The Rapidian

Uncle Jesse sets the record straight on dubstep

Dubstep producer Uncle Jesse talks about his inspiration for making music, genre constraints and why people need to shut up and enjoy the music. Uncle Jesse will be playing at City Lights Music Festival, at Calder Plaza August 17-18.

/Courtesy of Jesse VanDellen

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About City Lights

"In 2012 we are proud to announce the evolution of this amazing experience in Grand Rapids! City Lights Music Festival welcomes the next generation of music lovers, artists, college students, and young professionals who are the heart and soul driving Grand Rapids. 

With this being the largest electronic music event in Grand Rapids, there is already an enormous amount of energy focused on City Lights Music Festival. In 2012, City Lights Music Festival will be expanding to two days and more stages featuring a cooperation of local and global talent together fueling the era of electronic dance music."

Artists include Darude, creator of the mega-hit "Sandstorm."

/Courtesy of Jesse VanDellen

During the electronic music resurgence of the past few years, dubstep has made its way to the forefront of musical conversations as well as the headlining acts of many major music festivals around the country. This dubstep invasion has caused many conflicting opinions on what exactly defines the genre and why it has gotten so popular.

According to Grand Rapids dubstep producer Uncle Jesse, whose name is Jesse VanDellen, dubstep has defined boundaries.

“When I first got into dubstep, [it was] anything with low sub-bass, a kick [drum] on the one beat and a snare on the three beat with some really heavy sub-bass and at 140 beats per minute,” says Uncle Jesse.

While dubstep is what VanDellen has been focusing on in recent years, he has been playing music for much of his life. Around the age of nine, he realized he wanted to make music rather than just listen to it, and began to play guitar with some friends who now make up the band Quadraphonic.

“I stopped playing music altogether by like seventh grade,” he says. “The other guys had continued on, and I was kind of burnt out. I didn’t like practicing only guitar all the time.”

VanDellen didn’t want to be limited in just one instrument. He wanted to be a composer. In high school, he began to experiment with software that allowed him to loop samples. It wasn’t until 2008 at the music festival Rothbury that VanDellen was inspired to try to make electronic music.

“When I saw a lot of those artists like EOTO, Bassnectar, and The Crystal Method [at Rothbury], I was just like ‘holy crap, this is amazing. I want to do what those guys are doing.' Then, I got into dubstep because it was the newest up and coming genre,” says VanDellen.

Since then, dubstep has exploded all over mainstream culture, with many advertisers using the ear-catching dubstep sounds in commercials. Additionally, popular dubstep artists like Skrillex have forced the style through millions of speakers across the country.

According to VanDellen, ever since Skrillex won a Grammy the dubstep conversation has become less about the music and more about everyone arguing about Skrillex, and using him to define the whole genre. While Uncle Jesse dislikes the generalization, the attention dubstep has gotten has been beneficial for him.

“I actually like it now because when I go to play house parties, people dance to my [music],” says VanDellen. “It used to be people looking at me weird, saying ‘what is this crap, put on some Jay Z.’ Finally people understand the kind of music I make.”

The heavy, sometimes jarring sub-bass tones that make up dubstep have attracted many different groups of fans from dreadlocked hippy-types to flat brim hat-wearing frat boys. While this wide appeal has helped artists like Uncle Jesse, it has also spawned a feud among listeners of dubstep, with different terms like bro-step being created in an effort to segregate the dubstep fan base.

“Why kill the joy of music with pointing fingers about what kind of people like what,” says Uncle Jesse. “I used to care a lot more. There are so many ongoing debates about stupid stuff that doesn’t accomplish anything. I just see so many people focusing more energy in [debating] than they are into their music. That’s not even cool; music is rewarding, feuding with people is not."

Part of the reason Uncle Jesse doesn’t like to harp on subtle differences within the genre or people’s taste is because he sees music on a grander scale.

“I don’t see myself as a dubstep-only musician. Everything I’ve learned in music has been universal and has been stuff that I can use to make different kinds of music,” he says. “Why do [people] have to take the fun out of music by calling it a name? Just enjoy it, man.”

Uncle Jesse will be playing City Lights Music Festival, which takes place at Calder Plaza August 17 and 18.

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