Low Frequency or Bust: Joe Nice on the Watering Down of Dub Culture in America
The American dubstep ambassador shares the real reason he's no longer playing NYC's Reconstrvct parties.
Last week, the highly respected dubstep figurehead, Baltimore DJ, and Dub War founder Joe Nice left a mysterious note on his Facebook page: "No longer playing reconstrvct events. Time to move on. All the best to the crew." Nice was referring to Reconstrvt, New York City's most prominent dubstep party, which he has been involved with for years.
Founded over three years ago by Luke McCann and Scott Mosher, the no-frills event has worked tirelessly to push the ethos of soundsystem culture through all-night dub, reggae, and dubstep parties. Their Tsunami Bass soundsystem has been rattled by acclaimed UK artists like Compa, Youngsta, Kahn & Neek, and Gantz, as well as American mainstays like their resident DJ True Nature. Last year, they even hosted an international event at Europe's Outlook festival.
As the founder of Dub War, one of the first major dubstep parties in America, Nice is considered a sort of godfather to the scene. His sets have closed out the Reconstrvct parties for years, so this announcement was a shock to many fans. When we reached out to him to hear the full story on his decision to leave Reconstrvct, he ended up going deep on the current state of the dubstep scene in America.
THUMP You've been on the forefront of the dubstep scene here in America, but it's a movement that was born in the UK. What do you think was the key to its growth and longevity there? How can that be mirrored stateside?
Joe Nice: When dubstep got started around fifteen years ago in South London, there was nowhere to play that was specifically for dubstep. It was like, "OK let me just play some tunes at a friends house." Or you had a big drum 'n' bass party at Fabric, and in the second or third room you had a couple dubstep DJs. Eventually the sound grew to a point where dubstep could not be ignored as a "second room sound"- it not only had to be its own room, but a big room.
After a while you had these events catered to that sound, and a cultivation of talent in London that helped to build the events. That's why Plastic People closing was such a big deal-it's a place where worldwide stars started from. Pioneers like Benga and Skream have moved on to other sounds but they started out as FWD>>, and as London embraced them it grew and grew. Other cities in England like Bristol caught notice and became inspired. And that scene is so positive now! You have Kahn, Neek, Pinch, Headhunter, Addison Groove. So people are like, "Shit I think we can all go two hours north to Manchester." And look at all the talent that's come from Manchester, like Compa.
The only way to really grow these type of events and communities is to have good talent and continue to build on that in not only your city, but in your country. We did that at Dub War in New York City, and in the early days of Reconstvct. But now there seems to be less of a focus on cultivating the talent that is here that needs a chance to flourish, and there's more of a focus on bringing international talent for the sake of bringing in international talent. It's obviously OK to bring in some international acts, but when it's pretty much your entire lineup-then that's a problem.
What were some of the things you wanted to see happen with Reconstrvct?
I understand NYC and how difficult it is to consistently put on these events, but it just seems like the event lost its way in terms of maintaining that true bass-music culture and sound, as well as pushing artists that I feel should deserve more of an opportunity to play there. On the most recent lineup there's a whole lot more techno and drum and bass involved. That's not what this is about. This is not a multi-genre lineup and event, it's something that's supposed to be a soundsystem event that focuses on those sounds that lives closely within that culture-dubstep, dub, reggae. There's nothing about techno that says soundsystem.
Why do you think the organizers are choosing to move in that direction? Have you voiced your concerns?
I wish I knew. There have been plenty of times where myself and Scott (AKA True Nature) have spoken to the people in charge about suggested artists who we feel should be booked at this event. I'll admit I'm very disconnected when it comes to techno and I don't know drum and bass. I know dubstep, dub, and reggae, so my focus has been about getting those sorts of artists involved.
All of the performers we've had at Reconstrvct have been talented people, and ultimately Luke [McCann] has the final call. But after a while you feel like your suggestions to book people who closely represent what the motto of the event is-"low frequency with decency"-aren't being heard. That's not something I wanted to be involved in anymore.
You were one of the key people involved in Dub War. What were some of the things you did there that you hoped would happen with Reconstrvct?
For all intents and purposes Dub War was the first true all dubstep nights in North America, and what they did consistently was expose new artists to people, and focus on bringing in other artists from the USA that were doing things positively. When you're able to present that talent in your old backyard, you build off the success of that. Otherwise you begin to alienate yourself from the dubstep community, and it's is a small community. The last thing you want is to isolate yourself from other people in your own country.
So who are some of the North American artists that you think should be getting more attention?
Prism in Boston.
The Tornado in Chicago.
Unicorn Fucker in New Orleans, who has best dubstep nights in America- Church.
Subtle Mind from Los Angeles.
EshOne from Albuquerque.
Livingstone from Montreal.
Taal Maala from British Columbia.
You seem really concerned with building a homegrown scene here in North America. How does bringing in smaller artists to an event like Reconstrvct help this happen?
You can't plant seeds in someone else's backyard and wonder why you don't have seeds in your own that aren't growing. When somebody in a smaller local scene gets brought up to an event in a bigger city like a Reconstrvct, you have people who support the local scene that didn't pay attention before, paying more attention. That's how this whole movement evolved and grew.
There needs to be a focus back to the local artists who are on the rise, who are pushing the true sound. Some of the smaller cities out there don't have a lot of soundsystem stuff, but maybe if they see other guys in bigger cities like NYC, LA, and most recently, Denver, that might be their motivation to start something substantial there. None of these events start as huge successes, they start small. But when you build-you grow.