When genres become zombies

December 20th, 2012  |  Tags:

Has any word used to describe commercial music had such a tremendous decline as “dubstep?” In 2005 it referred to the music made by loose collection of producers with diverse sounds and styles.1 But by 2009 it had become a descriptor for a paint-by-number style that only admitted tracks that allowed a few facile, predictable, and ridiculous musical elements to grow until they choked out everything else. In four years, “dubstep” went from being a big tent containing some of the most interesting popular electronic music of the day to being a mark of philistinism — a pejorative to anyone except bros who skew lowbrow and are a little too enthusiastic about horticulture.

I suspect in this case, the decline was due primarily to the diverse group of innovators moving away from what became the rigid characterization of dubstep while a large group of second-tier musicians and bedroom producers (and glorified bedroom producers) were happy to play in a narrow style and to use draconian genre constraints as absolute guidelines rather than as a starting point for creative exploration. (To be fair, the genre’s increased popularity probably was due to new fans who demanded the same halfstep beat, a wobble bass drop exactly 16 or 32 measures in, &c.) No matter why it happened, though, this amusing video pretty well captures the current state of the genre:

(Chase it with something a little more interesting, like Burial’s “Untrue.”)

1 Even I produced some of the old-definition, broadly-construed “dubstep.”