In this edition of Misadventures with Mike, Mike Espinach discusses the growth of dubstep, the rise of Skrillex, and the value of art. Look for another new edition of his column in the summer issue of Incognito.
The Art of Art by Mike Espinach
It’s odd to think and know that things can be done without authenticity these days, particularly in the realms of art. Now with the advances of technology, it’s only natural for anyone to be a “bedroom producer” overnight, which is absolutely a positive. Giving people creative means is a beautiful thing, especially considering the fact that being a musician has its hefty expenses.
However, it is scary to know that whatever new and alien styles are forged, they will undoubtedly be copied, and to much lesser dynamic value. An example that comes to mind is the advent of dubstep into the mainstream. Dubstep started out in the UK, an expansion of Dub music from the likes of King Tubby, into something a bit more sinister – hitting harder, using new advances in digital bass technology, and a confident minimalism and precision. Now of course this saw an expansion in the sound palate, with producers like 16-bit, with chainsaw synths, horror-movie samples, and overdriven bass. Their remix of “The Blank” is the closest you’ll get to Kung-Fu in the form of sound, so quick and precise it begs relistening, and dancing.
As dubstep grew in popularity, it was only a matter of time before it made its way Stateside. This both pushed it from anonymity to stardom, as well as exploiting its formula to sell you TVs and cars. A notable contributor to its popularity is the artist Skrillex, who makes dubstep tracks, but the bright-neon poppiness and American thick distortion to make it raveworthy. I enjoyed his first two EPs immensely. It hit hard, got me amped, and was catchy as hell in a glitched-out fashion. Usually I find out about new artists rather quickly, before they head out to big name festivals like Coachella, but I was late to the party on that guy. His rise was METEORIC. Before I knew it, he was touring with a stage setup akin to a spaceship, or syncing up with an on screen-robot on Titanic LED screens. Skrillex and dubstep had arrived.
With the accessibility of his music, it was only a matter of time before his style would be copped. To avoid bashing on certain producers, I won’t name names, but it’s safe to say they exploited the shit out this new formula for pop music. And that’s exactly it. It became pop music. What started off as a stony bounce from the UK – built out of minimalism and complete dousing of reverb -turned into something bright, shiny, and wrapped in a bow to show your grandma.
Before I knew it, an electronics mogul was using dubstep in their commercials to sell Go-Pro cameras.Car commercials, football commercials, you name it. The music has oversized bass synths, hard kicks, even harder snares, and yes, the DROP. The drop, if you have not been enlightened to it, is a staple of every recent dubstep song. After a euphoric build, it comes crashing down with massive bass lines and an attack of synths. If you are a molly-infused raver dancing in the desert, this is an ideal situation. Bass DOES feel good, but the art of it is what I am concerned about.
Dubstep now appeals to us like a Michael Bay movie does. “OOOOOOoooohhh…explosions!” exclaim the captivated masses.
Now, we live in a capitalist society, so it’s natural to assume that business owners and corporate heads are going to direct their marketing toward what the kids like. I can just visualize 12 dudes and ladies sitting in a boardroom, all dressed in suit and tie with a PowerPoint pitch going on. The enthusiastic brown-noser at the helm of the meeting has venn diagrams and bar charts showing the top 40 Billboard charts alongside a video of a dude kayaking.
Yes, you know its going to happen. Big bass drops and pencil-pushers awkwardly bop their heads, believing they’ve discovered the Rosetta Stone for making a few bucks, or more likely millions. Then they eat catering from PF Chang’s and listen to horrible Soundgarden-rip-off bands on the way home. I know, I seem bitter. I am in a sense, but this is completely expected of anything successful. It will spawn imitators.
As a musician, I must say that imitation can be an utmost form of flattery as there are so many artists out there who push the envelope or whose music is just classic on its own. It’s natural to have influences, for they are the ones who got you into creating in the first place. But there must be a point where you see them as teachers, and you must take their lessons to forge your own path.
I have heard that famed electronic surrealist, Aphex Twin, has a library of tunes that he will never release as he does not want them to be imitated. Creating something unique, of value, and intent IS art. Of course, value would be subjective to the listener or artist for that matter, but the authenticity is what hopefully shines through. You may not be a fan of jazz, but Miles Davis’ and John Coltrane’s works were pure art, with direct vision and precision. There was intention there, to create a musical world to dive into and be lost in, not just the fodder for a weekend bender.
Perhaps my recent viewing of The Monuments Men inspired my thinking on this recently since the value of art was the whole premise of the movie. I enjoyed the movie not just for its entertainment and historical value, but the fact that it brought the essence of art into the fore-front. These guys are literally risking life and limb for statues and paintings, however these were beautiful pieces that were one of their kind, and true achievements in human skill. The time it must have taken to sculpt Michelangelo’s David boggles my mind, and is a true testament to human will to make something of that precision.
It makes me wonder how essential these pieces were to defining a period of time for history to look back on, and it honestly is very important. It worries me to think that the calling card thirty years from now for our recent era of music is a picture of four dudes wearing neon shorts and tanks, covered in raver bracelets and tattoos. You know that once a style has been dubbed “Brostep,” something has turned in a bad way. No matter how shiny and bright, I doubt my grandma would ever approve of that shit.