First post draws on Bassweight, a new documentary about the dubstep scene coming out of South London. The film begins with a DJ leading the camera on a daytime tour of Croydon’s sidewalks, pointing out a nightclub here or there atop anonymous commercial buildings before ending up at (what else?) a record store. At some point our tour guide laments that none of the passers-by know about the city’s legacy as the birthplace of this electronic genre.

Watching the film, I’m struck by scenes it uses to depict the creative settings for dubstep: nightclubs not yet open for business, record stores specializing in 12″ singles, bedroom recording studios, bedroom pirate radio stations, a record mastering facility…  And lots and lots of establishing footage of dreary south London streets where (it should be remembered) no oneknows about dubstep—no one on the sidewalk or in cars whizzing by.

So where is the urban in dubstep? To narrow the question down, where’s the public? The documentary does a fine job of illustrating dubstep’s reach over the airwaves (with a nifty little section on how not to get your pirate transmitter taken down), but I recall a conspicuous absence of footage featuring people congregating face-to-face in public space under the auspices of music.  The relationship of the musical community to the city per se (as opposed to its underground nightclubs and private spaces) is illustrated in terms of isolation, distance, withdrawal.

(Interestingly, the one public space featured prominently in Bassweight where dubstep DJs, industry types, and listeners literally come out into the sun together is Amsterdam, for club gigs and drug tourism.)

Of course, many self-consciously urban genres of popular music have aestheticized the alienated relationship to the city. But hip hop, to name the likeliest example, also celebrated the public communion of strangers in the ritual of the block party. By contrast, it seems the city never really ‘hosts the party’ for dubstep.

Significantly, dubstep’s aesthetic and lifestyles seem really obsessed by this exclusion. Heads nodding to earbuds, hit-and-run graffiti landscapes, headlight traces of time-elapsed traffic: these are hauntings of the urban, not communions. How do we understand dubstep’s emphasis on the urban in light of—what do we call this?—the cloistered experiences of its artists and audience?