Music News

U.S. Dubstep More Fun Than Its U.K. Cousin, Says Porter Robinson

It's a title match for the ages: dubstep versus bro-step.

In one corner, we have dubstep, which draws its lineage from the various incarnations of dance music that squirreled around the U.K. (garage, two-step, drum 'n' bass) 10 or 15 years ago. Dubstep is accentuated by a creepy-crawling undercurrent. You can hear the darkness slowly close in on Burial's Untrue or The Bug's London Zoo; these records are aural sedatives rather than party starters.

Although dubstep's origins are hermetic, the genre has branched out in recent years — often to the vocal chagrin of first-generation fans — to include variations like Rustie's Glass Swords (maximalist disco), Williams' One Nation (ugly, bulbous funk with the screwy narcotic core of Southern hip-hop), and Nero's Welcome Reality (all high-definition and popcorn-movie bombast).

American dubstep, sometimes more memorably called "brostep" or "fratstep," tends to sound a lot like Nero. Those huge, filmic drops popularized by brostep avatar Skrillex speak to a very specific class of listener: white, male, college-bound or -enrolled, Hollister-clad, irreversibly loyal to Ron Paul. What Skrillex does isn't high-minded fare — and his music has likely been the soundtrack to many a silly conversation ("It's not X, dude. It's molly.") — but its charms undulate loudly.

Brostep does have one articulate ally: 19-year-old sampledelic producer Porter Robinson. In a brief phone interview, Robinson tells New Times that what makes EDM culture resonate is its all-too-rare sincerity. "I like everything from trance to indie dance to film scores," Robinson says. "But I can also get behind loud, silly, unpretentious music. Like 'Call Me Maybe.' Who can deny that fucking song?"

Robinson makes big-grinning dance music not far removed from that chirpy pop hit. A high school honor student whose music led to his gracing the pages of USA Today while still an adolescent, Robinson has led a charmed life — that much is reflected in the immutable euphoria of 2011's Spitfire. Unlike his hushed, tortured dubstep ancestors across the Atlantic, Robinson has only ever shown brief and passing glimpses of vulnerability. The EP is mostly divvied up into bass-thumping Jersey Shore fare ("100% in the Bitch") and flirty defrags of trance or electro ("Unison," "The Seconds").

While Robinson claims to make "angry" music, Spitfire is no angrier than Swedish House Mafia or Benny Benassi. Instead, the EP traffics in the same escapist territory as those other dance-pop standard bearers. Call it artless, but bassy romps like "Vandalism" and "The State" are tough to shake off.

James Blake, anyway, is not sold. Late last year, the robo-soul heartthrob offered a harsh assessment of dubstep's bro-centric American incarnation.

"I think the dubstep that has come over to the U.S., and certain producers — who I can't even be bothered naming — have definitely hit upon a sort of frat-boy market," Blake said. "And to me, that is a million miles away from where dubstep started . . . It's been influenced so much by electro and rave into who can make the dirtiest, filthiest bass sound — almost like a pissing competition — and that's not really necessary."

Robinson's verdict on British dubstep? Per a different interview: "thoroughly uninteresting, C-grade production." And so the pissing match continues.

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M.T. Richards
Contact: M.T. Richards