One step at a time
Andrea Yu looks at how the ‘laptop’ genre of dubstep has grown locally and what Skrillex means for HK’s underground crews
Skrillex. It’s hard to believe that one angsty, bespectacled, side-mulleted DJ has had so much reach in so little time. Whether you like him or not, he’s brought the underground ‘laptop’ genre of dubstep into the mainstream. His four million Facebook followers and 100-plus-million collective YouTube views are sure signs of his increasing fame. His three wins at the latest Grammy Awards are another. Take it or leave it – Skrillex’s wobbly, noisy and, quite frankly, catchy ‘bro-step’ productions have taken the musical world by storm.
But this brand of dubstep which has emerged in the US is a far cry from what purists would call the original form of the genre. It originated in London as an offshoot to drum ‘n’ bass in the late 2000s. That ‘form’ is what has since emerged in Hong Kong with a small but dedicated underground following.
Heavy HK, the city’s first dubstep crew, is now leading the charge. They held their first party in 2006 at the now-defunct Chapter 3 Bar. Founder Lai Fai, better known as BloodDunza, remembers a group of about 50 clubbers at the inaugural gig. “Back then, we had a group of friends who started to feel this type of music,” says Fai. “The foundation was there and the response was good enough to carry on.”
Kongkretebass was another prominent collective which emerged at that time. Spearheaded by DJs Wash and Elemiz, the duo not only put on regular parties and brought in big dubstep names to Hong Kong for the first time (like Goth-Trad and Kode9) but were also known for their fortnightly Kongkasts − podcasts featuring the latest sounds in dubstep and drum ‘n’ bass.
But, back then, you wouldn’t have found Heavy or Kongkrete gigs in your typical club space. The crews would bring their soundsystems anywhere that had ample room for a party – notably restaurants like Sammy’s Kitchen and Ivan The Kozak. Singaporean native DJ Rolec, who joined the Hong Kong scene in 2008, remembers these guerrilla-style gigs. “When we shifted all the tables out, it was fully dark. With a big soundsystem in there, it emanated throughout the whole of Cochrane Street.”
Rolec, who got his start in Hong Kong DJing and MCing for the Kongkrete crew, soon enough started up his own nights in 2010. As more-established crews gained solid reputations, Rolec saw his own Sessions parties as a way for the younger ‘bedroom DJs’ to cut their teeth. “At the time, Heavy and Kongkretebass were quite stringent with quality control, which is a good thing!” Rolec says. “In the first two months of Sessions, we had a lot of amateurs playing out.”
While the dubstep scene has been growing steadily in Hong Kong, the opposite could be said for the United States. The scene exploded out of nowhere as the first real genre of music that broke through in the internet age. Casey Anderson, DJ and senior music consultant at Stattus, a music communications company, says that dubstep culture in the UK was spread through clubs, where the deep bass sounds could be felt reverberating through the walls. Contrary to that, he says ‘in the States, there was no club culture. Everyone was just listening on laptop speakers.’
Anderson says this differing mode of delivery is what made Skrillex’s sound so easily accessible. “It’s a lot more about punchy sounds and hooks rather than really spaced-out hypnotic beats.” And the same sound is what’s divided the music community so deeply. “I think most people are just really offended that Skrillex hyper-focused on this one particular sound and effect that people in the UK who started dubstep moved past four or five years ago.”
Regardless of whether you’re a Skrillex lover or hater, the fact is that his wide reach is exposing everyone and their mothers to a new sound. “Enough of them will get into it and start doing their homework,” Anderson says. “They’ll get deeper into the subgenres and find out about more interesting music and underground scenes.”
What this translates to is more fans at our local dubstep gigs. Rolec says he’s seen a slight difference in his Sessions followers recently, with some new faces joining the party. Greater local support means greater opportunities to fund bigger and better dubstep names. London’s The Bug, who played at XXX earlier this month, was Rolec’s biggest booking to date and arguably one of the best dubstep acts we’ve seen in town. It’s safe to say we’ve come a long way from Ukrainian restaurants.
It can only be up from here. Heavy celebrates their sixth anniversary this fortnight and Rolec’s now built up a solid Sessions crew. But much of the following here is foreign, importing in sounds from abroad. So to fully complete his reach, Rolec, who says he feels at times like a pastor at a church when promoting his gigs, says the next step is to reach out to the locals. He concludes: “That is a personal mission of mine.”
XXX photo courtesy of Hugo Hui-hang Lau, HK Pub Crawl