“Darkstep” is an offshoot of drum and bass music that began to take shape at the end of the 1990s. Like other drum and bass subgenres, its musical characteristics include heavy use of sampled breakbeats and synthesized bass and the overall song structure and length is consistent with jungle and other drum and bass styles.
However in contrast to more mainstream drum and bass artists, darkstep producers create a gloomier mood in their music through the use of atmospheric synthesizer melodies, film samples and influences from industrial and other alternative genres of music. Nonetheless the main focus of darkstep tracks tends to be the combination of the often distorted and “twisted” lead bass sound and the heavy drum beat. Additionally, rather than sampling breakbeat loops played by actual drummers, as is the norm in other drum and bass genres, darkstep producers often write their own drum loops using drum machines (either hardware or software based).
While other drum and bass and breakbeat genres of music often include an MC during live performances, this is seldom the case in darkstep. A similarity with other live drum and bass sets, however, is that darkstep producers rarely play live instruments during shows and instead make use of DJ equipment to create live mixes of their (and other artists’) tracks.
The term “darkstep” is regularly used interchangeably with the terms “techstep” (from which the word “darkstep” is derived) and “neurofunk,” though some within the drum and bass scene argue that these are separate (though highly similar) subgenres. The general contention is that “techstep” includes more influences from hardstyle and hard techno genres while darkstep is simply (as the name implies) darker and more minimal.
Geographically, darkstep is most often associated with Europe, where it originated. Specifically, the split between early drum and bass and jungle sounds and darkstep took place in countries like the Netherlands, Germany and the United Kingdom around 1996. To a lesser extent the genre also enjoys niche popularity in North America and South Africa as well.
Important darkstep producers include names like Ed Rush, The Panacea, Teebee, Counterstrike, Edgey, Black Sun Empire, Current Value and Technical Itch. Record labels such as Metalheadz (UK), Renegade Hardware (UK), Prspct (Netherlands), Moving Shadow (UK), Subtitles Recordings (Norway), Freak Recordings (UK) and Outbreak Records (UK) have also helped to popularize the genre.
The recent surge in popularity of the related genre of Dubstep has led some to question the future of darkstep, with many darkstep and drum and bass producers making a switch to releasing more dubstep-oriented tracks.