Saturday, April 2, 2011

Einstein on the Beast

It’s almost an inevitable encounter in the life of a classical music lover; you’re in a small talk conversation with someone you’ve just met, and the topic of music preference comes up. They talk about their discovered indie rock groups, their favorite rappers and DJs, their preferred pop singers. They wrap up their monologue and look at you, waiting for an identical answer, but when you say, “I mostly like classical music,” their face drops a little and you just know that their internal Boring-Alert signal is blaring.
The thing is, we’ve gotten one of the worst raps when it comes to categories of music listeners. Despite the fact that there are millions of true listeners, half-listeners, and “supporters,” there is still an enormous amount of people who take our preferences to mean that we are dry, old-fashioned people. We stand our ground and know that these people are 1) missing out on something wonderful and 2) obviously have not taken the time to wrap themselves around the idea that this music and culture are some of the most interesting worlds anyone could encounter. But what these book-cover-glancers don’t realize is that we have in our grasp what is becoming a core to one of the fastest growing genres out there—dubstep. Not to mention that we are probably converting people just like them in this process.


Dubstep might not be the most familiar category to most, and that is mostly because it owes a lot of its fame to independent DJs, Youtube, and the London club scene. Dubstep is a method of remixing and creating new beats. It originally evolved from “DnB,” or drum and bass, another type of electronic mix that uses heavy bass beats, “2-step garage,” a more jittery and irregular version, and “dub,” a subgenre of reggae. While dubstep started out as underground, garage-made mixes in England, it has morphed into something much more mainstream—there are dubstep remixes of almost every popular song out there, even including Bob Dylan and Louis Armstrong. In 2009, because of the increase in popularity of the genre, The New York Times reviewed it, saying “Earlier this decade grime emerged, with dirty bass lines and sparse beats that left plenty of room for rappers. Dubstep is nimbler and lighter, with skittering beats that hint at 1990s-era syncopation without sounding busy” (reviewed by Kelefa Sanneh). And, quite predictably, classical music fell into the whirlpool started by these DJ’s turntables.
 Also predictably, it works—incredibly well. The rawness of classical music, its natural magnetism, mixes perfectly with the added beats and heavy drum lines that dubstep offers. Because classical music is able to pack so much passion into small cadences that only use organic instruments, dubstep doesn’t really have to do that much to make it sound club-worthy. Vocal pieces, like baroque requiems or masses, work especially well with dubstep, adding a flare of intensity, the adjective that all dubstep producers strive to acquire. While there are not many professional dubstep musicians that use classical music exclusively, there are plenty independent DJs that make their work available to us over Youtube. Such as these three:


(I love this one^^^)

However, there are a handful of DJs that put out mixtapes or CDs which include classical dubstep, such as dj BC and the group Vex’d. dj BC, an American-based  musician, released an album called Glassbreaks where he mixed pieces by Philip Glass with songs by the Beastie Boys, Kenye West, Lil’ John, and others (the album is no longer available due to copyright issues, but a few are still up on Youtube). Although the album might not fit hand-in-hand with the genre of dubstep, it is very close and uses similar techniques. His remix called “Einstein on the Beast” (Glass and Beastie Boys) is very hip-hop leaning, but the “1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6” lines from Glass’s Einstein on the Beach are evident, as are Glass’s iconic chord progressions.


Vex’d is a dubstep duo from England—they released an album called Cloud Seed that was incredibly unpopular, but on it is a hidden gem: a remix of Gabriel Prokofiev’s String Quartet No. 2. Although G. Prokofiev is already hip-hop and dance-oriented, he is classically trained and his compositions easily fit into the classical category. Vex’d’s remix of his quartets is certainly dubstep, but it’s different in many ways. It’s incredibly open and echo-y, and the drum and bass lines sound more organic than most dubstep remixes do. It sounds tribal in some parts, electronic in others, and urban throughout.


Though we classical music lovers do take a lot of pride in the pure, organic, rooted music we listen to, dubstep definitely is doing things for us that we would have trouble accomplishing alone. In many of the comments on Youtube, the obvious dubstep, hip-hop loving users would comment on the accuracy of the classical pieces used, or the colors and flavors of the originals. For example, a comment on a Chopin remix read:

“Astounding the way that played out at 3:12 and you incorporating the piano into your mixing. The scratching was amazing and I love how it took almost a Middle Eastern sound in places when the dubstep kicked in. Genius. Your piano in the intro was so gorgeous and it was just as amazing by mixing time.

So, let’s always take pride in the natural art we love so much, but let’s also take a look at what is being done with it now—we never know how it will affect someone... like that guy who at the mention of the name "Brahms" turned the other way. 

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