Dubstep: the soundtrack to student protest

Angry students are marching to the beat of Digital Mystikz and Tempa T

Photo: Robjwells

Since it first swarmed Whitehall and stormed Millbank in early November, the burgeoning student movement has staged a series of vibrant protests with the kind of radical fervour not seen since the late sixties.

And like all iconic moments in time, it has developed a soundtrack: dubstep has permeated each of the previous four student demonstrations, causing young people to joyously jump around under the cold glare of riot cops.

But apart from the sound being used to whip up spontaneous dance sessions on the streets, dubstep is actually reflective of the new student movement as a whole and proves how important and empowering music is to protest.

Because the best thing about all four of the demonstrations was the colourful cross-section of those participating; the student spectrum was represented in full and any pre-determined protest stereotype has been abolished.

Young men and women from all walks could be found on the march, using both peaceful and radical tactics. Undergraduates read poetry to the police, college kids fighting for their EMA sang “Nick Clegg is a dick-head” and student anarchists formed a Book Bloc.

People felt a shared responsibility which bypassed class, age and cultural divisions.

Which is why dubstep was the perfect accompaniment – as a musical phenomenon, it is wholly inclusive and, like the ideology held by the student movement, an alternative to the mainstream.

You can find a multitude of personalities currently pioneering dubstep in a manner of different ways. Cotti, an ex grime MC who consistently allows London’s best MCs onto his tracks; Ramadanman, a middle-class Leeds alumni currently re-shaping the sound with tunes such as Work Them; Joker, a BMX enthusiast from Bristol who found fame with his trademark purple sound; Horsepower Productions, a group of scruffy stoners from Croydon credited with creating the genre…. The list could go on.

Bubbling since 2001, dubstep came into existence as a reaction to commercial UK garage. It provided a darker sonic aesthetic suitable for producers and listeners wanting to deviate from popular dance music. Its subsequent rise has been widespread and meteoric.

So when the DIY sound-systems appeared armed with hefty dubstep playlists, everyone gathered round. Hearing a whole bunch of young people sing the chorus to Tempa T’s anthem for disaffected, angry youth, Next Hype, while Millbank crumpled yards away, was a truly unifying moment.

The spaces that the sound-systems created on each march were reminiscent of the Reclaim the Streets movement, whereby a public space would be taken and appropriated by a mass of people in protest.

The court-yard outside the Conservative HQ, Whitehall road and Parliament square have all recently been turned into temporary autonomous zones in which people have danced by way of civil disobedience.

Music provides vitalising energy while on a march, comfort within the confines of a kettle. It can also be much more empowering than some of the vacuous podium rhetoric adopted by so-called leaders such as Aaron Porter.

The lead sample of Caspa’s Where’s My Money? remix (where an agitated voice asks “where’s my money?” before a booming bass drop) is much more succinct than anything Porter has been heard state. The tune played while people danced on desks in the foyer of 30 Millbank. The timing was lost on no-one.

A week later, when police moved quickly to contain thousands of people on Whitehall, sound-systems saved the day. Solidarity was found in music. If the march couldn’t proceed, then a party would be held instead. It’s a satisfactory way of inverting police tactics; whatever space is found is subject to full take-over.

It happened again when protesters avoided kittling for a good 10 miles, sound-systems in the thick of the movement, and last week, as the commons put the tuition-fee price hike to vote and the kids let themselves into Parliament square.

It would be foolish to call dubstep the sound of rebellion (classic soul, roots reggae, dancehall and bashment have all also been present); but as far as the past month is concerned, it is a sound that embodies the diverse participants and refreshing unity of the new student movement.

The ELL Sound of the Student Movement mix by ELL Audio

Sound of the Student Movement mix tracklist:

Digital Mystikz – Anti War Dub

Digital Mystikz is Mala and Coki. Their DMZ record label is one of the most revered and their DMZ club-night is widely regarded as the high altar, where subjects are invited to ‘meditate on bass weight’.

Major Lazer – Pon De Floor (Trillbass remix)

Pon De Floor is an all out anthem, no doubt. Only the snootiest of dance-floor musos reject the tune’s infectious vibration. Major Lazer’s debut LP Guns Don’t Kill People, Lazers Do is a colourful blend of mutant dancehall hits, Pon De Floor being everyone’s favourite. This remix bumps it into dubstep territory.

Tempa T – Next Hype (Plastician remix)

Next Hype is a total grime classic and made Tempa T an instant hero. Full of the mad energy that makes grime so fun, the tune soundtracked the fall of Millbank. Plastician provides the remix here, relaying the vocal over a half-step beat and surging bass bounce.

Skream – Guitar Hero

Croydon’s prodigal son currently has the world at his feet, mostly thanks to his involvement in the smash Magnetic Man project. Guitar Hero came out as part of the Croydon Dubheads (VOL. 2) compilation which featured the scene’s finest from south of the river.

Cotti Ft. Doctor – We Rise The Temperature

A great example of the cross over between dubstep and reggae. Huge sub-bass, upfront vocals and rootikal sounds abound. One to light up the dance every time.

No Lay + Silkie – Unorthodox (Kingdom remix)

A grime hit turned future bass banger; Kingdom delivers a brilliant rework, all carnival rhythms and two-step shuffle. The kind of dubstep-not-dubstep pushing its way into 2011.

El-B – Son De Cali

El-B is credited as one of the dubstep originators , fusing UK garage mechanics with a distinctly dark, bass heavy edge. Always on the accessible side, his productions from the day sound as fresh now as they did almost ten years ago. Son De Cali is example of his bright musical sensibility.

Collie Buddz – Come Around (The Widdler remix)

Great rework of a modern reggae anthem. As anti-establishment as it gets, and as soothing as it gets too. The Widdler has been knocking out great tunes for a while now; this remix has been floating around for a while and is firepower for any DJ bag.

TC – Where’s My Money? (Caspa remix)

One of the songs to really blast dubstep into the spotlight. Credited for ruining the genre with sweaty macho dancing and ‘wobble’ bass, but its one that can’t really be resisted. You’d be a fool not to shake a leg to this. As Millbank fell, Where’s My Money reigned!

Damien Marley – Welcome To Jamrock (Hereldeduke remix)

Bonus bootleg of Jamrock to finish. One to unite the kids. And example of how a sample can transcend genres and generations. The ‘out in the streets they call in murder’ call was originally uttered by Ini Kamoze  on World A Reggae, snatched by Damien Marley for his dancehall bomb and finally ends up in the realm of dubstep.


  1. Javi December 16, 2010
  2. Ned December 18, 2010
  3. learning2 March 23, 2011

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