Fop-haired British producer Rusko’s new album Songs dropped this week, and it’s a pretty thorough representation of his varying styles, as well as those that influenced him — throwback rave pop (“Thunder”), jungle (“Roll Da Beats”), dub (“Skanker”), breakbeat hardcore (“Somebody to Love”), garage (“Whistle Crew”), ragga (“Mek More Green”). There’s a track with that classic 2-step/garage bell synth that sounds like a spoon hitting a clear glass tea mug (the excellent “Pressure”). There are diva vocals that allude to the international success of his colleagues Magnetic Man and their work with singing queen Katy B, as well as his own previous work, and the countless dance genres that have built on such songbirds, even in the past decade — UK funky, bassline, 2-step, soulful house, etc. It’s not a revelatory, change-the-game album as genres go, but it’s quite solid (an improvement over his last album, OMG), both on a pleasure level and the how he contextualizes the sounds. Compared to the increasingly timeless, placeless rave-pop going buck on the radio (most recent example: the dreadful MDNA), Songs is a textural fractal party inside a k-hole. It has a history.

What is noticeably lacking on Songs, however, is “bro-step.” There’s not even all that much dubstep, at least in the incarnation that the masses have come to know it, post-“we’re Korn and we invented the sound.” Maybe three tracks on the album have Rusko ripping into the wobble that so many have come to associate with dubstep, and that fact probably goes beyond his producer’s impulse to experimentation. Because at some point in the early 2010s, as dubstep began to spread out into the frat houses of the world, Rusko got saddled as one of the main proprietors of “bro-step,” and was viewed as a dude too deep in the wobble to notice that his American audience was bumping heads more than pumping fists. This was maybe in part because of his proximity to Caspa, the Dub Police statesman who crafted whole melodies out of wobble bass, or because of both their affiliation with bigger, broader show promoters, and shared bills with mass-market DJs like Deadmau5, (even though they had a brief sliver of beef). Maybe the bro-step tag was rooted in the fact that when Caspa and Rusko got got together, they sure loved to mean-mug. But considering Rusko’s best-loved lead single from OMG was comparatively ginger-footed on the bass throb and featured Amber Coffman, the chick from the Dirty Projectors, it’s fairly strange that he was crowned with the albatross so early on.

The concept of “bro-step” as a typecast is also strange — because, what makes mid-range bass so overwhelmingly bro-y? Perhaps I’m missing the point, but I consider myself far outside the realm of brozones, and as a female-born, feminine woman who loves gut-rumbling wobble and monstrous subbass, its codification as particularly bro-y is unnecessarily exclusive and of course super-reducto. Of course in certain realms maybe it makes sense — the misogy blow-job beats of Borgore, say, probably hold a greater fascination for the recently frat-hazed than, you know, me, although I still can appreciate the gnarled nastiness of the rhythm section. But as the lunkheadedness of that genre term has evolved with the astronomical popularity of Skrillex — whose “soulfulness” can be debated until his side-hair grows back, but whose versatility and ability to connect with wide swathes of different types of people (including—yes!—tons of ladies) — it becomes increasingly lazy and less useful, particularly as dubstep splinters off into a million sub-genres, including “that music that Korn totally invented.” Meanwhile, late ‘00s Caspa/Rusko fans were completely convinced that they would be the power-duo to break dubstep in the United States, but it took a few years and a fellow with rock-band experience to actually do it, which maybe says more about the proclivities of our country’s new dance massive than anything. As Tom pointed out, Skrillex can pop in the bass drops where a guitarist might drop in a riffy breakdown. As the US has gradually become acclimated to the concept that dance music isn’t just for shiny-shirt clubs or drug-gobbling Bay Area warehouses (shout to both those places though), a little bit of rock formalism that they recognize certainly hasn’t hurt.

Meanwhile, the depth of dubstep continues — actually, how amazing was that Korn album though, abstractly speaking? — and truly talented “bro-step” dudes delve deeper into their true loves, aware that the throbble isn’t going to ride forever. Caspa, for instance, has been adhering closer to his dub reggae and experimenting, while also throwing out interesting drum meditations that act as skeletal maps to where his brain might go in the songwriting process. And Rusko’s soft meditations and chemistry with the diva vocalists he works with adds a softer, sweeter side to the present landscape of big-room dance music that, hopefully, stays on track and helps molt outside its realm. At the very least, maybe some dude somewhere will feel slightly more vulnerable during his next keg stand.

Comments (21)
  1. Just as music critic Jon Savage asserted that Britpop was “an outer-suburban, middle-class fantasy of central London streetlife, with exclusively metropolitan models.” Bro-step, is “an outer-suburban, mostly white, middle-upper class fantasy of urban center streetlife, with exclusively metropolitan models.”

  2. I’m no dance music connoisseur, but I can’t help but think that the dubstep / brostep argument is the same argument analysis we had a decade ago about emo (even though they sound nothing alike and the only common bond between the two are Sonny Moore.)

  3. I think the assumption that bro-step is called what it is because it appeals to male bros to the exclusion of women isn’t quite on-target. It’s always seemed to me that bro-step appeals to male AND female bros, to the exclusion of non-bros of both genders–the name comments on the immediacy and thoughtlessness of the music, not any kind of gender-specificity.

  4. Have to agree on the “bro-y” point. I’m so far removed from the undergrad college experience that I find it really hard to make heads or tails of certain forms of dubstep becoming so mainstream that the brosephs are into it. I’m going to guess this sort of thing has probably more to do with mob/group psychology than it does with the actual music.

  5. Genres aside, why can’t it simply be a fun electronic album, which is what it is?

  6. Okay, this is my fourth time trying to post this:

    I have been trying to avoid using the term “bro-step” for a handful of reasons, but I also sometimes hesitate to use the term “dubstep.” I think it’s unnecessary to pigeonhole entire gobs of music into a category merely to stand there and piss on it. It’s kind of like using the term “Obamacare,” where conservatives have succeeded in co-opting the actual “thing” with a soundbyte. Every time you even say “Obamacare,” you’ve played into their talking points game.

    On the other hand, I can’t connect the dots between James Blake (dubstep), Kode9 (dubstep), FaltyDL (sometimes dubstep) and Skrillex (dubstep) anymore. Dubstep has become the catch-all word for all this 2-step influenced music no matter how different it sounds. The word itself is becoming overloaded and if the word ceases to mean anything, we’ll have to come up with new words at the very least.

    But really, dance music has ALWAYS been like this. “Acid” was once a go-to term, one that became saddled with images of an Ibizan beach somewhere; music for raves and little else. Then there was “Electronica,” which I think was supposed to refer to big breaks like Crystal Method but somehow became a buzz word for Dance music. And don’t forget the message board battles over “IDM.” There is however one “genre” I will dismiss out of hand and that’s “Happy Hardcore.”

    I don’t think “bro-step” is nearly as bad as the gabber-heavy, light-speed hand job that was Happy Hardcore. Not even close. But at the same time, I think all of the critics screaming over “dub-step” should have a little perspective. This is a slippery sub-genre of UK Garage. In twenty years, half of these artists will seem like a joke. Some of them will be re-evaluated and begrudgingly accepted. Some of them will move onto the next big thing. The important thing is to remember that nobody is trying to kill your favorite music dead. James Blake does his thing, Skrillex does his thing.

    Go ahead and discuss Skrillex. We should all be discussing this stuff anyway. But don’t rush to hate his entire fan base for no good reason.

  7. Most of my problem with this whole “scene” has nothing to do with the music. I don’t really care for Skrillex, et al, but I also don’t hate it. My problem stems from some of their fanbase. Take for example the other day I saw that somebody was claiming “Skrillex INVENTED dubstep,” or one of my friends who has the worst music taste in history was super excited that Avicci is playing at his campus. Come on. Usually it’s a bad idea to judge music based on their audience, but I tend to make an exception for dubstep

    • That dude sure is lucky to have you for a friend. I mean, where else would he learn how to be condescending?

      • Believe me, I learned to be condescending from him, I always got crap from him for listening to my “weird music” and not liking whatever was the flavor of the day. The problem with their music fanbase is the fact that it has little to do with music and more to do with the fact that it’s popular.

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  9. Sick of this…what’s next?

  10. Never thought I’d read “how amazing was that Korn album” on Stereogum.

  11. My problem with bro-step is not necessarily with the music itself, but the effect it’s had on how dub-step as a whole is viewed. Ask 100 people on the street what dub-step is and 99 of them will describe bro-step. Bro-step is one tiny, simple facet of the genre that has engulfed the entire image of what “dub-step” is, to the point where you can’t go on any youtube video of a “classic” dub-step track without seeing all the comments by 13 year olds asking where the drop is.

  12. I never realized how old I was until reading this article. I’m not even sure what the fuck a bro is. Help me, I’m hopelessly, hopelessly unable to condescend to anyone anymore!

    As a slight aside, the ownership of word meaning (unfortunately) belongs to the mass of people exchanging a particular word as verbal currency. If the majority of people identify “dubstep” as having identical qualities to “brostep”, then however misguided those people are, they have redefined the term. It’s time to find a new term for what was once “dubstep” as it has been co-opted, and therefore marginalized by the thirteen-year-olds looking for the drop.

    • Bros are the types who you find at fraternity houses fist pumping to electronic music and looking to get “f’ed up” every weekend. Careful though, you don’t want to anger the dubstep bros on this comment board downvoting anybody who speaks ill of dubstep

      • people that use the word “bro” to draw a broad statement about somebody simply because they look a certain way or party at a frat house, etc. have their own issues at hand.
        “im going to label that guy because he shares characteristics with a group of people that my group has determined is different than ours because they label us because we share characteristics that are different than theirs.”
        you’re just a different kind of sheep…

        • Oh oh sounds like we have a bro overhere

          • I’m just messing with you, but you should be able to realize that old man joad’s response was being a bit sarcastic just the way eldave”s question of what a “bro” is in order to condescend to somebody. You should be able to better determine the way things are said instead of jumping into an argument

        • Oh please spare me the whole “holier than thou” speech. He wanted to know what a “bro” was and I gave him a definition. I’ve never seen the derogatory form of “bro”, as it is used here, used for anything else. All “bros” can be frat partying dudes, but not all frat partying dudes can be “bros”

  13. I don’t understand how someone with such little understanding of the genre can be asked to write a piece on it. This was one of the most poorly written articles I’ve ever read. For fucks sake at least go read the wikipedia article on dubstep – at the very least. I’m pretty sure if I brought up Kryptic Minds or Loefah to the author I would get a confused stare. I mean I know stereogum is more pop / mainstream oriented but come on – you have to understand the context and background of what you’re writing about, or else you have this mess of a piece.

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