INTERVIEW: JOE NICE and the HISTORY OF DUBSTEP IN AMERICA, PART TWO
by Marcus K. Dowling
Dubstep’s American development was happening long before Joe Nice took his first (of now many) trips to the UK in 2002. UK’s drum and bass, garage and jungle were immensely popular, artists like Goldie achieving significant stateside renown and opening the style to US audiences. Dubstep was merely the next iteration of that growth. The growth was initially difficult, Joe Nice remembers. “Those of us at the start had to get the promoters and venues on a learning curve. We had to find people who knew how to present it. Most spaces were good for things like the Baltimore club I used to play, which was loud, brash and over the top, but dubstep’s bass hit in a very different way. It went against everything we (in the US) knew.”
Brooklyn-residing David Quintiliani is also known as DJ Dave Q, and connected with Joe Nice over a love of this most underground of American sounds. The underground promulgation of dubstep was a slow process, but when the duo launched the seminal (now semi-regular) Dub War party in June, 2005, it was the first time in America that an entire night was dedicated to dubstep. “There were nights where a dubstep DJ would play along with DJs playing drum and bass or breaks, but nothing totally devoted to it, no. Dave and I knew we wanted to do the night, and were in touch. We were listening to Horsepower Productions tracks and one of their side projects was called ‘Dub War.’ That name stuck.”
Dub War’s location and success in New York City spawned a plethora of DJs and producers nationally to create their own events. “San Francisco had Grime City, and there were nights in Chicago, Boston, Houston, LA, Seattle and Portland. There was soon asolid little crew of us solely playing (dubstep), cutting dubplates, we definitely got it. I don’t ever want to take the crown of being ‘the guy,’ but a lot of people saw that if we could do it in New York, they could probably do it, too.”
Key to dubstep’s spread was it’s growing prominence in underground channels. Still, times were hard. “This is when record stores were still major,” Nice recalls. “You would end up looking through records and import CDs, and if you saw somebody who had a dubstep record in their hands, you started a conversation, and it really spread like that.” The sound’s exportation back to the UK from rising US producers was notable as well. “Matty G, from the West coast released ‘50,000 Watts’ (in 2007), and that was huge! It was the first US track that anyone in the UK ever remixed (UK don Loefah took the honors), and really helped the American scene gain more respect in Europe.”
Nice’s own trips back to the UK as a recognized name in the US rise of dubstep were a unique time. “Wow. I wondered what they thought of me. I wondered if they thought I was a bit strange, wondered what I was doing there, if they saw how passionate I was. Thankfully they did.” Spinning sets for legendary pirate station RinseFM and at the legendary DMZ event helped increase the DJ’s renown. “Those sets were great, as the UK could see that I got the culture (of dubstep) and that I was invested in it. It was all love from there, and really f***ing wicked.”
As the scene grew in renown though, Nice’s singular focus on spreading the sound led to an odd answer when thinking about the rise of the next generation of dubstep practitioners in the United States. “I saw a bunch of people, and it’s not that I’m self-absorbed, it’s that I was just focused on getting the sound out there that I never stopped to say, hey, that kid that’s opening for me, he definitely has a future in this. In retrospect, I see everything now, and I definitely can look back and say, yeah, there were doors opening everywhere.” When contemplating the possible rise of an American superstar, Nice levels on the relative size of the scene as compared to today’s rabid fandom. “Superstars? No, that was harder to predict. There was no solid foundation yet. We had nights, but there were such a relatively small number of us that it was hard to predict. We started to get crowds, but you knew that a lot of the people who were showing up were still skeptical at heart!”
How then, does something so skeptically regarded evolve into pop music?
PART III TOMORROW!
For more information on Joe, follow him on Twitter at @joenicedj.