Your Questions: Exactly What BPM Is Dubstep?

Last updated 3 August, 2017

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Is it 70? Or 140? Pic from: webtaj
Is it 70? Or 140? Pic from: webtaj

Digital DJ Tips reader DJ-eZ writes: “I run Virtual DJ, and it shows wildly varying BPMs on different dubstep tracks. I also hear on the radio house music and pop music that has dubstep elements. Again, there seems to be no fixed BPM range like with house etc. My research shows that there’s also a debate about whether dubstep should be classified at 70BPM (on the kick drums) or 140BPM (on the hi-hats etc.). What’s right? And should I be concerned about this?”

Digital DJ Tips says:

Let’s discount the pop tunes (that could be any BPM really), and focus on the dancefloor tunes in this style.

Dubstep tends to be around 140BPM, but as you guess, it could also more usefully be around 70BPM, if you decide it “feels” spacier and slower. Both could be right for exactly the same tune, and your software may go either way with it too when auto BPMing for you.

Which BPM range you ultimately go with thus depends really on the style – but to an extent it also depends on what other music you DJ with. For instance, I DJ a mixed-genre bar set at my beach bar gig, which has material from ambient and chill out, through to slo-mo disco, nu-disco, house, and then broken beats / drum and bass. I play some mellow dubstep in my sets (and incidentally some mellow “liquid” drum & bass too, which is another genre that arguably shares the characteristic we’re discussing).

So, how do I classify my dubstep (and drum & bass) tunes? Do I lump them around 140BPM (for the dubstep tunes) and around 170BPM (drum & bass)? Or do I halve the BPMs and go with values around 70 and 85 respectively?

In my case, the answer is that I tend to go with the lower speeds, because I mix these tunes in to chill out music so prefer to have the two genres together when I sort by BPM. But say I were a dubstep DJ playing heavier, faster “feeling” tunes as well as the more mellow stuff. Or a drum & bass DJ who uses the laid-back material in his warm-ups but then develops into tougher drum & bass later. Then I would choose to classify them around 140 / 160BPM. This is what most people choose to do.

The bottom line is not to get too hung up about it. Always remember to look at the top and bottom of the BPM rages in your collection when you’re deciding what to play next (in case your new tunes have been auto BPMed at the other extreme by your software). And don’t be scared to half or double the BPM (even on the fly if you want) to suit where you feel a tune belongs in your collection.

And of course, don’t be scared to mix a half-speed tune into a full speed one. This DJ trick can be used to completely change the mood. While it’s a bit extreme in club sets, works well on the radio or in bars and lounges.

How do you classify the dubstep in your collection? Are you a DJ who plays mellower, spacier dubstep and prefers to tag it at 70-80BPM? Or is it all bangin’ 140+ in your world? Share your thoughts below!