In the last article we examined the various components used in dubstep, including the 2-step groove, the wobble bass, and the rewind. Now let’s take a look at some influential and real-world dubstep patterns and tunes. The following transcriptions are meant not to be an all-inclusive list but rather a good entrance point for the genre. I’ve included early innovators alongside many of today’s more pop-infused tracks.
As you’re reading through each example, keep in mind that the notated grooves are just the basic structure of what to play. It would be impossible to notate every little sound and texture within a dubstep track. Therefore it’s open to interpretation.
In this section I have transcribed many of the early innovators of the dubstep style. These grooves feature dubstep’s hallmark rigid half-time beats and syncopated hi-hats, as well as the occasional quarter-note triplet. Each producer is very playful with sonic textures as well. Where appropriate, I’ve done my best to notate the additional sounds.
Digital Mystikz, “Earth a Run Red” (139 bpm)
This track is influenced by Jamaican dub and features an extremely heavy groove. There’s a hi-hat accent notated on the “&” of beats 2 and 4, which is actually a white-noise type of sound. As the track progresses, the groove expands with additional hi-hat variations and subtle kick drum additions. Here’s the main pattern. (0:27)
Digital Mystikz, “Anti War Dub” (140 bpm)
This track has a heavy two feel, and the half note is at 140 bpm. The second stave is a bongo-esque sound, which you could also voice on a second snare, conga, or other percussion instrument. (0:41)
Benga, “Killer Step” (139 bpm)
Here, Benga utilizes multiple hi-hat parts alongside a heavy half-note kick/snare pattern. The lower stave outlines a quiet second kick drum and synth bass part. (0:54)
Benga, “I Will Never Change” (140 bpm)
In this groove, Benga employs a very heavy and dub-like kick and snare sound. He also substitutes an electronic ride cymbal for the hi-hat. You should use a high-pitched, washy cymbal when playing this pattern. (0:55)
Burial, “Wounder” (141 bpm)
This eight-bar phrase is quite interesting yet repetitive. The lower stave features a very quiet and distant-sounding rimclick part. (0:10)
Coki, “Mood Dub” (136 bpm)
“Mood Dub” is very repetitive but sonically diverse. In both measures, the “&” of beat 2 features a powerful synthetic clap. The last 8th note in the second bar employs a dry, staccato clap as well. (1:41)
Kode9, “Black Sun” (130 bpm)
This cyclical pattern features rimclick and snare hits in each measure. (0:00)
Kode9, “Magnetic City” (141 bpm)
Kode9 keeps the same structure throughout this groove, while intermittently adding additional hi-hats and snare fills that decay into the background. (1:27)
N-Type, “Early Door Jaw” (140 bpm)
Multiple sounds are used in the intro of this tune, including three hi-hat tones and two distortion variants. A long, gated white-noise distortion is used on beat 3, which is layered with a snare. There’s also a scrape-like distortion on beat 2 of measure 1 and on the “&” of beat 4 in measure 2. These devices continue during the bass drop, but the hi-hat remains on one pitch and employs 8th notes throughout. (0:00)
N-Type, “Tolerance” (139 bpm)
Here, N-Type maintains the same kick and snare structure while adding hi-hat rhythms. (1:12)
At 4:22, a bongo-type sound is placed on top of the established groove that begins at 4:02.
Skream, “Midnight Request Line” (140 bpm)
Skream employs rests within the intro. In the riff sections, the “a” of beat 3 is placed on a second synthetic 808-inspired kick. In the second riff section, a second hi-hat is added on beats 3 and 4. These are straight and robotic compared with the rest of the groove. (0:24)
Skream, “Rutten” (140 bpm)
Skream programs the intro drums in this track in a very hip-hop-like manner. The 16th notes are neither straight nor swung but are rather in the cracks between. During the bass drop, the semi-shuffled dotted-8th/16th fragment is moved to beat 3.
These grooves feature many of dubstep’s hallmark rigid half-time beats and syncopated hi-hats alongside popular mainstream verses, choruses, and hooks.
12th Planet and Juakali, “Reasons” (Dr. P Remix) (141 bpm)
This vocal composition features four distinct sections and groove variations. Fat kicks are used alongside wide clap samples, and a ride cymbal is employed during the riff section.
The Bug and Warrior Queen, “Poison Dart” (143 bpm)
This static groove has a winding hi-hat pattern and a snare decay fill on beat 3 of each bar. In addition, the snare pitches upward in bar 1 and downward in bar 2. (0:17)
Katy B, “Katy on a Mission” (138 bpm)
This tune utilizes two hi-hat pitches and employs a slightly swung 16th-note fragment on beat 4. The hi-hat on beat 4 should be played as a long, slightly open note. (0:41)
La Roux, “In for the Kill” (Skream’s “Let’s Get Ravey” Remix) (138 bpm)
Here, there’s a static groove alongside a gated snare and punchy kick. (1:49)
Skrillex, “Scary Monsters and Nite Sprites” (141 bpm)
Although most purists may consider this song “brostep,” it did make US listeners aware of the dubstep genre. The intro and bass drop grooves are very traditional, with their 8th-note hi-hat, gated snare, and slightly syncopated kick patterns.
At 2:52, the hi-hats alternate pitches and become busier.
I hope you continue to explore the historical lineage of electronic music. Just as we study the evolution of Dixieland, swing, blues, and jazz, I suggest that you also delve into Jamaican dub and see how it influenced hip-hop, house, techno, U.K. garage, and dubstep. As in those more traditional styles, each dub-influenced artist borrows from the previous generation. Plus, each new stylistic development is often linked to an advancement in technology. In short, electronic music has traceable roots and a deep lineage worthy of exploration by drummers of all genres. Have fun!
Donny Gruendler is vice president of curricular development at Musicians Institute in Hollywood, California. He has performed with DJ Logic, Rick Holmstrom, John Medeski, and Rhett Frazier Inc. For more info, visit donnygruendler.com.