News, music, movies & restaurants from the editors of the Silicon Valley's #1 weekly newspaper.
Serving San Jose, Palo Alto, Los Gatos, Campbell, Sunnyvale, Mountain View, Fremont & nearby cities.


home | metro santa cruz index | music & nightlife | band review


Photograph by Curtis Cartier
Young Love : David Young, a.k.a. Rastatronics, spinning Aug. 14 at the Vets Hall

Bass Therapy

Dubstep goes boom in Santa Cruz.

By Curtis Cartier

The kids are dancing a little slower in Santa Cruz these days. Hands in the air, bobbing and grooving, all hips and ass. They've found a new sound, and it's called dubstep. From electronica's holy city of London, the dark, bass-drenched dirty groove has hopped the pond and found fertile soil in DJ booths and record stores around the city and the nation.

Imagine a mellow reggae rhythm. Now take out the guitar plucks, quiet down the snares and add in the most stomach-turning, eyeball-sucking, evil bass wobble imaginable. Next throw in a few gnarly shrieks, an occasional dub sample and a general sense of apocalyptic doom; cook over high heat and serve from the most massive subwoofers in town, and voilą! Dubstep.

"Really, it was the party at Cafe Mare this past February that started dubstep in Santa Cruz," says David Young, a.k.a. Rastatronics and one of the leading dubstep promoters and DJs in town. "We rattled things off the walls of the salon next door. People couldn't believe what they were hearing. The kids were going crazy."

Young along with Matty G, Antiserum and 187 Soundsystem represent the most active players in the local dubstep scene. Throwing biweekly dubstep nights at the Giza Hookah Lounge, monthly events at the Vets Hall and countless underground parties, this crew of techno junkies and dancehall connoisseurs has one common love: bass.

"You get that feeling in your stomach. Feels like someone's carving your insides out," says Young. "There's nothing like it."

Dubstep bass isn't trunk-rattling Snoop Dogg woofer punches. This bass is constant and overwhelming--a depths-of-hell tremor that could gut a fish without a knife. The kind of bass that makes breathing difficult and people talk funny. This is the bass your mom warned you about.

And for Santa Cruzans, it was a match made in heaven. Thanks to a dub-tinged core and a hip-hop tempo, dubstep has been an easy transition for both reggae fans looking to branch out and technophiles ready for something new.

"You just feel it in your chest," says Marci Shepherd, taking a well-deserved break from the makeshift dance floor at the weekly Westcliff Drive DJ sets. "It just blasts right through you. You can't help but throw your hands up!"

Born in the musty basements and offbeat clubs of south London, where the genres of garage, grime, 2 step and dancehall came to a boil and spilled out onto the streets, it was first a nameless mishmash of influences until the term was used by the influential club Forward>>, which ran several Dubstep nights and promoted the genre to U.K. media on top of releasing several compilations like Dubstep Allstars Vol. 1.

Always considered underground, dubstep was pumped through airwaves by London promoters like Radio 1 DJ and Mary-Ann Hobbs and pressed onto plates by independent record companies like Tempa and Hyperdub. It wasn't until 2006 and 2007, however, that dubstep began to be imported by the States.

New York and San Francisco represent the major bastions for the U.S. dubstep scene. Bay Area clubs like Club Six and Koze have regular dubstep Djs, and even more trendy spots like Ten 15 and Mezzanine are beginning to incorporate the brand into their techno and hip-hop sets.

For Young, though, the Santa Cruz scene is pound-for-pound every bit as burgeoning as our big neighbors to the north. He said two of the five major Bay Area dubstep producers live in Santa Cruz, and while the town may not have the biggest, baddest clubs, the love is just as strong.

At a recent all-night dance party billed as "12 hours of dubstep," more than 200 people drove to a remote forest location, and there, among giant redwoods, danced every bit of 12 hours on the soft pine needles and undergrowth under a beautiful California night sky.

Lud Dub, a San Francisco-based DJ, drove to Santa Cruz for the event and, after fooling with the local Richter scales for a while, explained that dubstep, unlike a lot of other genres, is still "unexplored and ready to be manipulated in tons of new ways."

"Commercially, it's gotten bigger, and sometimes I feel like it's even been saturated too much locally," he says. "I just hope it doesn't become another fad."

Andrew Gruber, another wax melter at the party, agreed that the genre has taken off of late. He pointed back at the reggae upbringings of the locals and said it's crucial that the dub outweigh the step.

"To me, dubstep is a rebirth of the reggae dancehall," says Gruber. "It's all about roots and culture. Even the most dark, spacey stuff still has elements of that roots reggae culture."

When it comes to actually making dubstep, not just spinning it, Antiserum and Matty G make up the local producer stock. Santora, a long time Santa Cruzan, pointed to the music's slow tempo--usually 70 to 90 beats per minute--as providing infinite ways to change and distort the sound.

"I grew up in Santa Cruz back in the days where there was a hip-hop or a reggae show every weekend--days when I didn't know if I wanted to go see KRS-One or Steel Pulse," says Santora. "Dubstep is very much rooted in both reggae and hip-hop, plus there's kind of a doom metal vibe that's in it. It's a very diverse platform."

That platform has already been used and abused by an array of twisted musical minds, albums like Untrue by the anonymous ghost DJ Burial or Versus by the enigmatic U.K. duo Various Production. The ultrableak soundscapes and pile-driver bass zaps are often heard better in headphones than in clubs and have garnered widespread media acclaim and remix opportunities from some of music's biggest names, including Thom Yorke and Bloc Party.

Despite the limited mainstream attention, a lot of listeners are not even aware there's a name for the slithering bass monster that jumped out of their speakers. But thanks to some energetic DJs and their trusty captive audience, dubstep has a chance to save the clubs and deliver electronic music from the jaws of mediocrity.

DUBSTEP can be heard every other Saturday starting Sept. 6 at 10pm at Giza Hookah Lounge, 1515 Mission St., Santa Cruz. Admission is free.

Send a letter to the editor about this story.


Mūz: Santa Cruz Music, Media and Arts
Concert notes and news.