Genre Clash: Grime vs Dubstep

Or: Wiley vs Skream, if you like…

There's rarely a day that goes by without Wiley sparking some sort of Twitter-based controversy. And so it’s proved today – today being September 5th – as he’s gone and shaken a right hornet’s nest by suggesting that a certain act’s move from his dubstep roots to more house-like music is evidence of grime being the stronger of the two, distinctly British genres.

To his credit, Wiley’s Twitter rants can provoke some genuine musical debate, some of the time. Here, the focus of his ire is Skream (pictured). The producer’s reply (well, one of), to having his credentials questioned: “All good mate, check your singles, they ain’t grime.”

Amongst Wiley’s juiciest tweets on the topic: “Our genre has the most powerful voices compared to ur genre …u lot are just producers and Dj’s”, and the most-barbed of his micro-blogged hooks, “Ollie you play house”. They seem to have made up. But it got us thinking: is there a ‘better’ of the two genres?

Tweeted opinions aside, the two styles do share undeniable parallels as cornerstones of UK underground music. Spawned from the days of UK garage, both grime and dubstep began as entirely self-motivated, insular, organic movements driven by a people that wanted to express themselves without limits and as they saw fit.

It was this resistance to the failings of popular culture that outsiders bought into and revelled in; the music was pure and exciting, the scenes were bubbling and nobody else was properly in on the secret.

But this was never going to last. Dizzee Rascal’s Mercury Prize-winning winning debut album, ‘Boy In Da Corner’ set a substantial precedent, both critically and commercially, for the nascent grime scene. It was thrust into the spotlight, but few other artists were ready to take their music into the mainstream, to satisfy the new public demand for homegrown beats and rhymes.

Dubstep took a little longer to find its way into the nation’s hearts – and, more pertinently, its charts. It achieved this most emphatically with Chase & Status’ ‘More Than Alot’ LP of 2008 and Skream’s remix of La Roux’s ‘In For The Kill’, released in March 2009. But despite significant success since, home and abroad, dubstep has struggled to flourish in its purest form.

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Digital Mystikz, ‘Anti-War Dub’

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Grime will always have Wiley and dubstep will always have DMZ – but neither is likely to ever replicate the global success of guys like Tinie Tempah and Skrillex. But then again, since when has selling a million records ever been a measure of musical integrity?

At their truest, both genres are incredible. Hearing Digital Mystikz’s ‘Anti-War Dub’ on a system and feeling that life-changing, eureka moment when the bass smashes up your chest for the first time, or watching Flirta D spray live over 20 tunes a minute without losing an ounce of his flow… These are memories that will live on far longer than a few top-10 singles.

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Flirta D – ‘Warp Speed’

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But, at their most manufactured, both genres can be woeful. We don’t need to name names, surely.

Musically, the argument between Wiley and whoever deems his rants worthy of answering is therefore pretty futile. When the charts aren’t involved, both grime and dubstep stand up as well as one another.

Grime is arguably more culturally relevant in the UK as, despite instrumentally flourishing over the past few years, is still deeply tied to inner-city British culture, making it harder to recreate overseas.

Dubstep, on the other hand, has proved far more accessible as a truly international sound, with the music able to transcend location in a way that grime can’t. But this arguably comes at the cost of sacrificing the very heart of what made it so brilliant in the first place.

While Wiley might level criticism at Skream for playing disco sets, only for Skream to respond by pointing out Wiley’s string of chart-minded pop records, it can’t be forgotten that there is a deep level of respect between the two as pioneers in their own right. Deep down, both surely know there isn't much of a debate to be had.

Plasitician, one of the earliest advocates of both scenes, perhaps says it best after joining in with the discussion: “I got love for grime and dubstep… this ain’t about choosing a side, I am just stating that there is no clear ‘winner’ between the two.” And nor should there be.

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Words: Tomas Fraser
Additional words: Mike Diver

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