The Next Generation of Dubstep Producers are Diverse, Inclusive, and Pushing Boundaries
The Next Generation of Dubstep Producers are Diverse, Inclusive, and Pushing BoundariesMarch 17, 2021
Born in ‘90s South London, the original dubstep sound was a mixture of UK garage, two step, grime, breakbeat and Jamaican dub. Following its formative years in the early to mid-2000s, which birthed classic cuts like Skream’s “Midnight Request Line” in 2005 and Benga’s “26 Basslines” in 2008, the post-dubstep era was born, introducing the world to acts such as Kode9, Chase & Status, and Flux Pavilion.
By the 2010s, dubstep had landed in the United States, and artists like 12th Planet and Skrillex rocketed to fame with their punk rock-infused, ear-splitting take on the sound, which some called “brostep.” Older fans and artists who didn’t like the new bigger-is-always-better approach formulated by Skrillex and others soon dropped away, but new mutations of dubstep continued emerging as time went on.
Beyond the classic versus commercial debate, modern dubstep has never been recognized as a champion for inclusivity, or diversity. Recent efforts to educate newcomers to the EDM scene about bass music’s Black history are admittedly overdue, but these conversations have pushed the dubstep community to be more vocal about where the scene has fallen short for its creators and its fans.
Thankfully, the next generation of dubstep producers seem to both honor the roots of dubstep while stretching its boundaries to the limits, and see inclusivity and diversity as central to the evolution of the sound.
Meet the face of what’s known today as melodic riddim. The 22-year-old Texas producer has an instantly recognizable sound, which fuses glittering pads and headbang-worthy bass. He’s even inspired an entire movement for young producers around the world, and has been picked up by labels like Disciple, Circus, Monstercat, and more.
Ace Aura stumbled upon dubstep when he was an eighth-grader thanks to a friend. “I was sitting next to him in the cafeteria at lunch and he put his earbuds in my ears. It was the Dirtyphonics remix of ‘Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites’ by Skrillex, and from that moment on, I was hooked!” As a drummer in his middle school band, Ace Aura already considered himself a musician. But dubstep pushed him towards learning how to make electronic music. “I had received a demo version of Pro Tools as a Christmas gift from my parents the year prior, so I started watching tutorials on YouTube and researching what software I needed — the rest is history.”
Fierce yet lively melodies are a key part of Ace Aura’s signature style, but his listeners may not realize how much his experience as a drummer has influenced his sound. “I take inspiration from my time in high school marching band, using drumline elements and percussion instruments like the marimba.” His writing process is also highly conceptual — Instead of treating melody and intensity as separate entities, he tries to combine them into one element. “I feel that that kind of sound has a ton of potential to evoke a wider range of emotions,” he says. Ace Aura’s creativity is also a product of his faith. “I am a Christian and that is a very central part of the way I write music,” he says. “Songs like ‘Coma,’ ‘Breaking Free,’ and ‘Rise’ are all tied back to my faith.”
At the moment, he’s most inspired by hardwave, a heavier and fully-loaded sister sound to wave music that’s dominated the SoundCloud community recently. But he’s still optimistic about the future of dubstep. “I feel like we’re on the verge of entering another golden age. There was a period of a few years where the ‘riddim’ sound kind of took over and became stale and monotonous, but now people are finding more and more ways to innovate within the subgenre, spawning all sorts of new sounds and ideas to spin off of.”
Recognized as one of America’s beloved dubstep wunderkinds, Akeos has been producing music since they were just 12 years old. Now at 18, Akeos represents dubstep’s next generation, with a trademark sound inspired by everything from Barely Alive to bassline, jump-up drum & bass, and hardstyle.
Akeos was just 15 when they released their first track, “Offender.” And after Subtronics shared it on Twitter, the track immediately blew up, resulting in an explosive rise for the underground producer. They’ve since caught the attention of the best-selling dubstep labels in the world, including Never Say Die Records’ sister imprint NSD: Black Label.
Sound design is at the centre of Akeos’ approach, which incorporates different styles from their influences and beyond. “It’s really fun and most of the time, I find a way to put in a hardstyle kick or a jump-up synth in my song even if what I’m working on is dubstep,” they say.
Beyond their devotion to music, Akeos is highly outspoken for trans rights. They’re constantly uplifting trans producers from their community on social media and have performed shows where all proceeds have been donated to organizations like The National Center for Transgender Equality. And Akeos believes the dubstep scene has become more inclusive for both those who identify as LGBTQ+ and women. “I’m very glad people are doing what they want to do and being who they want to be within dubstep and other electronic music genres. Honestly, if you ask me, it should have always been like this. Regardless, I’m really happy to see inclusivity be more common, especially in dubstep right now.”
Looking at their peers, Akeos thinks the dubstep scene is in a cool spot. “There are a ton of smaller producers really making an impact online and I’m really into a lot of their music,” they say. “It’s a bit hard to keep up with, to be honest, but I’m very glad to see people trying new directions and getting really weird with it — I respect it a lot.” Though they may not realize it yet, Akeos’ influence is already reaching bedroom producers and seasoned professionals alike.
Hukae’s first memories of dubstep are of 16bit, specifically “FRZR9000” and “Dinosaurs,” music that was totally alien to him at the time, though his inspirations are largely a result of his upbringing. “With me coming from the UK, I am heavily inspired by UK drill, grime, and rap beats, but mostly drill,” he says. “I tend to use very strange drill flows and hi-hats and arrangements in my songs. I also really love drum & bass, and both produce and listen to it quite a lot.”
There’s something so delightfully off-kilter about Hukae’s music; its loose, off-grid flows and extreme sonic manipulation somehow work in harmony. “I feel I am very unique and experimental with the way I approach my music,” he says. “Lots of trial and error has got me to the point I can say I now have a ‘signature style,’ in a way. Like I said before, my influence from UK drill is very clear in my music — my drum patterns and perc flows are completely different from everybody else in the scene. I feel that this sets me apart from most.”
As for the scene, Hukae is excited about future innovations. “I feel like the scene is thriving and very healthy,” he says. “So much innovation with up-and-coming producers pushing boundaries and making super fresh music. I’m really excited to see how far the scene will have been pushed in another one to two years.” Speaking of innovation, Hukae recognizes and applauds the recent push for inclusivity. “Everybody, no matter where you’re from, what you look like, or what you believe in, has the right to be included into this scene — or any scene for that matter,” he says. “Music is an art form and everyone has the right to express their emotions however they would like. I love the fact the scene is more inclusive now, and that’s the only way it should be.”
16-year-old producer, visual artist, and screenwriter Moore Kismet defies all barriers in the creative industry and has garnered the attention of not only the dubstep community, but the wider electronic music sphere. Their music is an amalgamation of experimental trap, R&B, pop, ambient, and future bass, and Kismet was just 14 when they released their first single under their moniker, commanding attention from dance music’s top tastemakers.
Kismet first discovered bass after listening to “Not A Real Thing” by Far Too Loud, Beardyman, and JFB. “It was so innovative for its time and it really pulled me into it,” they say. “It was also actually how I found out about Never Say Die Records in the first place.” Kismet would go on to release a flurry of genre-bending singles and their momentous debut EP, Revenge Of The Unicorns on Never Say Die in 2019. “I think the reason I decided to start making bass music is because I wanted to try and write music that was unapologetically weird, and when I was younger, I felt I could do that with no remorse in that space.”
They may be young, but Moore Kismet has already broken a number of boundaries in the bass music scene through both their art and identity. As a result, their opinion of the state of the scene is less than optimistic: “There is a select group of people — mainly close friends and acquaintances — that I still regularly keep up with who I feel are pushing the boundaries of bass music farther than I ever did and could when I still made it proactively. Other than that, I feel it’s slowly becoming very stale and repetitive and a lot of what most listeners have shifted to is some odd sweet spot in-between thriving uniqueness and stagnant familiarity.” These “close friends and acquaintances” are some artists featured in this piece, which begs the question: who’s next? And what? It’s a future full of exciting possibilities.
“I’ve noticed that since artists like myself, Akeos, Hollimon, Kilamanzego, and more have started to break through in electronic music as a whole, it has opened up more opportunities for other LGBTQ+ creatives and musicians,” Kismet says. “It’s something that I’ve wanted to see for so long and I’m so happy that it’s slowly becoming more inclusive of marginalized communities.”
At just 16 years old, the sky’s the limit for Moore Kismet, whose future plans include the big screen. “In five years, I hope to see myself writing original music and composing scores for blockbuster movies, producing and songwriting for some of my favorite artists, and breaking into the mainstream with my own strange and beautiful music.”
Oolacile has been an integral part of post-2010 dubstep, and fans of Disciple Records know his music all too well. He was a staple of the label’s roster, and often joined the Disciple crew for shows across the US. He’s since launched his own Halcyon imprint, which specializes in forward-thinking bass music and future riddim.
Even though he’s leading the charge for groundbreaking new sounds, Oolacile’s dubstep roots couldn’t be more classic. “My earliest memory of entering the world of dubstep was back in 2010 when I was introduced to the Ministry of Sound: The Sound Of Dubstep compilation,” he says, which featured music from Joker, 16bit, Nero, Coki, and Caspa.
A lifelong musician, Oolacile’s journey began with metal and hardcore before genres like drum and bass, garage, bassline, and other UK sounds drew him in. He cites Inspected and UKF as his first favorite dubstep curators.
“I pull inspiration from many places; I always try to push the envelope and bend and break boundaries within songwriting and sound design,” he says about his sound. “Sometimes I think I’ve hurt myself a little by being maybe a bit too experimental within the mold of dubstep, but not being experimental enough where it transcends the genre. I’m working on that.”
No surprise then that Oolacile has become bored with mainstream sounds, saying it’s “very much about who can out-sound-design each other or have the hugest drums.” However, he also thinks dubstep is “on the precipice of yet another evolution,” and had noticed a recent “influx in LGBTQ+ people being interested in and making exceptional music in the bass music space.” But it’s not all rosy.
“One thing I can say I have noticed is that, unfortunately, sometimes people demand female producers to ‘prove themselves,’ and almost never with men. Some people think [women] have [ghost producers] working on their music — that is extremely disrespectful and unfair. It’s something that needs to be addressed and I hope as time goes on, that ridiculous bias fades out of existence.”
Now with a record label to run, Oolacile is ready for what’s to come. “I’m really excited about the future of music,” he says. “I plan to make Halcyon a label that is incredibly open-ended and can publish a wide variety of music that is forward-thinking. In regards to my personal project, I have a bunch of old records that I’ve been sitting on for way too long that I need to release. Once I get those out, I plan to really start branching out musically in a very extreme way.”
Representing Indonesia with pride, Papa Khan has become a viral figure for dubstep’s contemporary sound. His uniquely melodic approach caught the attention of none other than DJ Marshmello. After hearing his music, Marshmello signed Papa Khan to his own Joytime Collective imprint, later telling CULTR, “I knew the moment was right when I came across Papa Khan’s music. He’s bringing something fresh and new to dance music.”
Papa Khan recalls his first exposure to dubstep through Stephen Swartz’s “Bullet Train” featuring Joni Fatora, and Skrillex’s Grammy Award-winning Bangarang EP, describing it as a sound he had never heard before.
“What makes me so into dubstep is that there are tons of possibilities in sound designing and so many creative ways to produce it,” he says. Influenced by music as disparate as heavy metal and future garage, Papa Khan’s productions have a signature style that’s catapulted him to the top.
“It’s amazing — lots of young, talented producers are getting the spotlight they deserve,” he says about the state of the scene. “I’m so excited and I’m really looking forward to the future.” Although he recognizes the strides dubstep has taken in becoming more inclusive, Papa Khan believes it could be more diverse. “I feel like the scene needs more LGBTQ+ and women artists. It’s amazing to see a lot of [diversity]; it makes it look even more colorful and unique.”
Fascinating, enigmatic, and ultra-talented, Voltra is a fresh face whose flawless mixdowns and expert sound design have blown everyone away.
“As a kid, I initially didn’t really understand it,” Voltra says about their introduction to dubstep. In 2011, Voltra got their first MacBook Pro which came with GarageBand, and “spent a lot of time making music throughout my childhood, as I didn’t really have anything else to do and didn’t have a lot of friends,” they say.
Drawing on genres like trance, Japanese rock, and metal, Voltra’s style feels like it’s from the future. “I usually strive to find ways to innovate and present new ideas to dubstep with my music, as well as push the boundaries of what’s possible technically in EDM when it comes to sound design,” they say. “I really want my music to stand out from both a stylistic and technical point of view and want to be the sort of producer who other people want to copy, not who copies other producers.” It’s clear that Voltra excels in this regard: social media was flooded with messages of excitement and disbelief at Voltra’s livestream set for Digital Mirage, the online music festival hosted by Brownies & Lemonade last November. Complete with mind-bending visuals and a colossal amount of dubplates, it stands as a key moment in modern dubstep history.
Like their peers, Voltra recognizes how inclusive the scene has recently become. “I feel like there’s just been a lot more widespread recognition of LGBTQ+ issues by the general public and a lot more overall acceptance lately,” they say. “It’s difficult to pinpoint when this trend really began, but it’s definitely good to see and I like that it presents a more open environment for people to figure out who they are without feeling like they need to be ashamed of it, at least in this community. I don’t really like to associate the Voltra brand much with my identity for personal reasons, but there’s no getting around the fact that I’m queer at the end of the day and I’m happy that people who do want to make their identity a larger part of their image get to do so freely.”
After signing their debut Luma EP with Disciple Records last year, the bass community is eagerly waiting for what’s next.