I cannot tell a lie. As a high school teacher in my late twenties, I’ve often used music to connect to my students and retain youthful credibility. For years, my remedial knowledge of Lil Wayne, Drake and the pop infused flavor of the week (I’m looking at you, LMAFO), have kept me in the inner circle of teachers who have “swag” and “know what’s up.”
Unfortunately, this swagger bubble popped early this fall when my teacher’s aide asked to play his music during my prep. “Of course,” I reply. I’m always looking for a lesson in popular music, but soon my young assistant unleashed what only could be described as noise: harsh beats, pulsating synths, and no discernible hook. Had my classroom suddenly transformed into a Hollister minus the overwhelming aroma of axe body spray? Disgusted, I asked him to switch to something more my speed- any Sublime or Coldplay? He laughed, and replied, “Yeah, most old people don’t like dubstep.” To use their speak, What the what?!
I’ve always appreciated all music, but I could not wrap my mind around the new (new to me at least) genre seemingly sweeping the nation. I’d already embraced the major differences between my generation and the generation I teach. They are a far more visual group that require a fully aesthetic experience to engage. And though I was the among the first to sign up for Facebook and was an early adopter of Twitter, I can’t seem to embrace tumblr. I love taking pictures on my smartphone and posting them, but can’t see the allure of filter apps like instagram or camera+. This inability to appreciate dubstep represented the final step in the end of my youth, and I was filled with an overwhelming desire to hang on just a little bit longer, to fight the eventuality of the loss of youth.
Then I realized why I could not simply “get” dubstep, my mind was processing it as a purely audio medium. Dubstep is a rare experience, where, according to my students, you need to not just listen to the music, but “see” the music to experience it.
Seeing music, or experiencing music though multiple senses does not require drugs or other mind-altering materials. All people have felt and audio/visual/emotional experience. Think of a song that you may have been indifferent to or even disliked upon first listen, but then saw the video or a performance set to that song and suddenly love it. The aesthetic experience instigated a different experience than purely audio, and given the right context, can improve your opinion of the music. For me, this occurs most frequently when I watch my summer reality guilty pleasure, So You Think You Can Dance. When a song is used by a skilled choreographer and danced by a talented contestant, a new experience is forged.
I always considered Sting an alright artist, but after this performance (scroll to 1:04 to see the best parts), “Every Little Thing” got full rotation status in my main iPod playlist. Two more examples of songs that I had liked but loved after watching and listening: “Fallin” and “Misty Blue.”
With this new mindset, I went on YouTube and searched for videos by the ambassador of dubstep to the mainstream, Skrillex (for more on the love hate relationship with the half shaved headed 23 year old DJ). And though considered dub-lite, I was not disappointed with the video for “First of the Year (Equinox).” The little girl waging war on an evil pedophile storyline is enthralling, but the musicality of each movement was what drew me into true appreciation of the genre as a visual expression of the auditory experience. I may never fully understand, critique or “get it”, nor will I feature it exclusively on my playlists or actively blast it in my car, but I can now stop fearing dubstep as the end of my youth and appreciate it as an exciting, powerful new musical medium.