Over the last week, I have been obsessed with the synergistic synthesis of classical music and electronic dance music—dubstep in particular—in the form of violinist Lindsey Stirling. Her music paints pictures, which is no surprise, considering Stirling writes, choreographs, directs and dances in the YouTube videos for all of her songs. Having discovered her songs before her videos, what immediately intrigued me was the classic confrontation of the past meeting the future.
When Dubstep and Classical Collide
With the futuristic sounds of the electronic dance music of dubstep, syncopated rhythms back the low frequency oscillation of the wobble bass (wub,) which create building tension that leads to the highly anticipated freedom of the signature bass drop. “[T]he drop possesses a unique power. It’s a marker for the precise moment in a huge tune when you can lose your head and be transported to a place where bundled energy and pure release meet,” Ian Friedman writes in djz
Dubstep is designed for dance, with roots in the party scene. Classical music, on the other hand, traditionally sought a sophisticated, high society audience. Manual dexterity, as well as complex harmony and structure, reign supreme. Played on traditional instruments, classical music begs to be both heard and felt—traditionally sitting down in formal settings. And yet…classical music, particularly in the role of the violin, pulls at the heartstrings. “There is something about classical music that evokes emotion. Whether it is the crescendo of the strings or a stab from the horns…” Live365 Internet Radio describes.
Where some might see a clash of style, structural focus and audience, Stirling recognizes the twin threads of passion and release that connect the two genres of music. In her deft hands, potential conflict is overcome by a funky fusion that is fresh and unforgettable. While British violinist Vanessa-Mae came to the stage sooner than Stirling with a self-described “violin-techno-acoustic fusion,” their styles are quite distinct, with the former leaning more toward her classical influences and having more dance-pop influence. The personal bio describing Stirling says: “imagine Vanessa Mae leaping through the pages of a Manga comic with Skrillex in hot pursuit.”
Stirling’s Humble Beginnings
Stirling grew up with classical music training, while raised in a Mormon community in Arizona. Originally intending to pursue a career in therapy, she found comfort in playing the violin during her struggle with an eating disorder in early adulthood. She was voted off America’s Got Talent in the quarterfinals in 2010, reportedly told by Piers Morgan that the world had no place for a dancing dub-step violinist. Undeterred, Stirling used that as motivation to begin composing.
Now a YouTube sensation around the world, Stirling caught the attention of more than 2.5 million subscribers with a series of original videos, all written, choreographed and directed by her. The videos have had more than 350 million views, according to Voxy. Stirling has also collected an impressive 1.3 million Facebook fans, at last look at the social media site. Her debut album has sold more than 150,000 copies in the U.S. alone, as well as went Gold in Germany and Switzerland—all without a major label backing her. She was recently signed to Lady Gaga’s management Company, Atom Factory.
Pop Also Delves Into Dubstep
While many modern classical musicians have adapted to modern sounds, pop stars are infamous for jumping onto the latest music mania—it appears that the meteoric rise in popularity of dubstep is no different. With Skrillex and Deadmau5 among the hottest names in music today—Skrillex won three Grammy Awards in 2013 alone, and Deadmau5 is considered one of the world’s most recognized and admired producers, having collaborated with the Foo Fighters, Cyrpress Hill and My Chemical Romance frontman Gerard Way. —it’s not surprising that their paths would eventually overlap with rock and pop. Singing stars are increasingly incorporating elements of dubstep, using what Miles Raymer in The Bleader describes as “its trademark synth-bass wobbles and breakneck rhythmic drops.”
Enrique Inglesias drops the bass on his new single “Heart Attack.” Celine Dion, the ballad crooner, released her latest single at the beginning of the month; Loved Me Back to Life(penned by another earworm writer Sia) features what Billboard describes as a “beat drop that could almost be described as dubstep,” with an electro dance beat backing her chorus. Even the sweet country/pop star Taylor Swift dabbled in dubstep last year with “I Knew You Were Trouble,” which added an appropriate edgy flavor to her song about love gone wrong. I knew Ellie Goulding had made it to the big leagues when dubstep superstar Bassnectar remixed “Lights.” And it’s no surprise ethereal singer and innovative musician Imogen Heap, known as the “digital diva,” and Bassnectar would join forces on “Telemiscommunications.”
Last year in The Bleader, Raymey predicted that what was once a novelty—dubstep on a pop album in 2012— would be “pretty much mandatory” in 2013. With Lindsey Stirling’s self-titled debut album, released at the end of August, dubstep officially met classical music as well.
The Magical Melodies of Stirling’s Debut Classical-Dubstep Album
Stirling’s debut album is a delicious blend of classical, Celtic folk music, dance, electronica and other musical flavors.“Crystallize,” which delves deep into dubstep and electronic music is the biggest hit. With nearly 71 million views to date on a video set in a majestic, snowy landscape, it features Stirling dancing gracefully through the landscape, in and out of icy caves, passing through day and night, while playing gorgeous, heart-piercing, lyrical violin melodies. When the bass drops, Stirling’s moves become stiffer, with more sharply-angled physical drops to the ground. “Crystallize” was the eighth most-viewed video on YouTube last year.
Yet “Moon Trance” is my favorite of the 10 tracks, with a fiddle-like violin that wouldn’t be out of place in a newgrass (progressive bluegrass) tune, set against dance rhythms and dark electronic, very cinematic themes. The video seems right out of the ‘80s with three friends coming out of a cinema wanting to take a shortcut home through a cemetery. Imagine a Thriller-like scenario ensuing: People rising up from the dead and dancing along to a zombie band, moving menacingly closer to Stirling, who seems only to be able to fend then off with her fierce violin playing.
In addition to songs for her album, Stirling has also recorded unique covers of the themes for Game of Thrones and Phantom of the Opera, video games like Skyrim, and songs by Michael Jackson and Rihanna. You can catch her latest videos and short comedy films at the Lindseystomp channel on YouTube.