In Search of The Heavy: A Reconciliation with Dubstep


We at Heave Media have love for all our dearest friends in the Chicago blogosphere and beyond, and we wanted to give them a chance to speak their minds on anything they’d like. This week, Patrick Gill, co-editor of In Our Words: A Salon for Queers & Co., has a few words to say on dubstep kids, and how maybe they’re just like the rest of us after all.

Bass has resonance, physically and emotionally. My brother’s ’89 Volvo – crusted in past dark dew and crackling oxidation- is carrying him, me, my freshly dyed black-blue hair, and the slight buzz only a 14-year-old can get from beer and Mike’s Hard Lemonade over the crest of a hill, one that overlooks the modern Steinbeck landscape laid out an hour or so east of where we were raised. Out past curfew, past where we were told we could drive, and passing wild brush under a wide, grinning moon.

I’m not sure if I can tell you how or why, but whenever I am in a car with the right song, at the right decibel level, I relive that moment.

It was the first time I felt I had actually had done something wrong, with repercussions that could be felt for months, until my hair grew long enough to cut and mold into respectability. It was the first time I didn’t care about respectability. The first time I realized my control of my body, that no matter how stupid the decision was, it was mine to make. It was when Zack de la Rocha clawed over the thick rhythm of “Guerilla Radio”: “All/ Hell/Can’t stop us now!” and I understood my ability. Now I recognize this as the beginning of even heavier rhythms and unintelligible voices, of fearsome wails from madhanded musicians, and the loudest nights of my life, that night we had drank warm Coors Light in someone’s house in Gilroy with my brother’s friends who were in local metal bands. People I would later call my friends, and bands I’d go see weekly. That night I greeted my future, and the thin lines of light above Watsonville, with a grin like the moon, rather than my usual cowed eyes. Cleaner and colder than the wind, I was strong. I relive the moment when I felt no bone or muscle could ever shake me the way that bass could, that those drums could, that that sound could. Or maybe, I thought, I could find another pull like it. Maybe this was what could bring me to life.

I was raised, from 13 to 18, in a healthy and thriving local punk and hardcore/metal scene. Bass and beats drive this kind of music, barreling through you like shit through a goose. The way this rhythm is manipulated and entwined with the darkness of howled and guttural coughed-up vocals and the wrath of guitars has a darkness and an intrigue that holds a listener. At the time, it was something that matched what twisted within me;  the music felt broke,n then reformed into a body, a body I could take on in times of need.

When people think of early ’00s hardcore, most scoff, thinking of scenester girls with Hello Kitty-embellished bows in their crusted skunk-toned hair, perpetually texting while their boyfriends are wearing their pants, clad in all black and fingerless gloves that soften their wiry fists as they punch air and kick like seizing lizards. As for the young punks, many think of kids rushing their moms, who are sewing a SubHumans patch onto their Hot Topic leather, to give them a ride Downtown where they can troll streets looking like a crusty. Either that, or they’re too drunk on 40s they paid a homeless man to buy for them to care. These are all things I have thought, but never fully believed, because I know and grew up with people who look and sound like they could be these people, but they are too kind or clear or genuine to be narrowed into such sentences. I’d also like to think I turned out better than those stereotypes.

It is this empathy, born of love of my oft-maligned hardcore friends and my own history, that I now extend to the new generation of dubstep youth. I might still might be like your mom and not “get you,” but at least now you know I think of you in the way I think of my high school self: you’re irascible cheeky bastards and you have some of my respect. Your tight jeans used to fit me too, and the smirk that spits your dark words – things that might cover actual darkness – I used to wear that too. There are even similarities in the way we used to dance, and we both seem to live for the clipped second right before a song’s breakdown.

I say all this because of the assumption and hope that you feel the bass. That wobble wobble boom bass, with a wailing zap that I hope courses through your marrow. I hope it becomes something for you that you have never experienced before and you want it to sustain, or that it feels like something new yet always understood. I have to confess that at I find at best I find dubstep to be not terrible, and I have described at least one song as sounding as if Katy Perry in jackboots is knifefighting a sick dog on my ear drum. But I can’t deny our similarities. Even as I have moved away from punk and hardcore, I have found solace in the slick and nasty bass lines of funk and soul. I remain loyal to the heavy, heavy titans of my past, but I get some of my bass power from hip-hop and club pop. I have changed, and in this I have come to accept the manifold ways other people attach to their own loved music.

Sometimes I still need my soul cleaned by a double bass pedal blast-beat, one that rides like Sherman’s Mar from hell to my heart. Sometimes I need the sluggiest break down or the quickest two-step to rattle me free. The other night in a dream, the only way I solved a problem a room full of people had with each other was to start a circle pit to the fury and sharp squeals of something both punk and heavy as fuck. Maybe that’s what dubstep is to another? Maybe it’s their catharthis through darkness. Maybe it’s their Golem. I’m not sure. I just want them to know, no hard feelings, and may you have memories of strength and love the way I do when I feel heavy bass.