Dubstep is characterized by ultra-heavy, dark, articulate sub-bass and borrows from drum-and-bass, grime, two-step garage, and instrumental reggae (dub). Although the genre was established over a decade ago in South London, dubstep is only now becoming popular in mainstream San Diego clubs.
DJs have been spinning dubstep in San Diego since late 2006, but shows were often word-of-mouth, catering to an intimate crowd of regulars at underground locations. In early 2008, OSaL8 started ELEV8, a weekly dubstep night featuring local talent at the Kava Lounge. Puppy Kicker, Dr. Nichols, and Austin Speed played at ELEV8, which lasted about a year.
“Some nights it was literally just the DJs and the bartender,” Justin “Puppy Kicker” Stephenson recalls. “Kava Lounge was cool enough to understand that it was still building.”
Stephenson began hosting Kadan’s Broken Beat night around the same time. The event is 12 years old, San Diego’s oldest electronic monthly. He saw the scene shift from experimental, intelligent dance music to drum-and-bass to dubstep.
“A lot of people were looking for something new,” says Speed. “There’s something about the sound that’s accessible to people who don’t listen to a lot of electronic music.”
Speed and CRMNL threw their first Sublmnl Sound System event on Halloween 2008. The party was held in a Barrio Logan warehouse and was the first San Diego dubstep event to host out-of-town headliners. Attendance was around 400. With the success of the Halloween party, Sublmnl started hosting visiting headliners along with local DJs at the Kava Lounge almost every month under the title Dub Smugglers, bringing extra amplifiers to fortify the sound system for dubstep’s massive sound.
San Diego’s scene remained fairly closed until Donnie Valdez, who DJs under the alias EshOne, established sddubstep.com in early 2009 after being inspired by the San Francisco dubstep community. With a centralized source for show dates, the San Diego scene exploded almost overnight. Now, sddubstep.com gets over 3000 unique hits monthly, and it’s not uncommon to find multiple dubstep nights weekly. The local popularity of the music reflects a nationwide trend toward what Stephenson calls a “slower pace and bigger bass.”
“Nationally, just in the past year and a half, dubstep has quadrupled what it’s doing, and that’s all just the internet,” says Stephenson. “The internet is how it was birthed and stays going.”
DJ Joseph “Headshake” Maldonado is credited by much of the dubstep community as being a big force behind the genre’s growing popularity in San Diego. Having established a sizable following spinning electro, indie dance, and Dutch house, much of Headshake’s fanbase made the crossover to dubstep with him this May, at El Dorado’s monthly Dub Dorado night.
“Creating Dub Dorado with Corey Biggs has enabled us to play a sound we both love with a goal of crossing the genre over to a broader market,” says Maldonado. “We have created somewhat of a middle ground that brings the core dub people and hipsters to the same party.”
Marc “Reactivity” Dallas, the San Diego ambassador for L.A. promoters Pure Filth, held the first Bassface night at Brick by Brick in July. Approximately 300 people came out to experience Pure Filth’s massive dubstep-ready sound system, which comprises eight 2x18 McCauley subwoofers and two 2x15 top speakers. Dallas calls it the minimum for a venue like Brick by Brick —a DJ of any other genre would call it overkill.
Dubstep has evolved quite a bit since its 1999 English inception. The newer and more popular rendition is called, often with a tongue-in-cheek chuckle, brostep.
“What originally started as dubstep really came out of reggae dub and two-step garage,” explains Stephenson. “It was a really mellow, half-steppy dub. It’s progressively been getting heavier and heavier, to the point where now a lot of the music sounds like it could have been made in the power-tool section of Home Depot. Drills and hydraulic sounds and stuff like that.... On the dance floor those huge, over-the-top mechanical sounds really blows minds.”
Now, the dubstep rumble appears unstoppable. Reverberations can be felt as east as El Cajon with weekly Organized Grime at KC’s and as north as the Belly Up Tavern. July saw Pure Platinum’s first Pure Dubs. The epicenter, at least in terms of gauging the genre’s mainstream success, is the Gaslamp, with monthly Bassment night at Voyeur, Lust at Blonde Martini, and Heavy at On Broadway. For Comic-Con 2009, the Red Circle hosted a free show by Rusko, the legendary U.K. dubstep artist who recently produced tracks for Britney Spears, Rihanna, and T.I. For 20 bucks, you could even hop on a biodiesel bus that circulated around downtown, blasting dubstep for its entourage of dancing riders.
“The scene is growing fast,” says Stephenson, “but I think there’s enough room for everyone to eat a little cake and get their fill.” ■