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Why Dubstep Will Go the Way of the Dinosaur. And Disco.

Okay, so I’m likely to get some angry comments from this one—but I can take it. :) As popular as the musical style dubstep has become recently, I’m going out on a limb with a prediction that in the not-too-distant future, it will become a distant memory. Much like dinosaurs and disco music.

Before you rail me for being a hater, let me state that I’m not making a judgment, but an observation. I’m not a hater of dubstep; I actually think it sounds kind of cool. I just don’t think it will last.

For anyone reading this who is stuck in the early 2000s, in the global music scene, EDM (Electronic Dance Music) as a genre has really begun gaining traction in recent years. The club scene has come alive, and we live in a day where DJ-producers like David Guetta, Skrillex and Deadmau5 are now household names, right along with top rock bands and pop artists. EDM offers many subgenres, but perhaps the most recognizable right now is dubstep. Originating in the UK underground scene, dubstep’s most pronounced characteristics are open, syncopated rhythms with heavy low frequencies and a “wobble bass,” an extended bass line that comes to life through a series of electronic manipulations.

Largely instrumental in nature, dubstep actually began evolving back in 1998, and has grown in popularity over the years until now it is literally a worldwide phenomenon. Indeed, it is a very recognizable sound that many people have heard without knowing it’s dubstep that they are hearing. Even people who don’t listen to EDM at all have likely heard this sound, mainly because its popularity has caused it to leap genres, to where pop and rock superstars like Justin Bieber (and more recently Muse) are now incorporating it into their music.

So if dubstep is so exceedingly popular, why am I already predicting its demise? Essentially, I think it’s a combination of the sound itself, and the context in which it has emerged. Let me drop a few specifics here:

 

  1. Dubstep’s sound is too limited for it to survive as its own genre for long. It has a distinct sound which right now is very popular, but it is so specific that there’s not a lot you can do to expand on it. Already we have too many dubstep songs that sound like pretty much the same song. No matter how popular something is at the moment, eventually we’ll get tired of it if it doesn’t evolve—and I don’t think dubstep has anywhere to evolve to without losing its signature sound and becoming something else.
  2. Dubstep’s recent quick rise in popularity will work against it. Although it’s been around as a sound for over a decade now, dubstep has been catapulted into extreme popularity. As a global craze, it’s now getting too much exposure all at once, which means we’re going to get tired of it even sooner.
  3. Dubstep is likely to be associated with a certain time frame and sense of fashion. Just as disco marked the 1970s and new wave marked the 1980s, I can easily see dubstep being remembered as the sound of the 2010s. Unfortunately, the sound of a decade loses popularity as the decade progresses, and the sound becomes dated—just as fashions become dated. You can’t hear disco these days without being transported back to the 70s; even so, in about 10 years, we won’t be able to hear dubstep without associating it with the past.

 

So what do I mean when I say dubstep will go the way of the dinosaur and disco? Since dinosaurs only exist today in the form of fossils and skeletons, let’s look at disco for our cue. Those who remember when disco was popular will recall that within a few years after its heyday, it stopped being played almost entirely. No one listened to disco for awhile—and then, when we did hear it, we had an almost comical reaction: “Remember when we used to listen to that? What were we thinking?” Now, decades later, we can bear to listen to disco again now and then, and we’ve even had a few disco revivals in the club scene. But it is still considered a retro sound—which means it’s only popular when retro happens to be fashionable.  Disco is still here, but it’s a fossil, reminding us of days gone by. I think this is exactly what’s going to happen with dubstep; not too long from now, it’s going to disappear from playlists for awhile, then eventually make its way back as a dated, retro genre. A fossil.

Again, not hating on it—just making an observation.

The thing is, many genres have emerged in recent decades, and lived on when people said they would die. Many considered rock & roll to be a passing fad; same with rap and hip-hop. Obviously, these genres are still with us, but the reason they are with us is that they could grow and evolve with the times. I just don’t see that happening with dubstep. EDM as a broader genre may continue to grow and evolve, and is likely to be with us for some time to come. But dubstep won’t. In my view, it just has too shallow of a range for it to grow—and that means natural selection will eventually weed it out. Just like the dinosaur.


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About the Author

on MUSIC IS MY OXYGEN WEEKLY.

David Tillman is an independent composer/arranger whose primary work involves writing jingles for commercials for radio and television, with several film and television placements to his credit as well. David has a fascination for all things related to the music business and the music industry in general, an obsession which his wife finds to be mildly unhealthy at times. His personal tastes in music are in electronica and industrial rock, and include The Chemical Brothers, Daft Punk and Nine Inch Nails (he loves that Trent Reznor is writing soundtracks!). When not in his office or in his man-cave, David enjoys skiing, hiking, the occasional game of golf, and sometimes just lounging by the pool. David lives with his wife and three children in Los Angeles, CA.

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