With the genre of dubstep being as popular as it is today, it’s stunning to think that it originated at a single weekly club night. Coming together at its peak at the club Plastic People in east London, Forward>> (sometimes stylized as FWD>>) is responsible for providing a space for artists like Zed Bias, Oris J, and more to experiment with their darker, wobblier styles of UK garage. As the styles began to go further and further outside the box and mesh with elements of grime, dub, and jungle, a new term was needed to describe the sound.
The term “dubstep” was coined by promoters and labels such as Ammunition, Big Apple Records, and Tempa. It was then soon after used by publications and radio stations that covered the movement, essentially certifying the term in public. It didn’t take long for more club nights to sprout up, such as DMZ and Filthy Dub. From there, the community expanded to other cities and ultimately to different countries. Radio host Marry Anne Hobbs at the time called it “the fastest growing underground global phenomenal I’ve experienced in nine years at Radio 1.”
Now, almost any fan of electronic music knows what kind of sounds are associated with dubstep. Below, you can learn about and listen to 12 dubstep pioneers who shaped and amplified the genre in the 2000s. Enjoy!
While more UKG-leaning in style, El-B was considered by many as one of the very first producers to try their hand at dubstep, with productions dating back to as early as 1999-2000. El-B was one of a handful of artists who were featured on the first-ever retrospective dubstep release, The Roots of Dubstep, compiled by promoters Ammunition, who were responsible for putting together the club night that birthed the genre, Forward>>.
2. Horsepower Productions
Active around the same time as El-B, Horsepower Productions are a duo that specialized in darker, experimental takes on UK garage, which ultimately led to some of the first-ever dubstep records. In 2002, the term “dubstep” was used in an XLR8R cover issue that featured Horsepower Production. It was at this point that the name of the genre was cemented.
Hatcha, a DJ from South London, played multiple roles during the growth of dubstep in the early 2000s. He started rinsing dubstep during his sets on Rinse FM and at Forward>> throughout 2003, drawing tracks from artists like Mala, Coki, and Loefah. This pushed the genre as a whole in a darker, more minimal direction. He then brought dubstep to a wider audience via his own regular show on Kiss FM, which had a much larger listening base. In addition, he also was the head buyer of Big Apple Records, a store where many of the first dubstep pioneers shopped for music. The shop may have been the most important aspect, as it created a space for people to come together in person to express their love for the budding genre.
4. Digital Mystikz (Mala & Coki)
Digital Mystikz is responsible for expanding the sonic landscape of dubstep by weaving in soundsystem culture, dub influences, and the weighty jungle style of bass to the genre. The duo, comprised of Mala and Coki (and aided by Loefah), launched the most enthusiastic night for dubstep in the world, DMZ. Introducing a new slice of the sound, it connected, and people flew from all over the world to experience these parties. All the while, their label by the same name was releasing some of the most iconic and recognizable dubstep tracks to this day.
5. Mary Anne Hobbs
When dubstep was reaching its peak potential, Mary Anne Hobbs’ delivered it to the masses with her radio show Dubstep Warz. She then released one of the most important compilations of all time, Warrior Dubz. Before this, dubstep was almost exclusively UK underground buzz. In 2007, she curated a dubstep showcase at the major Barcelona-based music festival, Sonar. Mary Anne Hobbs was a true champion of the genre and deserves heaps of credit for distributing the sound around the world.
One of the most enigmatic producers to ever exist in electronic music. Burial took dubstep in its original, skeletal form and added a more nuanced, emotional sound to it. He would go on to release one of the first-ever dubstep LPs (although blended heavily with UKG), the self-titled Burial, in 2006. He followed that up with the seminal project Untrue in 2007. To this day, Burial has still never performed live in any manner. He does still put out music, however. His most recent music is much more ambient leaning.
In conjunction with the Forward>> club night, there was also a dedicated radio show on the (then pirate) radio station, Rinse FM, hosted by Kode9. Kode9 would go on to have an even more important role in the scene, however, after he founded the label Hyperdub, which became home to trailblazing artists such as Burial, Zomby, DJ Rashad, and more. The label is still active in pushing more forward-thinking sounds in electronic music.
8. Skream & Benga
While Hatcha may have been responsible for pushing the dubstep sound in the “right” direction via his position in the scene, he couldn’t have done so without the bassy, boomy tracks from producers Skream and Benga. Both were frequenters of the aforementioned record store Big Apple. Both producers are credited with each having one of the most important tunes in the genre’s history: Skream with “Midnight Request Line” and Benga with “Night” (alongside Coki from Digital Mystikz). While they were both critical during the early years of dubstep, they gained mainstream success in the early 2010s with the Skream & Benga Show on Rinse FM. They then took over Alex Metric’s slot for the In New DJs We Trust show on BBC Radio 1.
Youngsta has been one of the most consistently booked artists for the Forward>> club night. In fact, he’s still appearing on the lineups. The famous UK venue Printworks is hosting a party that features Youngsta, among other dubstep pioneers like Kode9, Skream, Coki, and more. He was also a frequent performer at Digital Mystikz’s DMZ parties. He’s still championing the sound that he came up with.
Specializing in bringing deep and dreadful sounds with creepy vocal samples, Loefah linked up with Digital Mystikz early on. The Croydon-based artist was a resident at the DMZ parties in Brixton and was one of the many artists featured on the Mary Anne Hobbs show Dubstep Warz. Eventually, like other like-minded, forward-thinking artists on this list, like Skream and Kode9, Loefah moved on from dubstep to focus on less-defined areas of bass music.
12. Joe Nice
Dubstep’s first moments were happening exclusively in the UK, but it wasn’t too long before DJs from the United States began to take notice. A young Baltimore DJ by the name of Joe Nice was responsible for bringing dubstep to America via New York City club night Dub War alongside Brooklynite Dan Q. According to Joe Nice, he first heard the genre at Starscape Festival in 2002 when DJ and early dubstep adopter Youngsta was playing it out during his set. Joe Nice was invited to play at one of the DMZ parties in 2007.