When a genre of electronic music gets big enough, and influential enough, to bleed into the pop hits of Snoop Dogg and Britney Spears, then it probably deserves a little recognition on terrestrial radio. So thought Live 105 DJs Jason "Menace" McMurry and Dallas Osborn, who built a new weekly mix show around dubstep, a form of tweaky electronic music that originated in London, and expanded to the United States about seven years ago. It's been popular in local clubs for quite a while, but conspicuously absent from the FM dial. Dallas and Menace saw themselves as arts boosters addressing a need.
"We saw that it was getting more and more popular in the Bay Area," Menace explained. "Like I run into my friend — she's an older, wine-drinking, Napa Valley hanging-out person. And she's like, 'Oh, I loooove dubstep." He snickered. "I'm like, 'What? Are you serious?"
The two DJs launched their show, called Wobble Wednesday, on February 16. They gave it a fairly low-stakes slot — 11:59 p.m. every Wednesday, right after the popular dating advice show, Loveline — which gave them room to experiment with the format and also didn't require any shuffling of other programs. The format, they said, was pretty all-inclusive: Thirty minutes of curated music, poached from Twitter feeds, local demos, and Internet sites like BeatPort.com, followed by a thirty-minute mix from a DJ of their choosing. Wanting their show to be more of a dubstep primer than a flashy showcase, the hosts tried to mix poppier stuff — e.g., Kreayshawn's "Gucci Gucci," or the latest banger from Los Angeles-based producer Skrillex — with tracks by local artists such as Amplive and Enzyme Dynamite.
So far, it's gotten mixed reviews from dubstep consumers in the Express office. One person said he really liked the June 29 show, which is currently posted on Live 105's web site. But he also admitted that his tastes skew a little more mainstream. Another guy dismissed the show after five minutes, calling it "bro-step," which is a pejorative term for dubstep that sounds lightweight and commercial. (The difference, experts say, is that dubstep emphasizes deep, low-frequency bass, while bro-step favors up-tempo dance beats and crazy oscillations.)
Dallas brushed off such criticisms. "We're not trying to cater to the cool kids," he said. "They'll never like it."
In truth, it's admirable that Live 105, a mainstream alternative rock station owned by CBS Radio, is taking a chance on dubstep at all. After all, no matter how popular it gets in the club scene, it's still an outlaw genre. It doesn't bear the stamp of a major label or corporate focus group.
But the station's music director, Aaron Axelsen, said that Live 105 has a long history of embracing music that's just a little to the left of what's commercially popular. Some would say that "long history" began with Axelsen. A native of Livermore, he came to Live 105 directly from college radio — until joining the alt-rock station as an intern in 1994, he'd worked for KCRH, the campus station at Chabot College in Hayward. Axelsen said that his show Subsonic, which airs on Live 105 every Saturday night from midnight to 3 a.m., is the longest-running electronic music show in the country. "It's always embraced cutting-edge genres within the umbrella of electronic music," he said, adding that Subsonic began incorporating dubstep a few years ago by playing records by the Dutch group Noisea and local producer Bassnectar.
Perhaps Wobble Wednesday — which takes its name for the low-frequency bass "wobble" that characterizes the genre — is just the logical next step. "It's kind of a mutated genre from you know, drum 'n' bass, grime, and two-step," Axelsen said. "Menace really recognized the growing popularity of dubstep, and felt it was strong enough to anchor its own show."
Menace agrees, pointing out that the show appears to have gotten a lot of traction thus far, even though they haven't checked the ratings yet (Axelsen doesn't want to "dissect" it too early). He says that Live 105 runs its web site through Wordpress, and out of hundreds of blog items that the station posts each day, the ones tagged "Wobble Wednesday" consistently appear in the top ten.
Not to mention dubstep itself is blossoming. Menace said his wine-drinking, Napa Valley friend isn't really an anomaly. Hip-hop heads and techno geeks also like dubstep. So do fourteen-year-olds from Walnut Creek. And heshers. And fans of cheeseball heavy metal, who would otherwise be listening to Limp Bizkit or Korn. (Actually, Korn just finished a collaboration with Skrillex, much to the horror of dubstep purists.) In fact, Pretty Lights and Bassnectar were a raging success at Outside Lands last year, spinning a dubstep-influenced mix of dance beats and wobble bass. "I thought I was at a Justin Bieber show," Menace said, remembering the crowd's rapturous applause.
Amplive elicited a similar response, helming one of the DJ tents at BFD. "He did this sick dubstep set, and it just felt so revolutionary," Axelsen said. "You could see people just getting blown away — they weren't really sure what it was, but you could see him just fuckin' them up, as he was spinning it." By all accounts, it was a beautiful moment.
Correction: The original version of this story identified Aaron Axelsen as the program director at Live 105. He is actually the music director.