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.