Dubstep and house music emerged as distinct electronic dance music genres, but they share some common ancestry and elements. By examining the origins, characteristics, and evolution of dubstep and house, we can highlight what sets these rhythmic styles apart as well as where they overlap.
Dubstep originated in South London in the late 1990s within communities of Caribbean descent. The dark, grimy sound pulls influence from 2-step garage, jungle, dub reggae, and dancehall. Key pioneers of dubstep include Skream, Benga, Digital Mystikz and Loefah. The sparse, percussive beats and undulating bass lines create a heavy, underground vibe.
House music arose in Chicago in the early 1980s, pioneered by DJs like Frankie Knuckles at The Warehouse club. The classic house sound is four-on-the-floor rhythms mixed with funk, soul, R&B and disco. The name “house” comes from those early days at The Warehouse. DJs used drum machines, synthesizers and looping to drive the beat.
The Characteristic Sound
Dubstep is defined by beats at around 140 BPM, reverberating bass wobbles called wobble bass, darker tones, and lyrics that skews more toward rapping and hip hop. The bass provides the rhythmic drive and center of attention. Songs have a sparse, spacious quality focusing on the drum and bass interplay.
The core of house is a steady kick drum beat over a tempo around 120 to 130 BPM. Percussive beats, piano riffs, jazz-funk influence, soulful diva vocals, and the four-on-the-floor rhythm give house its high-energy, danceable feel. The focus is on layered rhythms and uplifting atmospherics.
From their origins, both dubstep and house spawned subgenres and fusions:
- Brostep or American dubstep blended in aggressive electro house and metal to amp up intensity and appeal to U.S. audiences.
- Future house mixed deep house and UK garage for a brighter, upbeat sound.
- Melodic dubstep brought in more melodic leads and euphoric breakdowns.
- Acid house used squelchy Roland TB-303 synthesizers to create psychedelic effects.
- Chillstep slowed dubstep BPMs to create more relaxed vibes.
- Electro house amped up the tempo with chunky basslines and glitchy effects.
Today, both have permeated mainstream music leading to continued crossover. House rhythms underscore pop tracks. Dubstep wobbles appear in hip hop and rock. Purists debate whether evolutions represent creative growth or a betrayal of core sound.
At the core, dubstep upholds a menacing, underground spirit, where house leans toward uplifting and dance celebration. But both genres exhibit diversity in mood, vocals, tempo, and production. They continue to branch into new styles, embracing technology and cultural influences. The time signatures may differ, but a passion for primal beats links these electronic dance genres.