Concert review: Skream and Benga

By Evangelos Typist

The show kicked off with a set from Calgary’s dubstep masters Piranha Piranha, who played through a catalog of tunes from the halftime, wobbly sounds of 2005 all the way to the heavier, more intricate sounds of 2011– all dubstep, of course. The mixing was technically near-perfect and the overlapping ambient soundscapes of underground dubstep set a perfect stage for the extreme sounds of the DJs to come.

The building began to fill with eager dancers and it struck me that over these last few years, dubstep had risen from obscurity to its mainstream relevance at such a rapid speed that even the Flames Central crowd seemed have a colorful arrangement of both ravers and mainstreamers alike.

Local DJs Mark Instinct and Slim Pickins then played an onslaught of extremely heavy songs that seemed to take the party to a more aggressive and up-front level, which went over well with the packed dance floor. Between the eclectic mix of hipsters, hippies and frat boys and the dynamite factor of being so close to Halloween, the party seemed to be between a nightmare and a dream, depending on who you asked.

Comparing Piranha Piranha’s set with Mark and Slim’s is a perfect example of how the dubstep music scene has diverged in its sound, coming from basement UK underground sounds to an American stadium-rock status. While both are identified by the name “dubstep” on posters, there’s a massive difference between the two sounds.

I took this time to head backstage and take a break from the blasting music to check out the green room, where I was pleasantly surprised to meet with Skream, Benga and Sgt Pokes. They were extremely talkative and friendly guys. We joked about American wrestling in the ’90s, specifically the WWF group D-Generation X’s famous phrase “suck it,” a conversational point which they punctuated with making “X”s with their arms.

The first hour of Skream and Benga’s set was a fantastic mix of UK funky, electro, moombahton and other recent manifestations of dubstep at different tempos. It was clear after an hour and a half, though, that Skream and Benga had abandoned their UK roots and came to Calgary in full support of the more aggressive American sound of dubstep. The crowed reacted favorably, and the inclusion of Sgt Pokes intensified the buildups and breakdowns of songs as he shouted on the mic for crowd participation. Other highlights were when crowd sang along to their 2010 smash hit “I Need Air,” which came from “Magnetic Man” — a live project conceived in collaboration with UK dubstep artist Artwork that helped propel Skream and Benga into mainstream relevance last year.

The night went on and what started off as a perfect mix of all of the UK genres was fully dominated by the American sound of dubstep. The songs all began to sound the same and even nearing the two-and-a-half-hour mark I noticed Sgt Pokes’s enthusiasm for hyping the next track was depleting rapidly. Had there been no Sgt Pokes on the tour, I would probably have confused Skream and Benga’s set for any touring North American DJ, which was frankly a little disappointing.

Overall, the show as a fantastic mix of good things old and new, and forced both seasoned and recent fans of dubstep to embrace the different sounds — a large mixture of styles, both in the music and in the partiers. After attending this show, I can say one thing for sure — dubstep, old or new, is far from exhausted in North America, and will continue to dominate the electronic music scene in Calgary for some time to come.

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