» Oi, Dubstep, your roots are showing

Take two different kinds of moonshine rum (one dark & spicy, urticaria one white), lemons, limes and fresh coconut milk, and mix them up nice and strong. Sip it in the heat of a Caribbean night then skank, rude-boy, skank.

The purple drank of 50s and 60s Jamaica was called Rude to Your Parents. You can draw a line from the bottom of a bottle into the dubstep/grime sound of contemporary Britain. Brits are still hooked on the sound of ska over 50 years after its original inception. Magpie-like, dubstep producers festoon their production with jewels of frosty, stellar samples that reflect our divided, paranoid society. The heartbeat, however, still pumps to the sound of a rum-fuelled night in Trenchtown.

Ska made its way to late 1960s cities like London, Birmingham and Coventry via the West Indian immigrants who had been hauled over for the two decades previous. There was a surplus of jobs and a great demand for all kinds of labour in post-war Britain. Flexing its atrophying muscles, the empire again exploited the old “trade-triangle” to import much-needed labour. Though jobs were there, and wages were good, racial discrimination distanced the new arrivals from rapid prosperity. Racism was also a factor at home. Many landlords refused to take in black families. This led to large concentrations of Caribbean immigrants moving into neo-slum districts – in places such London’s Brixton.

The general reaction – one of family unity and dignity – was a supremely human one. The new arrivals to the neighbourhoods, courtesy of the “Blues parties”, smashed it to bits. The sound of ska, and the emerging reggae beat, dropped every weekend. White kids made friends with the black kids. Ska’s 4/4 drums, and stress on the back beat, soaked into the rock of British popular culture, continually springing new rivers and tributaries.

That 2Tone Midlands sound is probably the most easily recognised assimilation of Caribbean culture, and rightly so. It sets a blue-print that you can hear in the dubstep sound now. Disaffected, dislocated, reactionary kids fused the aggression of punk with the funk of ska. Now you can hear atomised, paranoid kids combine London 2-step, jungle’s sub-bass and space-age synths with those unmistakeable ska sounds – the back-beat and the beautiful horns.

2Tone, British hip-hop, UK ragga, Jungle, Drum n Bass and now dubstep/grime are woven together by Britain’s history with the West Indies. The dubstep scene is yet another mutation of the sound of Jamaica’s youth that landed on these shores all those years ago. Prince Buster said that “true ska is music with a soul”.

Well, dubstep, I know you got soul.

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Article by MF Hart, photo by Bok Bok

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