Back in 2009, just as dubstep was taking off stateside and a strong mainstay in the U.K., producer Untold, observing the nascent genre’s near future and potential offshoots, said, “
[I] hope dubstep continues to be hard to pin down, disobeys its manifesto, gets called stupid names, gatecrashes other scenes and spikes the punch, elopes and has lots of children.” Now that post-dubstep, a diverse and divergent EDM sub-subgenre if there ever was one, is gradually manifesting, the producer might have been onto something.
The first question is, though, what is “post-dubstep”? The genre is hard to pin down, encompassing a wide range of sounds and artists. To some, even the pop music that incorporates a dubstep hook falls within this sub-subgenre. To others, dubstep’s instability, but with greater emphasis on a two-step rhythm and tempo (130 BPM) are the foundation for the inclusion of more elements, piano and synths especially but other EDM subgenre figures as well. On occasion, it intertwines with future garage, a more global scene. Because of this more open definition, unlike the restrictive definition of other EDM subgenres, a wide range of London-based producers, DJs, and songwriters fall within its scope.
Post-dubstep’s origins are hard to determine. A handful of producers now pushing the sounds began as pure dubstep artists, but around 2010 or 2011 started including different elements into their sounds, something more melodic, more minimal, or more ambient. About this time, Mount Kimbie is said to have coined the term, while James Blake, according to Spin in March 2011, made it more friendly for singer-songwriters. On the other hand, the term is now so expansive that even brosteppers like Rusko fall within its vast boundaries. Pitchfork has labeled is a “broader, distributed idea” and, perhaps before the slash-happy EDM purists vivisect it into finer sub-subgenres, that’s likely the best way to think of this emerging scene.
In the U.S., however, post-dubstep is still relatively unknown. Mainstream EDM continues to cling to Skrillex as the penultimate definition of dubstep, and his wub-wub-wub bass lines and grit have ingratiated themselves into even the purest pop music. As of the start of October, even professional good-girl Taylor Swift, with single “I Knew You Were Trouble,” is dabbling with a hint of dirty bass. Because of this insistence that the subgenre is a rote-copy of Skrillex’s sounds, on the other hand, listeners may find post-dubstep extremely restrained: a single snare, with a descant vocal or synth line, replaces the bombastic grit of pseudo dubplates.
The ambient sound, percentage-wise, is the most common for post-dubstep; of course, this could change. The key players, in this regards, are James Blake, a singer, musician, and producer who dropped his self-titled debut in 2011, and Mount Kimbie, a duo beginning in 2008. Even with these two at the forefront, Blake is unmistakably a songwriter beginning with a light dubstep foundation, while Mount Kimbie settle on hazy, discordant sounds. Both, on the other hand, aren’t DJs, performing live instead.
Far more artists fall within post-dubstep’s ambient arm. There’s Fantastic Mr Fox, a Manchester bedroom producer that leans more toward disco and percussion, creating a lounge-y version of the genre; DJ and producer Star Slinger, who rests on hip-hop and shoe-gaze influences; Kode9, a founder of U.K. dubstep that, from dub, reggae, and dancehall influences, transitioned into a simpler, monophonic percussive sound; Darkstar, whose album North spurred the genre in 2010 with a minimalist percussive mélange of Radiohead merging with garage; Ikonika, another dubstep producer keeping the unstable rhythm intact but experimenting with more synth melodies; Pariah, another key figure pushing a simple, chill-out sound of electronic glitches; Untold, the manager of label Hemlock and purveyor of the more simplistic percussive textures; Jamie Woon, a singer, songwriter, and producer that starts minimal but fleshes his sounds out with synths; and Emika, who moves from glitchy industrial soundscapes to piano-featuring, post-punk tracks.
Not all post-dubstep artists are as stripped down as this expansive group. More well-known performers, like Nero and Flux Pavillion beef up the synths and bass, offering a festival-friendly version of the genre. Joker & Ginz, along with Flux Pavilion, veer more toward brostep at times, while Ramadanman delves deeper into the subgenre’s bass register. DJ and producer Jakwob, also falling within this range, leans more toward vocal-centric tracks and remixes, transposing chart-toppers like Ellie Goulding into a genre-friendly format.
The heavier side bleeds into the genre-straddlers, those who merge dubstep with another EDM form, such as house. Various dub-house producers dip into this realm, but their sounds are so entrenched in the latter genre that they look more like dabblers. Jamie xx’s remix of Gil Scott-Heron’s I’m New Here is one of the more prominent house-straddling releases, but other artists, like Actress, were trying out this combination as early as 2008. Actress’ appropriately-titled debut Hazyville begins with the glitchy minimalism of many of his subgenre contemporaries but strong house and hip-hop influences weave in and out and give it more substance. Girl Unit, as well, offers up a more synth-centric sound, while Chase & Status rest more on hip-hop influences. For Chase & Status, this has led to collaborations with Rihanna, Cee Lo Green, and Tinie Tempah.
Joy Orbison (that’s Joy Division merged with Roy Orbison but isn’t indicative of his sound) is one of the few straddlers who doesn’t dabble with hip-hop or cling onto house. Rather, the producer prodigy blends dubstep with UK funky, UK garage, breakbeat, and house, later trying out disco. His debut single “Hyph Mngo” hints at each influence.
Before post-dubstep is recognized outside of the U.K. as a force, it either needs more cohesiveness or to be split up even further. “I honestly think that we will only get perspective of the importance of the scene in a few years time,” said Untold in 2011. “It will definitely go down as a classic era of musical experimentation.”