The Truth About Music

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Opinion: Why Dubstep Sucks And How It Can Be Saved

A slight exaggeration. But you get the point.

For those of you who have been reading The Truth About Music since it began, you’ll know that my musical tastes are all over the place. I’m a fan of everything from Eminem to Gershwin. That being said, I have been on a war against the growing influence of dub step in the pop music community for about a year now. What started as a few minor bars in a few top 40 songs has turned into a music revolution within the pop world.

It has taken me almost a year but I have finally wrapped my head around what I hate about the genre. In 2010, I had the privilege of standing on stage behind Girl Talk as he performed an entire DJ set. This experience, watching what he did on stage is what helped guide this story. Let me start off by saying that it is not the sound coming out of the speakers. The music is solid, albeit not my personal style. My issue is the way this music is created. Talented musicians like Sonny John Moore, aka Skrillex have gone from spending nights with a guitar wrapped around the their body, to standing in front of a computer screen dancing. Here’s a clip from YouTube showing exactly what Skrillex is doing during a performance:

Although the music is great it just seems like an insult as a music fan. There is no performance. It is instead, a playlist of songs previously created by the artist with a few minor effects inserted sporadically.

The complexity of dub step is the argument. How could these artists perform complex mixes in a live setting? The fact of the matter is that they could. Instead of performing in front of a computer screen, they could perform in front of a few synths, with a few additional musicians. Although this seems like such a minor issue, it truly bothers me to my core. The sound can not be recreated live and therefore it’s premise as music is in question.

Another argument that I’ve heard is that this isn’t any different than other pop groups. Many top 40 artists do not play their own instruments on stage and many of them don’t even sing. The issue here is that the electronic music community claims the highest quality. They claim that they are amazing musicians, a thought that wouldn’t enter the mind of an artist who lip syncs. In order to arrange these songs in a studio, there is no doubt that artists in this genre are loaded with talent. The question now comes back. If they are such great musicians, why can’t they perform these ama


zing songs live?

Sure. Point out the obvious. Harris, you’re a moron. Dub step is by nature an electronic art, written on, created on and performed on a computer. While this is true, the same could be said about any genre. Isn’t a Katy Perry song simply a girl sitting alone in a studio with an acoustic guitar? Isn’t an Elton John song just him and his glittering piano? Isn’t the art of composing classical music undertaken with a pen? Artists take what they do in a studio and translate it into an experience in a live setting. If being an artist is 50% recording and 50% live performance, I’d make the case that dub step has given us a new generation of computer programmers, not a collective of musicians.

Semantics aside, it can be done. A quick YouTube search discovered a bad ass guitar cover of the song “Bangarang,” in which Matt Huguet nails almost all of Skrillex’s effects and a drum cover by Tim Creedon. These two could combine into one awesome and truly live performance of a Skrillex song. The question then would become, what happens to poor Sonny John Moore? Does he just control the light show? Is he simply the writer? The answer is simple. He is the conductor, manning an array of synthesizers the same way he does in his studio.

Finally, let it be known that this is not a personal attack on Skrillex. Deadmau5 and countless others are guilty of this crime against music. There is still hope. These guys have the ability to nail these songs live and prove to the world that they can be more than just the men behind the computer screens. Below, enjoy the two covers  described above. You’ll be thoroughly impressed, especially by Matt.

The final word on this topic has already been created by a young musician named Ethan Dirks. He took on the task of proving that this type of music could be produced in a live setting and has made a few YouTube videos demonstrating it. Check out the following video of him performing Deadmau5′s “Ghosts N Stuff” live, using a variety of equipment available for purchase at your local music store. To all of the DJ’s out there still performing live in front of a computer, I raise you Ethan Dirks:


Add A Comment

15 Legacy Comments

  • Comment by Jon posted April 17, 2012 at 10:40

    This is just silly. A. No one on the EDM community would ever say their favorite DJ is an amazing musician, they would say he/she is an amazing DJ or an amazing Producer. B. The idea of ELECTRONIC music, being performed live, with a band is basically like saying there should be no such thing as movies because actors arent performing their roles live every time. thats what theater is for. if you want human error and you want live every time yo go to the theater. if you want perfection, you go to the movies. C. saying that Artists have to be 50% studio 50% live performance is retarded. you just made that up. there is no contract no clause anywhere that says “ok, if you want to be famous you have to perform your songs live or else you’ll never succeed. Tiesto’s private jet would beg to differ. To further this point, would you say the Beatles were artists? i would, i would say they were some of the greatest artist that ever lived/currently alive. well guess what at least two of their entire albums (Magical Mistery and Sgt. Peppers) were NEVER supported by a tour or performed live. why? becuase they were studio albums. they couldnt/ werent meant to be played live. unfortunately for the beatles, the conception of a DJ didnt exist, cause if it had, im willing to bet they would have figured out some sort of live acid based performance to support those albums. Aside from that fact that countless “top 40 pop” “artists” essentially cant actually sing, but are just selected to be famous because of their looks, there is no difference and the idea behind a dj performing live is not to see him try and play synths and drum pads cause that would be awful. The idea is that they spent countless hours in the studio to make sounds that people have never heard and now THEY want to present it to the world, they need to put on a show, its not just about wearing head phones twisting a few nobs and jumping around. its about the light show it about the environment they create. Frankly its offensive to me and im certain hundreds of thousands if not millions of people to say that just because they dont attempt to play their songs live (which like i said, much like the beatles albums, were not intended to be played live) does not make them any less of an artist… also i can find you about a million youtube videos of people performing all kinds of music accross all genres, and sure they are often as good if not better than the artist who wrote and recorded it, but to me it seems like you’re suggesting if these people can do it better, then they should essentially replace the artist. try telling katy perry that because some twelve year old in iowa can sing teenage dream better than her, that she is no longer allowed to play that song without that girl singing it. yea that will work. This is nothing more than an uneducated rant. you’ve listened to 5 skrillex songs and a couple of deadmau5 songs and just shat on an entire genre of hard working artists. you’ve never been to a live show, you’ve never experienced it, so you are no one to make judgments about it. This was in 2010 when EDM was in its infancy in the US. i’d say your well out numberred.

  • Comment by Snorkle posted May 11, 2012 at 17:15

    A dj mixes records together using vinyl turn tables or cdjs, this is the bread and butter of dance music since the 80s, what Dubstep was founded on and what 95% of Dubstep still consists of. It’s not using a laptop. There are Dubstep bands who perform live like Coda

    or search youtube for ‘coda dubstep live’. I don’t make you wrong in the spirit of what you are saying but in the same way you think Skrillex can barely be considered ‘live’ I think you will find most of the Dubstep scene barely considers Skrillex to be ‘Dubstep’. You mention Girl Talk, who? I could name 200 Dubstep artists whos music I own and I’ve never even heard of Girl Talk.

    You could go and see a boy band in the 90s and watch them mime to a backing track played off a cd, and rightly criticise. But that doesn’t mean pop is bad music, its a particular set of bad music acts within that genre, there’s many pop acts who play completely live and were doing so before those guys came along.

    I think you will find a disproportionate amount of Dubstep djs still using decks of some description compared to most EDM scenes. But the artists you are talking about are to Dubstep what Vanilla Ice was to Hip Hop. He may have been a ‘bigger’ name than Ultramagnetic Mcs or Wu Tang but he was essentially nothing to do with Hip Hop and you could hardly blame that genre for a lack of musical credibility he brought to pop music.

    As for why Skrillex as an individual doesn’t do it live, I don’t think he or his fans care to be honest, they didn’t turn up to marvel at real time motor skills, they just want to dance and have fun. Even real djing is barely a skill worthy of acclaim, nor bashing 3 chords out of a guitar either, people have been turning up to those shows for a long time regardless. You got to draw a line in the sand somewhere and just enjoy what you are hearing before you end up with tickets to see Yngwie Malmsteen. It is a shame though that musicianship is on the decline in popular music, I’m with you there because that is what made people like Wonder and Hendrix so great and allowed them to create such vivid music.

  • Comment by disagreer posted May 13, 2012 at 22:16

    your Ethan Dirks will empty the dance floors (as would most examples you can quote) because his performance of the deadmau5 track is an insult to the original in terms of sound & properness, if you leave out the ideological live debate which nobody on a dancefloor cares about… and those DJs you are going on about were the ones lamenting that the crowd does not care what people use to make music come out of the speakers. nobody listened to them, so they streamlined their process and got rid of the DJ work and started to get paid only for being there, like all other pop musicians. what’s to cry about now? maybe you should hate on the music industry, not on the electronic dance music community. maybe you should have paid attention to the DJs some years earlier, mr truth….

  • Comment by fork posted July 12, 2012 at 14:04

    arguments too complicated. there’s barely a measure (pun intended) of talent in this digital hackery. it’s an unworthy successor of hip hop in the sense of the originality. hip hop is an unworthy successor to motown, funk and the blues.

    frickin aphex twin, even prodigy is a proverbial genius compared to this scrillex poseur.

  • Comment by Jake Hilborn posted August 20, 2012 at 18:35

    That moment when you write an article bashing dubstep and every video in the post isn’t dubstep.

  • Comment by Chris posted August 25, 2012 at 01:46

    Unfair assesment of EDM, dubstep, electro or whatever subgenre you are indirectly ripping on. I appreciate a good live performance from my favorite “band”, but it’s an apples & oranges argument. The people that go to these shows don’t want to hear a guitar & drum cover of the song they love. And they certainly don’t want to hear that Ethan Dirks cover of Ghosts n Stuff. They are there to party, dance and jam out to their favorite tunes on a ridiculously loud PA system in a sweaty pit of people doing the same thing. It’s just a totally different experience and you are trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. The DJ doesn’t “just push play and turn knobs”. Yeah they are constantly checking levels and such but they are also making sure the tracks and effects are transitioning cleanly together, and among other things, making sure everyone is having a good time. Like the saying goes: If it were easy, everyone would be doing it.

  • Comment by Talent... for sure posted September 04, 2012 at 09:51

    Talent? Really? I think you’re giving this techno crap (that’s all it is, the same techno crap that was being “played” before these spoiled little brats were even born) WAY to much credit.

    They do a bunch of Coke and play with the DJ programs on the MAC until something sounds “cool” and then they hit the “REC” button. They do more coke then push the “play” button on their MP3 player and play with the knobs when they get “in duh club”.

    If they unplug something while they’re jumping around in their coke frenzy or if they find out that Google Chrome crashed while they were playing Farmville, someone who actually knows how to use the equipment comes in and plugs them back in.

    That’s Talent? Really? Seriously?

    I was watching a video of Skillless last night and people were coming in and turning his knobs for him because he didn’t know how! Even the Monkies knew how to fake playing a guitar. They didn’t get to hand it off to someone when they got to “the hard parts”.

    Meet the laziest, talentless and most worthless generation in history. No? I’m I wrong in some way? Do I lie? Too harsh on them maybe?

    Face the facts, they have been searching and searching to find a way to make gangsta rappers look talented for years. They have finally achieved their goal.

    Five or ten years from now, you’re going to see another spoiled kid walk on to the stage with a “vintage” boom box from 2009. He’s going to pull up a chair and sit down. Then he’s going to put in a Milli Vanilli CD, hit “play” and sit their for an hour while eating a sandwich. Wait, it will actually be a cheeseburger from McDonalds because making a sandwich will be a lost art by then.

    It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to figure out why everyone hates techno (I’m sorry, DUBSTEP LOL!).


  • Comment by Fred posted September 29, 2012 at 23:07

    The Beatles had too much respect for their fans and themselves to walk out on stage, put a copy of Sgt Peppers on a turntable, and stand there for 45 minutes while it played.

    What used to be the sound guy for real band’s live shows figured out a way to get himself on stage.

  • Comment by Fred posted September 29, 2012 at 23:09

    BTW Sonny John, Cyndi Lauper was doing that haircut 30 years ago.

  • Comment by tommyv posted December 01, 2012 at 06:02

    ya, I agree alot of what u said. I think a lot of what has happened to what had once been rave music and underground music has been an abortion. Its not the question of the difficulty or means of making the music. Its more of the lack of substance. I find a lot of the music scenes of today in the US have been pumping out a lot of fluff when once there was so much diversity and talent everywhere. Oh well, I started jamming again and writing songs, even mc’ing and built a drumset!. Perhaps the reason the music coming out today is so primitive and lame is cuz the scene had to rebuild itself from the bottom up again. As the scenes I grew up in started pretty lame and basic, but I loved it! Unfortunately with our governments close watch and control over us now with various drug laws and disregard for our freedoms it may not be possible to rebuild to a great atmosphere for these musics to develop to what they were say in 1999! Check sum old dieselboy, mars and mystre, anything from then and you would know what I mean… T

  • Comment by chad posted December 05, 2012 at 11:31

    There is a definite line between the laptop DJ and someone that uses the software as a performance tool. Software and controllers have added entirely new levels of control and creativity to the arsenal of electronic musicians – but there are very few who really use them to the full potential. Simply preparing a set of pre-programmed songs and playing them in order is crap. Programming on the fly and adjusting to the atmosphere and crowd takes skill. I’ve seen clips of some of the better artists that will layer in multiple tracks at once often only for a few seconds, something that is nearly impossible using vinyl and really only possible using a software interface. The best of the best continue to innovate and redefine what is possible, whether it is a live pa using studio gear, multiple turntables or a laptop and controller. There are some videos floating around of Richie Hawtin (aka Plastikman) describing and demonstrating how he uses Traktor to control and create while playing live. For even earlier references his setup during the Decks, EFX and 909 tour was insane. Comparing artists like Deadmau5 and Girl Talk to someone like Hawtin or Collabs 3000 is comparing Tee Ball to MLB.

    Dubstep isn’t bad because they don’t play live, it’s bad because what is called Dubstep now the bastard child of Grime, Dub and Top40 Rap. It lost any semblance of identity other than the wub bassline and big drops. I’ve heard so called songs that have gone from one end of the electronic spectrum to the other in a matter of 16 bars, combining jazzy house, gabber and ’92 hardcore – none of which belong together. I believe most people refer to it as “Brostep” now. Give it a year and something else will be big.

    DMZ – Anti War Dub = Dubstep
    Skrillex = Brostep

    And in all honesty this argument is no different than the debates over the infinite number of sub-genres that already exist in EDM. Jungle/DnB, Gabber/Nu-Style Gabber, Hard House/Techno (or house), Happy Hardcore/Hardcore and so on.

  • Comment by Damean posted December 08, 2012 at 04:26

    That is ridiculous, movies and theater are not even close to the same. Music is emotion, movie is entertainment with some emotion but not pure. Dubstep is pure “lets dance” and to me that’s not music. That’s silly. Moving a mouse and clicking is way different than headbanging to a bad ass metal song or crying to a sad ballad or something. The idea of any genre being based around “let’s dance” is fucking mindless. And that’s why mainstream is often hated so much, because who controls the mainstream? Mindless people looking for their next obsession, forgetting it 2 years later and moving on to the next mindless thing because their is no true emotional ties.

  • Comment by psychedeligoat posted December 23, 2012 at 03:33

    Yes since 10 years ago the whole DJ and electronic music scene is for toys. I do not pay attention to it anymore at all as the organic quality is gone. It’s a choice few people who make the money and most are the kids of politicians and other elites. Food for thought. What are other kids doing with their computers? If they made music and tinkered even with the free Garageband that comes with millions of computers it might open their eyes a bit, but we live in a virtual expression world with people who LOVE to be spoon fed. I came from a good career of 15 years of spinning and mixing live vinyl without beat counters and auto beat matchers. They had them in 1991 but I chose to go with intuition and it paid off for me. I guess it comes down to what mindset crowds have now and it’s simply a reflection of the kids of today. SO be it. ! I play real live instruments but I also like the appeal of spicing things up with electronics. Nothing wrong with that but when it’s all robots then it’s no longer humane.

  • Comment by Brian posted February 14, 2013 at 03:39

    I myself think that dubstep sucks because it’s really repetitious and doesn’t actually have a beat. If anyone wants to listen to really good electronic music that actually has a beat to it but is still really hardcore, get onto youtube and look up thriftworks. You should start from there and work your way into discovering other artists that are similar to thriftworks. For example Eprom, Unlimited Gravity, opiuo, and mimosa.