Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Souvenirs from Burning Man: The Dubstep Revolution

I've never really kept up to date on the hot new trends surrounding the dance music scene. Let's face it, my favorite bands hit their peak close to 30 years ago. They also tend to play to gigantic sold-out arenas rather than cramped, dark, sweaty dance floors. So the first night I spent at Burning Man, I was immediately inundated with a barrage of new and interesting sounds.

One of the Burning Man veterans in our camp had brought some dubstep back from the playa and played it for me several times. The hourlong studio mix by Rastatronics took the listener on a journey through dark rhythms, brooding synthesized melodies, syncopated beats, and throbbing sub-bass. I know all sound is vibration, but usually all that vibrates are the haircells inside your ears. But when you listen to dubstep, you feel like your whole body is vibrating to the beat.

 My friend told me about how this type of music reminded him of Burning Man, but I couldn't come close to understanding the scope. If a single set of speakers can make a single listener's body vibrate, imagine what multiple 50,000+ watt sound systems playing at full volume from 9pm to 9am can do to the entire desert. Burning Man has a pulse, and it can be measured in dubstep rhythms. Suffice it to say, even at one week removed from the event, I have trouble sleeping without feeling the ground shake in syncopation.

I never really thought about it before, but this type of electronic music is perfect for a large scale party in the desert. There's minimal equipment (basically sequencers, synthesizers, and laptop computers) and the streamlined operation can be pretty effectively shielded from the harsh weather conditions. Imagine trying to get into the groove of a guitar solo or trying to belt out the chorus to a power ballad while getting sand-blasted by 70 mph winds.

Also, from my minimal experience at Burning Man, traditional instrument-driven music just simply wouldn't be enough to satisfy the average burner's desire for the otherworldly. There's no sound I can think of that better personifies the piercing neon glow of the playa at night than the signature dubstep "WOMP WOMP WOMP" or the surreal sound effects these electronic musicians can pull from their computers. And another thing is for sure: no one who is even remotely familiar with the kind of music burners listen to would even consider referring to Burning Man as a gathering of hippies. When was the last time you saw a hippy use a computer, let alone use one to make music? Bassnectar ain't no Sha Na Na.

When I returned to civilization, the pulsing beats of MiMoSa, Dulce Vita, and Dylan Rhymes resonating in my cortex, I did some research to find out as much as I could about this fascinating musical movement. I found that it had arisen from the underground British garage scene, and that it had its roots in such styles as dub, 2-step, glitch, breakbeat, and various others from which I couldn't differentiate with a gun to my head.

I also found various podcasts, forums, and web-radio stations devoted to the genre. There's even a dubstep twitter feed, with the sole purpose of spreading awareness of the dankest beats throughout the land. Who knows when dubstep will be superseded by the next interchangeable fad in electronic music, but for now, the movement is going strong, and you can count me among its strongest supporters.

From now on, whenever I listen to dubstep, I will be magically transported in my mind to that one magical week in the desert with no showers and 50,000 rowdy burners. Plus, the way it makes my rearview mirrors vibrate when I'm driving is totally badass.

Below, please find a sample of some relatively short dubstep tracks. All of these artists performed at Burning Man, so I very well might have heard some of this stuff on the playa. Darned if I can remember it, though - all those beats kind of run together after a while...