Courtesy of Mara Gruber
After repeated attempts to describe the sound of dubstep, an electronic bass-heavy genre of music, most people give up and say, “You just have to listen to it.” Dubstep has invaded the bars and clubs of Columbus in an explosive way.
To the untrained ear, dubstep can sound like a mess of noise that interrupts the otherwise upbeat song it sits on. It grinds the inner ear with industrial cacophony and heavy bass.
Ohio State’s Electronic Music Club treasurer and “dubstep officer” Matt Weber, a third-year in fashion and retail studies, describes dubstep as slower than trance or electro-house music.
“You just have to play it, that’s the easiest way to know what it is,” he said. “Dubstep is dubstep. You can’t describe it.”
Sarah Hoyt, Weber’s girlfriend and fellow electronic music enthusiast, said she’s been listening to the genre for six or seven years and hasn’t heard anything quite like dubstep.
“Dubstep itself has become a foundation, like a starting point for more dance music,” she said.
Dubstep originated in the underground scene of London and, like many genres of underground music before it, seeped into America’s music and club scene. Its influence can be heard in the work of many mainstream artists, including Britney Spears and 3OH!3. It started in the U.S. with the rave culture and is now splintering off into different subgenres.
“The growth of dubstep and the music scene is crazy. It’s definitely a fad right now,” said Scott Singerman, owner and creator of Ohio Stand Up, a collaboration of electronic music fans. “Britney’s song arouses a lot of different opinions of that. It’s a good sign for awareness of dubstep, but maybe not the longevity.”
Local DJ Vince Frascello agreed.
“People have strong opinions about dubstep, because it’s such a deep-rooted culture. There’s always going to be music hipsters,” he said. “I think Britney’s song (“Hold It Against Me”) is sweet. It’s mainstream with dubstep influence.”
The rise of the style in Columbus can be contributed to the many organizations that have banded together to make the music scene more cohesive for fans of dubstep.
Electronic music groups like My Best Friend’s Party, Ohio Stand Up and OSU’s Electronic Music Club, as well as venues such as Skully’s, Circus and The Mansion, have had a hand in promoting the dubstep music scene.
“Ohio Stand Up is an off-shoot of C.O. Way, and we started this blog as a sort of hub for electronic music in Ohio. We want to write about artists and talk about events going on,” local DJ Frankie Spontelli said. “We started out pretty simple. Every time we step on the scene now, its like we’re at work.”
C.O. Way is the blogging, entertainment supplement to the business part of Ohio Stand Up.
The dubstep scene has spawned styles of dress, photography and attitude. At ColumBASS 2.0, an event put on by Spontelli and Frascello at Bernie’s, there were scores of people with glow sticks through their ears piercings, around their wrists, in their hair and around their necks.
One person stood out among the crowd. Mowglii Flows gets paid to dance at shows with giant glow sticks and flashing hula-hoops.
“A lot of the things I do are really about the illusion and captivating my audience,” Flows said. “The mix between the music, the way I’m dancing, the way my lights and hoops glow and move with the music all come together nicely to create a pretty captivating light show.”
The term “glow freak” was mentioned several times at the show, indicating the kids covered head to toe in glow sticks.
“You see all these people decorated in glow sticks and blinking lights and LED toys, and you know when you see them they are just all over the place dancing, having a great time, feeling the music,” Flows said.
The vibe at the beginning of the night was mellow, but quickly headed in a more aggressive direction, causing Bernie’s to stop letting in patrons under 21 years old.
“Whenever there’s a lot of white people in the room, that have been drinking heavily, you have an untapped dubstep market,” Singerman said, laughing. “Dubstep gives white people swag.”
Often dubstep is associated with a drug culture because of how it was introduced in the U.S. with the rave scene. Dubstep fans have said over and over again that drugs are not what the music is about. Weber said despite the encroaching drug culture stigma that’s been attached to the dubstep community, “peace, love, unity and respect” remains the mantra of the culture.
Unlike its musical counterparts, such as pop and hip-hop, the direction of dubstep in Columbus is more or less controlled by the fans that listen to it. As a whole, electronic music is handled by the trend-setters and the underground culture.
“I like to think of it as the new-age ‘hippie’ movement. Everyone is really out for a good time, and for the most part you get nothing but smiles and dance partners,” Flows said.
Many have differing opinions on how to describe the dubstep “scene.”
“Its good to see it getting out there, but I think people are losing sight of it,” Weber said. “It’s turning into ‘bro-step’ now. All they see is a fad.”
Weber described ‘bro-step’ as a subgenre of dubstep that is geared toward people who may not be familiar with the music and go to shows for the drugs and not the music.
“It’s a term for music they (dubstep fans) think is not well-produced, it just has a lot of loud sounds to get people to get crazy,” Frascello said.
Singerman said the simplicity in making the music waters down the quality of the genre.
“With electronic music, the content is so rich. Everybody and their best friend can make music on their laptop nowadays, which is good and bad,” he said. “It dilutes the quality of music when people put out s—, for lack of a better term.”
Despite the differing opinions of the dubstep scene, the genre keeps expanding. With more dubstep shows and events every weekend, the awareness of the community is growing, which was what Singerman said he wanted to do with Ohio Stand Up. He discussed several things the group was working on in the next few months, such as weekly dubstep shows at The Social on Park Street, hosting High Rankin, a dubstep DJ, at Tipsy Bar, and helping put together OxFest at Miami University.
“I never thought I would be doing this at all and now I find myself avoiding to find a job, just so I can throw parties and DJ,” Spontelli said.
Critics might question the nature of the crowd that follows the genre but the sudden spike of popularity in Columbus is hard to miss.
“We’re literally on the explosion point,” Frascello said.