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Getting Thumped

The bass line is everything in dubstep, whose core moves like robo-elephants, stomping and booming along.

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Correction (April 10, 2012) : This article incorrectly reports the name of the company that created the Wall of Bass™. The correct name is AURA System. Also, Gritsy did not create or own Wall of Bass™; it was AURA System that hand-engineered and designed the Wall of Bass™. Gritsy used the Wall of Bass at its parties.

Also check out our slideshow of the dubstep DJ collective Gritsy.

Suraj K, fifth from left with the rest of the Gritsy crew, started a dubstep night in Houston early in 2006. Today Houston is regarded as one of the best dubstep markets in the United States.
Marco Torres
Suraj K, fifth from left with the rest of the Gritsy crew, started a dubstep night in Houston early in 2006. Today Houston is regarded as one of the best dubstep markets in the United States.
Gritsy crowds, such as this New Year's Eve 2011 show at Warehouse Live, have been filling Houston-area venues for several years.
GRITSY.COM
Gritsy crowds, such as this New Year's Eve 2011 show at Warehouse Live, have been filling Houston-area venues for several years.

Suraj Kurian is tired. But he's finished. And he's happy.

He just spent the last hour with a man who calls himself John The 3rd hauling cinder blocks around Engine Room, a medium-sized venue in downtown Houston.

It's one of a handful of unique precautions they know they have to employ for the dubstep party they're throwing later in the evening. Because at a good dubstep show, the music will make the room pulsate. But at a great one, it'll wobble it the fuck apart completely.

And the group Kurian and The 3rd are a part of — Gritsy — a DIY promotion company composed of 11 DJs, an emcee, a vocalist, a photographer or two, a graphic designer and a someone in charge of social media and production, has earned a reputation nationally for throwing great ones.

Dubstep is a branch of electronic dance music. Despite being actively championed on indie-cool music sites on the Internet since 2005, and despite having been the subject of trend pieces in The New York Times, Spin, Rolling Stone and more, it's still a relatively new, mostly unknown music to mainstream America. But the nation's pop stars have noticed; Jay-Z and Kanye, Britney Spears, Usher and handfuls of other superstars have begun incorporating it into their music the past year or so. It's popped up in Nike's ad campaigns and Mortal Kombat's ad campaigns alike.

Spawned in the dank corners of London nightclubs right at the end of the last century, dubstep was fashioned as a slowed-down amalgam of 2-step garage and drum and bass, genres made (reasonably) popular in Europe in the mid-to-late '90s. It borrowed style and influence heavily from Jamaican dub and other variations of EDM, eventually settling in as dawdling and obliquely sexual. Unlike with other kinds of EDM (fairly or unfairly), the stigma of heavy drug use has never been attached to dubstep.

Over its 13-or-so-year history, though, and particularly since 2005, when it began popping up in different parts of the United States, dubstep has mutated aggressively, due in equal parts to the Internet's acceleration of cultural change and the correlation between the relative youthfulness of dubstep's American fan base and how quickly that fan base is expanding.

What started in London as an organic, hyper-niche genre with a small appeal has evolved into a bombastic, layered wave of digital destruction.

The original and the new strains of dubstep sound totally different (slower and methodical vs. frenetic and spastic). But they're still tied to one another by their most important, most easily identifiable trait: the bass.

Where, say, electronic dance music sprigs such as house or techno move like jittery hummingbirds, fluttering in one place for a few moments before shooting to the next, dubstep's core moves like robo-elephants, purposeful and slow, stomping and plodding along.

A long-standing criticism of EDM (among those who own zero pairs of fuzzy boots, at least) has been that its songs justneverfuckingend; they seem to wander on without direction for weeks. With dubstep, however, there are gargantuan, black hole heavy bass drops and WAH-WAH-WAHs that are built up into moments of climax.

In their most effective fashion, the drops are meant to rattle a listener's spine. Experienced en masse, they toe up against being transcendent, and serve as the primary mechanism responsible for turning dubstep into the most unilaterally consumable party music of this generation.

The Gritsy gang knows this. More than that, though, they understand it.

In 2006, they created the Wall of Bass™ for their parties, a trademarked phrase for their show blueprint. It was hand-engineered and designed by AuraSound after the sound company that Gritsy used to employ killed too many subwoofers. And it is exactly what it sounds like it'd be: a big, big stack of speakers.

There are a few variations of the setup, but the most massive one, the Super Wall of Bass™, is composed of 28 18-inch subwoofers housed in 14 separate speaker cabinets. It requires seven 9K amps to operate.

The structure forms a barrier around the DJ. At its highest point, it reaches about seven feet. An average household consumes 14,000 watts of power a day. A typical Wall of Bass™ setup will eat more than one million watts. It is a destructive maelstrom of thump.

During sound check, after everything had been hooked up to Engine Room's main electrical source (the regular house power wasn't sufficient), the empty room shook with enough force that it worked insulation loose from the exposed ceiling.

The cinder blocks that Kurian and The 3rd moved inside were used to make a station for the DJ. Because a traditional table wouldn't work. Because the bass causes regular tables to rattle all over the place each time there's a big hit in the music.

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19 comments
Claystone
Claystone

They forgot the rampant bromosexuality, hand in hand with weed mentality, and "dubstep is dirtier than..." jokes....

This article is more of a joke than laptop DJs...

Michael_jozwiak
Michael_jozwiak

Being not sure if I ever heard a "dubstep" song, I searched the term "dubstep" at YouTube. The three samples heard seems to suggest a melody or ambient melody backed by a screwed version of drum and bass that morphes in and out of electronic avante gard. The genre's great-grandfather could be a band called Neu. What is DJ Chris Anderson's opinion of this genre? How does sheet music of dubstep compare to sheet music of Beatle songs?

Corey
Corey

Kids won't even know neu, or any krautrock, and the beatles are considered prehistoric. But your screwed up drum beat is because it's in 3/4 time, or 2/3, not 4/4 like house or most western music, strangely in the same time signature as a waltz. But as far as innovation you're quite right, there is none, and it's about as ambient as a sledgehammer.

Corey
Corey

Here Gritsy is a clan of Houston DJ's who play music that was once relevant (if I hear snake eater again I may puke) but now has gone commercial and is the teeny bopper genre of the moment. Go see them if you want some bass to stand up the hairs on your arm, and if you're over 21 god forbid normally some good drink specials. Outside of that, there is real music.

Al Likes Music
Al Likes Music

It's 3am on the night of the St. Pat's Day Freebie and my chest has been up against one of the Wall of Bass subwoofers for Suraj's set for over an hour and it felt like my life was hangin' by a string! It's that kind of bass! Music fo yo chest! Big up Gritsy! Respect & salute! :)

Rory Hohensee
Rory Hohensee

Ugrayed is the shit ! big ups to Gritsy and all the Bassheads makin it happen

Basslover
Basslover

learn to spell when giving props homie !

Regina
Regina

Who ever wrote this did a terrible job . Lets try for once having an article about dubstep without mentioning Skrillex ,because dubstep is bigger than one person. Obvioulsy who ever did their reseach didnt research enough considering they couldn't even explain what makes girtsy what it is ,and that would be EVERYONE in it. Damn couldnt even explain how collectivley they make what girsty is , and couldnt even put their names under the picture. Lazy reporting and writing. Sad what a waste this could have been a great article.

Josh
Josh

Dubstep: serious fuckin business

Erin
Erin

Regina its spelled G.R.I.T.S.Y

Corey
Corey

Du(M)bstep had it's time, 2-3 years ago now it's a fad on it's last legs. Though I will say Suraj and Ted are ace gents, I'm just bored of the same LFO modulated square bass lines. There is more to music than macho bass.

Dudley "Booger" Dawson
Dudley "Booger" Dawson

Dubstep is absolute crap. Shitty music imported from the UK that makes suicide look great. I'd rather listen to Bette Middler rap NWA songs than listen to this WUBWUBWUBWUBWUBWUBWUBWUBWUBWUBWUB.

John Nova Lomax
John Nova Lomax

Wow, people have finally figured out a way to make reggae nervous-making.

H_e_x
H_e_x

Good article man. I still don't like dubstep or, more precisely, what it has become, but it was a good read.

Geezy
Geezy

Gotta agree with Hex here. I'm a pretty big fan overall of most EDM music and have been around long enough to remember the 90's. I guess, like everything sooner or later it will evolve- the commercialization of what was once such an underground preference and adapted taste in music is a bit overwhelming.

Congrats to Gritsy though, seem to be doing their thing and that's a big plus for the Houston music scene.

SS
SS

Wow. "Unlike with other kinds of EDM (fairly or unfairly), the stigma of heavy drug use has never been attached to dubstep."

 
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