Underground genres rarely make the transition to the mainstream with their original ideas intact. Punk started in back alleys and small pubs as an original form of expression, but is so often seen as the overpriced, heavily marketed phenomenon that is pop punk. Death metal recently became popular through the lens of deathcore, a genre that took the trappings of death metal and made them extreme and cartoonish. And most recently, this has happened with a very unlikely form of music indeed — dubstep. The genre was born as an obscure form of electronic music in South London. Because of the combination of its similarity to two-step garage and its dub-influenced sound, it was christened dubstep by Big Apple Records in London, and grew in popularity to become a well-known underground music genre. People in the U.S. started listening to the Fabric Live sets featuring early dubstep stars Caspa and Rusko.
But then a mutation happened in the growth of this genre’s popularity. Artists like the much-abhorred Skrillex (aka Sonny Moore of From First to Last) and Excision came on the scene, and suddenly dubstep, at least as the public at large saw it, was a giant mess of glow sticks, kids in leg warmers and wobbly basslines with a lot of high end — and generally everything the genre originally strove not to be.
For some, that fifteen minutes of fame has already died out. But those who have been following the scene, and supporting it from the very beginning, know better. They know not only that is there an incredible amount of underground dubstep being created all around the world, but also that one of the biggest hotbeds of this form of music on the planet is right here in Denver, Colorado.
This is all thanks to Nicole Cacciavillano, the CEO and founder of Sub.mission, the dubstep promotion group based here. The organization is strong, pulling in some of the biggest names in the underground scene — Caspa, Youngsta, Mala and Truth, to name just a few. But it by no means neglects its Denver roots. Many local DJs, like DamnesiaVu, Subliminal and Triscloplox, cut their teeth opening up with other local DJs during Sub.mission’s Electronic Tuesdays. They are now opening for these bigger acts, going on tour and putting out music.
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Cacciavillano has made all of this possible through her drive and determination to get dubstep to the people and reveal the truth about this oft-misunderstood genre. “In 2006, I heard Luke Envoy’s ‘Honour Kill’ and was hooked,” says Cacciavillano. “I needed to know everything about the style of music that is dubstep. Dubstep did not exist in Denver, let alone America, really, at that time. I knew I had to change that. I wanted people to be as excited as I was about this new sound. I had a few friends who were down, and we started ransacking venues with sound systems and having a hell of a lot of fun.”
Instead of just having a short spurt of fun and burning out, Cacciavillano grew her company into a major player in the local booking scene. “Sub.mission brought dubstep to Denver,” she says. “We were among four other cities in America for the first four years. We all wanted to push a sound, a feeling — we are a community.”
Since starting Sub.mission, Cacciavillano has achieved a remarkable amount, and booked some stellar shows. Every Tuesday at Cervantes’ Other Side, she hosts Electronic Tuesdays, which features a local DJ competition as well as international headliners, and the last Friday of every month she holds Final Fridays, which always brings special artists to the table. It’s held in an art studio rather than a bar, bringing a DIY warehouse vibe to the shows. She also brought dubstep legend Mala here last year for a four-hour sunrise set in the mountains and booked an anniversary party with Goth Trad, Gantz, Commodo and Kahn headlining.
“Sub.mission is a dubstep company; however, the most important thing is, I book artists who care about music, their fans and the community,” says Cacciavillano. “That is what’s most important. Sub.mission is a family; it’s a refuge for people of all different walks; it’s a home. We keep our shows dark, not because we are opposed to light, but because in the dark we are all one. People lose their inhibitions and let themselves feel the vibrations. They don’t have to worry about the people around them laughing, because in Denver, all our eyes are down.”
“The one thing that truly separates Sub.mission from the rest is the true passion that we all share for not just the music, but for the community that has been brought together by this sound,” says DamnesiaVu, a local DJ and producer. “Mind you, any scene will have its rough patches, but Sub.mission has stayed true to itself since day one, and I feel that’s a major factor when it comes to the type of crowd that Sub.mission shows draw.
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“From the older jungle heads all the way to sixteen-year-old kids discovering the music for the first time, they can all be found under the same roof,” DamnesiaVu adds. “With the state that EDM is in at the moment, I feel it’s so vital to have something like this happening. This scene tends to eat itself alive sometimes, and when you can bring people together, the necessary healing happens. After the massive hype around dubstep began to gently fade, in the dust remained one of the most stable platforms for true artists to share their work with those who wanted to hear it.”
Despite her enthusiasm for the genre, Cacciavillano realizes that the very word “dubstep” has become tarnished in recent years. “Dubstep went from being an unknown to mainstream in a very short time,” she says. “Before 2010, the word ‘dubstep’ wasn’t tainted, because no one categorized the sounds yet. 2010 was the year that brostep took off. That sound sold out venues, brought kids in to rage and also gave Sub.mission the opportunity to showcase our sound to a different audience.
“Corporations started getting involved, and that’s when things changed,” she continues. “They rinsed out artists and the sound by having them play the same cities ten-plus times per year. The mainstream only knew that sound as dubstep, and when they got tired of that sound or a certain artist, they started looking for other avenues. To them, dubstep, or that sound, was dead. Sub.mission was there pushing our vibes like we had been from day one. We were able to move people through sound, not hype, and provide an escape for those looking for more from a sound they loved.
“Dubstep isn’t dead. You can’t kill something that lives in your heart.”