Despite its hyper-local origins in Croydon, South London, dubstep took ahold of the imagination of producers both new and old around the world in a way no British musical export had since jungle. UKG and Grime both received plenty of music journo hype, but neither produced a dance music language as viral as the halfstep/brostep mutation that Rusko and later Skrillex seared into the collective cultural imagination. Unfortunately, the legacy of Skrillex has been such that many young folk now seem unaware of the genre's British origins if the fifteen-year-old boy I tutor is any indication. Ironically, as dubstep was falling out of favor with the country's agenda-setting producer, so began a period in which the country's producers and a generation of artists who now had instant access to every scene and sound imaginable began to perforate the tautological vacuum seal critics like Simon Reynolds had erected. 'Britishness' became an aesthetic signifier within dance music and one that could be easily emulated by any producer with an internet connection or a plugged-in local record shop. Meanwhile, the hand-wringing over the perceived loss of "future shock" hardened into an unreasonable criterion by which the value of music was judged. Writers and online commenters fiercely debated whether the various musics that would soon become grouped under the post-dubstep banner lived up to the FWD spirit of early dubstep, culminating in the hardcore continuum conference of 2012 that seemed to mark an end of the fervent analysis charting UK dance music's evolution.
Given the benefit of hindsight and historical distance, I would now posit that post-dubstep refers to the period between 2009 and 2012 when dubstep shifted from a formalized genre to a formulaic one, enabling it to truly go global--it took until 2012 for Skrillex to big-up Croydon at the Grammys. Disillusioned with the mainstreaming of a genre, both producers that had been at dubstep's forefront like Ramadanman/Pearson Sound, Pangaea, Koke9, 2562, Martyn, Pinch, and Peverelist (amongst many others) and those inspired by its legacy began a press-fueled hyper-acceleration through a series of new genre mutations and innovations (UK Funky, Bassline, Wonky, Future Garage, the Purple Sound) at a blinding clip. Writing for Pitchfork in May of 2011, dubstep scene analyst Martin Clark remarked, "the genre in question only exists in the form it does because of brostep and a need to make something less moronic." The period was marked by a web-amplified version of the up-to-the-minute analysis that had charted the evolution of UK hardcore into something entirely its own.
Reynolds, whose near-annual scene reports for The Wire between 1992 and 1999 formed the backbone of his quaint Hardcore Continuum concept, was joined by a chorus of blog- and forum-enabled pundits like Clark, Mark Fisher, Nick Edwards, and online communities like Dubstep Forums and Dissensus (just try and get through all forty-one pages of this thread on the topic). But as the argument over UK Hauntology and nostalgia veered into American Hypnagogia, it did start to feel like producers from Swamp 81 to Night Slugs were starting to maybe scrape the bottom of the idea barrel as tracks like "Foot Crab," "Sicko Cell" and "Wut" mined American footwork, electro and trap, respectively and albeit effectively. Listening to a Rinse FM mix from 2012 could feel like listening to a dance music history lesson as many of the scene's brightest stars began partaking in increasingly joyless genre mimicking, be it Boddika and Joy Orbison's vogue-sampling "Swims," Blawan's Brandy refix "Getting Me Down," the all-around Bmore biting of Bok Bok and L-Vis 1990 (that one of Night Slugs' sole releases in 2017 was by Jersey Club mainstay J Heat and this year has seen them releasing a bunch of Helix tracks that sounded fresh in 2011 is a testament to the downside of chasing an "eclectic" aesthetic as label.) By the time that the latter two reissued would-be 90s tribal anthem "Icy Lake" in 2014 however, a new wave of producers and labels, often working in coordination with dubstep vets like Pinch, Pev, and Hessle Audio, was turning the genre studies of the post-dubstep into something much more singular.
If the post-dubstep period was marked by an unmet desire to reinvent the dance music wheel, the years that have followed have given rise to producers committed to making dance music's countless wheels better and weirder. The past four years in particular has seen something of a steeling of purpose amongst the country's younger producers while also tacitly acknowledging the porous nature of influence and innovation through the international styles and producers who have joined the small but growing cadre of like-minded artists. In his 2011 review of "Sicko Cell" for RA, Andrew Ryce wrote, "The song's appeal lies in its shock and awe, hitting with the jarring (the vocal sample) and then the hypnotic (the other vocal sample)." Re-reading those words earlier today, I was struck by how that description captures the dynamic at work in so many of the tracks we've reviewed over the past seven weeks and as our narrative reaches the end of 2016, it makes sense to once again consider the globalized nature of contemporary UK dance music.
Indeed, the above discussion about the post-dubstep years was caused by my late discovery of the 2016 electro bass bobbler "Cala" by Italian-born, Bristol-based operator Piezo, who in recent years has released dubstep-informed twelves for such bastions of the new school as Idle Hands and 81. Like fellow Italian citizen Cheval, Piezo has built a considerable discography that straddles genre lines and seeks to burrow into those in-between spaces in seek of stylistic synthesis. Released on his own Ansia imprint in late 2016, "Cala" sees the producer in full-on tear-da-club-up mode while displaying his deft hand at bridging disparate samples and ideas. The track's extended intro plays like a drunken version of "Soul Bossa Nova," the agile strut turned intro a drunken, coked-up rhythmic flailing as the Latin-inflected percussion is powered up by a post-Livity kick drum stutter pattern and a string sample that sounds like it was plucked from a Japanese Koto. As the build-up reaches the end of its second half a solid two minutes into the song's run time, the producer goes for broke by reaching for the tonally descending sixteenth-note electro tom-tom rhythm that made tracks like "Sicko Cell" and Pearson Sound's "