Thursday, 2 February 2012

I review Dubstep

When I was a kid, we had an electric keyboard. It had a huge sound bank. You could do somewhere around a hundred different instrument sounds, and there were also sound effects, such as Street Sounds and Video Game Sounds. When I was eight or nine, I thought if you played those sounds in some kind of rhythm, with a bit of a beat underneath, you could almost make music with those sounds. And you know what? You almost can. And that almost music is called Dubstep.

Until recently, I had no idea what dubstep was. So to satisfy my burning curiosity, and to begin to catch up on my resolution, I decided I'd listen to a dubstep album. After some research, I chose Benga's 2006 album, Newstep.

I ought to bare my bias: I don't like electronica of any kind. There's even a Sting album that doesn't quite give me palpitations because it's a bit too synthetic. My music taxonomy begins with two Kingdoms: Made With Instruments and Made With Computers. The latter is like the Plant world: I'm sure darn glad its constituents are here, but it's nice that I don't hear from them.

I'd been told there'd be a lot of drums and bass in dubstep, and I thought I would like that. There are a lot of crappy drum machine sounds. And not that much bass. I will say that "6306" on this album had a really great bass line. Someone should use it in a good song that wouldn't hurt to listen to. But on the whole, I would not say that dubstep is bass-heavy.

If I had to describe this Benga Newstep verison of dubstep myself, I'd say, "Have you ever been in your dentist's office, and above the muzak you can hear drills and other tools screeching, and some kid is playing Space Invaders while another kid bangs a hollow metal toy on random objects? It's like that."

It's also very dark. I felt like any one of the songs on this album could have been the soundtrack to an anime snuff film. Even the song titles are nihilistic. For example, "World War 7"? Man, will humans never learn? And "The Future" symbolically ends rather abruptly (yet somehow, not a second too soon). And "Killerstep" kind of reminded me of Simply Having a Wonderful Christmas Time. So, Christmas is ruined now. Thanks, Benga.

Essentially, dubstep is what you would get if an emo kid with attention deficit disorder fell down and writhed on the keyboard from Big, and it had been programmed primarily with the following sound effects:

  • Commodore 64 and Tandy CoCo game soundtrack clips
  • Charlie Brown's teacher using a talk box. Or someone whacking a hand saw with a rubber mallet. They're virtually the same sound. 
  • Robots voices and other bodily functions

I only listened to one out of (far too) many dubstep albums, and a few other random songs, including, of course, some Skrillex. And, for a while, I started working and just had the Benga album playing in the background of my life, and I DID catch myself doing a bit of head-nodding and toe-tapping. And, later, at one point, I did a couple air snare hits. I'm sorry, Better Judgement. I failed you.

"The Real McCoy" Nothing to do with Star Trek. Sorry. But I did like it the best anyway. It felt like everything was in it on purpose, and not because somebody's asshole kid was playing in the control room and flipped a switch, and nobody noticed until they'd already pressed too many CDs to turn back.

"The Visitor" It was boring, but it didn't bother me exactly.

I would like Dubstep better if it were stripped down to about half of what's going on in the songs. I just don't know what you'd do with dubstep. If I had nothing else to compare it to or choose from, I wouldn't dislike it at all. If electronica and its ilk are where your musical world stops and ends, than I see how you might like it. Or if you do a lot of acid. That would help, I bet.

My negative experience with dubstep is probably my own fault anyway for choosing Newstep from Benga's early career, and not opting for a more recent album with a more mature, developed sound, such as 2011's Smack Your Bitch Up.


Better than dubstep:


  1. I am jealous, because you had the electric keyboard I wanted as a child. Instead, my mother, in her infinite wisdom and cost-cuttery, bought us one that ran on batteries and hot air. No, I'm not kidding. When you turned it on, a large fan inside came on, too. So you had bad 80s electric music sounds, over the sound of ALL THE WIND. My brother and I just would turn it on and hit a couple of keys, then shake our heads at it sadly.

    1. Oh, that's sad. I still have the keyboard from my childhood. I'll mail it to you if you want. You deserve a better experience than that.

    2. Ha! No, that's ok. I think I'm too old for keyboards at this point. I'd be like Ross on "Friends" when he was making his music on his keyboard, with all the sound effects, and it was just embarrassing.

      I think I still have that keyboard at home. I think I should find that and make a video of it. It's hilarious. And sad.

  2. Not a major Dubstep fan Manda but check this video out. Worth a watch at least for the dancing. This guy is awesome!!