!" While none of us aging ravers can claim closets devoid of pop-techno skeletons — let he who is without Chemical Brothers records cast the first stone — there is a certain feeling of betrayal among the old-school faithful. For many who came of age during the days of JNCOs and came to electronic music in its communal outlaw phase — when the biggest events had the most DJs, and even biggest headliners weren't really stars — the DJ-as-pop-star phenomenon is a little tough to swallow. The fact that these electro pop stars travel with enough sound and light to rival — and trump — Cirque du Soleil or Def Leppard and can pack out these giant venues, makes it feel like our comfy little subculture has been stolen right from under us.
A sentiment which, if I may be blunt, is completely fucking stupid.
Shaking off the stigmas of the clandestine-rave era and being able to operate in the mainstream world is important if the art form of electronic music is to grow. While many might argue that the music has been dumbed down for a pop audience, I'd say the core values of underground dance culture — the "peace, love, unity, respect" mantra that's been printed on fliers, painted on faces and ensconced in song so many times — are exactly what pop culture needs right now. Because the music is so fluid, because of the infinite possibilities of the new technology, it's no wonder that a generation that has never known a world without remixes would flock to it. This is the damn 21st century, folks. If you didn't think that DJs would use laptops and dudes with computers would be the new rock stars, then you obviously haven't been reading enough sci-fi.
Every generation deserves the right to define its own culture, and if that offends our nostalgia-swathed sensibilities, well, then good on them. And if it steers them away from the divisive and dreary vibes that are being cranked out by the adults, even better. The fact that this city has been willing to embrace this sound and these kids, and that enough people have worked long enough and hard enough to make hosting an event of Bassnectar-at-Bridgestone proportions even feasible — that's a signal of the strength we have going forward. If our music economy is going to grow and prosper, we need to be thought of as a center for all varieties of music, not just for those clinging to rose-tinted memories of a semi-fictional 20th century. This is the future, folks. Best get used to it.
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