Mary Anne Hobbs is the definitive authority on all things dubstep and related to dubstep. A longtime music journalist, DJ, and fervent pusher of experimental beats and the intense, wobbly bass that defines the dubstep sound, she is touring the US in support of Wild Angels, the latest in her trilogy of compilations on the groundbreaking Planet Mu label. The first album in the series, Dub Warriors, along with her weekly show ("Radio 1's Experimental Show") on the BBC, are credited as pioneering forces largely responsible for blowing up the budding genre worldwide.
Hobbs has the same massive enthusiasm in our phone conversation as she does on the air, continually dropping huge phrases like "absolutely amazing" and "completely mind-blowing" in an excitable British accent. She explains, "I wanted to move beyond the core sounds of dubstep, techno, and hiphop and choose artists that are building their own causeways into the future, artists that are projecting forward from the more primary sounds we're used to hearing."
Despite the visionary language, Hobbs is incredibly humble about her influence on the popularity of dubstep and deflects some of the glory onto the internet generation. "There's an amazing sense of excitement about reducing the degrees of separation between people. There used to be all these layers of managers, and record labels, and club owners. Now you can hit people up one-on-one, it's fantastic. It's given the sound an amazing sense of forward movement."
Yet still Hobbs remains quick to recognize the resourcefulness of the dubstep scene as a whole. She explains: "Dubstep has created a blueprint for the way a scene can operate. Here is an entire scene that has remained 100 percent independent. Nobody is going cap-in-hand to the major labels or seeking any kind of patronage from the traditional industry at large. Every single artist is a master of their own destiny, and nobody compromised anything. They wanted longevity and they wanted control. Within dubstep, they found those two things, which is amazing.... It's what all musicians are looking for, really."
Of course Hobbs has helped this world develop with her acute sense for rooting out up-and-coming talent. Remaining modest, she simply attributes her success in doing so to an innate connection to sound. "There's no accounting for taste, really, everyone has a completely unique sense of what makes good music. If you love music, you're a great fan of sound—it touches you at the very soul. A great piece of music is more than a physical sense, it's spiritual," says Hobbs.
When the conversation turns to her listening habits, a stifling obsession emerges. Hobbs discusses her overflowing inbox, describes the internet as an overwhelming sea of sound, the impossibility of listening to every single song that comes her way, and how she still tries to cover everything despite the inundation. Her tone is absolute and genuine, even a little guilty at the thought of what may slip through the cracks. As she listens to music all day, then lays in bed awake at night worrying about whether she's done enough, it's obvious Hobbs' passion is unshakeable.
Pressed about her own importance in escalating dubstep and being known as a trusted curator of the sound, Hobbs goes from modest to self-effacing, and half-jokingly says, "I'm lucky because people come back to the radio show each week, and they trust me. But it's just because they know I'm a lunatic. I listen to music 10 hours a day. They're just thinking, 'This woman is completely possessed, she'll have the goods this week.'"