2-Step, Grime, Dubstep & The Hardcore Continuum (2005 – Now)
As mentioned in parts one and two of this Drum & Bass TBT series, the evolution and permutations of Hardcore and Jungle are staggering. The sub-genres that were spawned from this point of origin are still an integral part of the club music landscape today. While there is no way to place a definitive timeline on when one strain of music mutated into something else, we have some general guidelines based on artist’s discography, although by the early 2000’s producers were exchanging digital files and CDr’s which allowed for new forms of music to thrive underground. This makes any kind of official historical story somewhat elusive, but as you’ll see a pretty accurate timeline has been established, even if it took some hindsight to connect the dots.
In February of 2013 music journalist Simon Reynolds organized a collection of articles he had written that spanned from 1992 to 1999 for prestigious UK music magazine The Wire. The series was called “The Hardcore Continuum,” and as part of the introduction to the series he wrote:
“I call it a ‘continuum’ because that’s what it is: a musical tradition/subcultural tribe that’s managed to hold it together for nearly 20 years now, negotiating drastic stylistic shifts and significant changes in technology, drugs, and the social/racial composition of its own population. It’s been a bumpy but exhilarating ride, but let no one doubt that it’s the same roller coaster at every stage of the journey (a ride which most likely has yet to reach its end). And I call it ‘Hardcore’ because the tradition started to take shape circa 1990 with what people called Hardcore Techno or Hardcore Rave, or sometimes simply Ardkore. These early sounds – bleep tunes from the North East, breakbeat house and ragga techno from London – were the first time that the UK came up with its own unique mutant versions of House and Techno (ironically by adding elements from dub reggae, dancehall, and hiphop that weren’t British in origin, but equally would never have been let into the mix back in Chicago and Detroit). From Jungle and 2-step to today’s Grime and Bassline, the basic parameters of the music have stayed the same as they were in the early Hardcore, although the relative balance of various sources (reggae, rap, R&B, Eurotechno, etc) has shifted, and the beats-per-minute rate has fluctuated wildly.”
It’s within the framework of the “Continuum” that we wrap up our series with 2-Step, Grime, Dubstep and the next step in the evolution of Jungle.
This term can be used interchangeably with UK Garage, UK Funky, Bassline and Speed Garage. With it’s syncopated 4/4 percussive rhythm, shuffling hi-hats and beat-skipping kick drums, 2-Step’s most common denominator is its signature rhythm. Many of the tracks incorporated Soul, R&B and other more vocal elements associated with House Music, while other producers layered a hip-hop element. With many cross-over artists, such as Craig David, Artful Dodger and M.J. Cole having major hits on the UK Charts, 2-Step’s mainstream popularity peaked around 2000, when it went back underground and produced more aggressive sub-genres, like Grime.
Noted 2-Step artists include “Grant Nelson, M.J. Cole, Artful Dodger, Jaimeson, So Solid Crew, Heartless Crew, The Streets, Shanks & Bigfoot, DJ Luck and MC Neat, Sunship (Ceri Evans), Oxide and Neutrino, and numerous others who have made garage music mainstream in the UK, whilst Dizzee Rascal, Kano and Wiley’s arrival raised the profile of grime, an offshoot of garage,” according to Wikipedia.
Artful Dodger – Woman Trouble
MJ Cole – Crazy Love
So Solid Crew – 21 Seconds
Taking the raw elements of 2-Step, Grime was the UK’s homegrown version of Hip Hop. Emerging out of East London, pirate radio stations Rinse FM, Deja Vu FM and Major FM played a big part in the development of the genre. In 2004 more commercial outlets started to pick up on Grime, with Dizzee Rascal and Wiley releasing albums that gained significant attention, even earning Dizzee Rascal a Mercury Music Prize.
Though even with its recognition as an innovative genre, there were detractors of the sound. Like Hip Hop had before it, Grime artists started getting backlash from Government officials, calling the lyrics “appalling” and that some of the artists were creating a culture “where killing is almost a fashion accessory.” Despite the criticism, like Hip Hop, Grime continues to thrive.
Dizzee Rascal – ‘I Luv U’
Roll Deep – Heat Up
Wiley – ‘Evolve Or Be Extinct’
As 2-Step evolved, two camps emerged from the core sound, Grime and Dark 2-Step, the latter of which would become Dubstep. This darker form of the sound was primarily instrumental, written in a minor key, had very sparse rhythm, and was saturated with sub-bass. The tempo usually hovered around 140 BPM, but would play at half-time, giving it an air of anticipation for the “drop.” Wobble bass, drops, rewinds and Dancehall-inspired MC’s were all a part of the mix.
In the 2000’s London Night Club Plastic People hosted a night called Forward (FWD>>) that was very influential in the development of the sound. As one of the only venues that dedicated a night to the sound, it became the place where Dubstep producers would premier new music. In addition to the club night, Rinse FM ran a radio program of the same name, hosted by Kode9. Early on guests of the show would become some of the most well-know artists in the genre, including Skream, Benga, Hatcha and Plastician.
Outside of the club and pirate radio shows supporting the Dubstep scene, labels like DMZ Records, Hyperdub, and even Aphex Twin’s label Rephlex helped propel the scene from a fledgling underground community into what could arguably be called the biggest global phenomenon in electronic music. Fast-forward to the late 2000’s and mainstream pop artists like Rihanna, Snoop Dogg and even Britney Spears have incorporated the sound into their music.
Some of the most widely recognized artists in Dubstep include 12th Planet, Benga, Burial, Caspa, Digital Mystikz, Joker, Kode9, Plastician, Skream, Skrillex and Vex’d. You can see a comprehensive list here.
Skream – Midnight Request Line
Kode9 & The Spaceape: Kingstown
Joker – Tron
The Hardcore Continuum
While the saturation of many strains of Hardcore into the mainstream has caused a backlash (brostep anyone?), there seems to be one consistent factor once a sub-genre has penetrated into the pop culture zeitgeist: evolution. Once it goes back underground, there’s a new crop of producers who carry the torch into a whole new stratosphere. Today there are numerous scenes, artists and labels that are taking Hardcore into the future. Kode9’s label Hyperdub, Flying Lotus and the LA Bass Music scene, Planet Mu’s championing forward-looking Juke and Footwork artists and countless others are pushing the sound into the future.
While this series is in no way meant to be a comprehensive guide to Hardcore and it’s evolution, it does contain some major events that helped shape where the music was and where it will go. In the words of Simon Reynolds.
“Hands down, this Hardcore Continuum thing is the most remarkable popcult phenomenon I’ve witnessed with my own eyes and ears. For me it’s been the most exciting music of our time.”
I couldn’t agree more.