All posts by Guest Contributor

[[Sound off]]: Love to Love You, Disco.

By Maurice Long

 

Disco is a genre that rarely appears to be taken very seriously and, in the present day, often seems to be disregarded as novelty music that people do not genuinely believe to be of supreme quality. However, during its emergence from the late 1960s to the 1970s, it represented a very important outlet for a lot of people who, away from the dancefloor, were the target of much discrimination at this point in history. As well as this, revisiting a lot of disco music is an enjoyable thing to do because, despite how it sometimes tends to be perceived today, it is a genre that produced a considerable amount of very good music. It went though something a crisis with the ‘Disco Sucks’ campaign and the film Saturday Night Fever, which seemed to ignore so many of the important themes that were at the centre of the disco movement but, through a retrospective look at the disco scene, it is clear that it deserves a lot more respect that people have often been willing to give it.

The origins of disco and its initial popularity are usually traced back to the DJ David Mancuso and his parties at The Loft in New York in the early 1970s. An Alex Petridis article in The Guardian after Mancuso’s death in 2016 says: “The crowd Mancuso’s parties drew were pansexual and racially mixed – about 60% black and 70% gay, according to one estimate – a gathering of ‘the disaffected and disenfranchised’”. This was in the wake of the 1969 Stonewall Riots, which had empowered communities who had been consistently targeted by police and oppressed for so long and had led to the formation of groups like the Gay Liberation Front. The music and nightlife were important as a means of exercising that liberation and as expression for racially and sexually diverse groups of people. Musically, what Mancuso played was dance music that had its origins in funk, with distinctive basslines and horn sections. These characteristics can be heard in songs like Manu Dibango’s 1972 jazz-funk hit ‘Soul Makossa’

Donna Summer
Grace Jones’ Portfolio

Artists such as Donna Summer and Grace Jones emerged as standout stars of the genre. Particular highlights from their respective discographies include Summer’s 16-minute disco epic ‘Love to Love You Baby’ from 1975 and Jones’s irresistibly funky bass-driven 1977 reworking of Edith Piaf’s ‘La Vie en rose’ from her first album, Portfolio. The sexual liberation that disco fans were enjoying was reflected in the music. The lyrics to ‘Love to Love You Baby’ are punctuated by moans that are clearly there to emphasise the intensity of the sexual experience the song appears to be referencing.

The early years of disco were characterised by freedom and diversity, and also by musical innovation. Nicky Siano, a DJ who opened his club The Gallery in 1973, is acknowledged as the pioneer of various new DJing techniques, such as beatmatching and the use of multiple turntables. As an interview on the Vinyl Factory’s website highlights: “In the history of DJ culture, Nicky Siano’s presence looms large. His club The Gallery was instrumental in forging the disco culture of the 1970s in New York, while his technique on the decks helped further the art of mixing records as we know it.” In terms of the history of dance music as a whole, Siano’s innovation that was central to the disco scene in New York has been very influential.

It was not just in the USA where disco took off. It was also prominent in European popular music. Boney M, made up of four vocalists from the Caribbean but formed in West Germany in 1975, were particularly successful. Musically they had unmistakably disco elements but also took inspiration from reggae. Their live performances were characterised by the energetic dancing and costumes of Bobby Farrell and they enjoyed chart success throughout Europe with singles such as ‘Daddy Cool’ and ‘Sunny’ as well as the uniquely unforgettable 1978 track ‘Rasputin’.

ABBA were also involved with eurodisco and remain one of the most successful bands of all time. The disco tracks that these acts put out may be a bit poppier and perhaps less interesting than the music of Donna Summer and Grace Jones but they are still fun to listen to and the early days of disco were all about people having the freedom to express themselves and have fun in a way that had previously not been so open to them.

The release of 1977’s Saturday Night Fever, starring John Travolta, brought disco very much into the mainstream. However, what was represented in the film was not a particularly accurate depiction of the disco scene. It centred on white, heteronormative characters and was soundtracked by the Bee Gees. It would be difficult to describe it as a celebration of the racial and sexual inclusivity that was so fundamental to the development of disco music and dancing.

While Saturday Night Fever’s portrayal was perhaps unhelpful for how disco was received, the ‘Disco Sucks’ campaign, started by rock radio DJ Steve Dahl, was to prove more damaging. As a Hadley Meares article for Aeon describes: “Dahl saw disco as slick and inauthentic, and he took to playing popular disco tunes, only to ‘blow ’em up real good’ with sound-effects live on-air.” He had a lot of fans who agreed with him and the movement kept growing. This culminated in the 1979 public demolition of many disco records and subsequent riot at a Chicago White Sox baseball game. Dahl distanced the movement from racism or homophobia but it did involve many young white men who appeared to find the disco scene, which welcomed so many marginalised people, threatening to their notions of constructions of masculinity.

Disco did slow down and the scene became less prominent into the 1980s but it is impossible to deny the influence that it has had on popular music styles since then. It undoubtedly deserves to be loved and appreciated for what it represented, and for the joy and freedom that the music communicated.

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Music mentioned can be found here:

[[Sound-off]] Post-Punk: The Big Bang of Modern Music

By Daniel Holstead

After the dust cloud of the Sex Pistol’s implosion had settled, there was no time for Punk’s eulogy as our dear music culture at the time wasn’t particularly into grieving for the era that has just been and gone. And so with that mentality the music scene had decided that an almost page-one-rewrite was needed for the coming era.

 

Gone was the righteous hegemonic masculinity of punk rock where men were Neanderthals in expressing a deep rooted rage at the establishment and everything it stood for. These punk rockers were unprepared for the likes of Joy Division and the kind of earnestness that Ian Curtis would bring to dark dystopian guitar work and tribal drum beats figuratively exploded the heads of those who once engaged in the slamdancing and spit fights of the mid-to-late 1970s. Where punk had been the liberation of a generation, post-punk was the rising of underground music to a mainstream that needed a new direction.

 

The post-punk moment in music was one which ignored the doctrine of the time before it and raided the pre-punk chest of the whole of prog rock, the androgynous sexuality of Roxy Music and perhaps most importantly balls-to-the-wall all out craziness of Captain Beefheart. While this type of music had been viewed as stale when the likes of The Ramones and The Clash set fire to them in the mid 70s, it was the new pioneers of the Talking Heads and The Cure who found in this the key to a new future. Whether it’s David Byrne reciting Captain Beefheart’s ‘Well’ or getting former Roxy Music member Brian Eno to produce the pivotal post-punk album Remain In Light, it is easy to find the fingerprints of pre-punk all over post-punk.

 

While 1977 had been the year that gave us Never Mind The Bollocks which had become the holy scripture that the Sex Pistol’s brought down from the mountain top of counter-culture, David Bowie and Brian Eno were putting out what Bowie described as “new language” what was particular interesting, about these release in hindsight is how the experimentation of Low and Heroes had been unprecedented.  On one hand it was being described as “alienating” by a Dutch journalist and on the other was being regarded by the New York Times as “a strange crossbreed of Roxy Music, Brian Eno’s own solo albums, Talking Heads and an Indonesian gamelan”.

 

With this response to Bowie’s Low, it is easy to identify how post-punk was melting the minds of a music audience whilst feeding them the conventions of the early 1970s rock music which punk had attempted to erase from the archives of popular culture. While we could of course talk at great lengths about the krautrock influence on David Bowie’s work in Berlin and how he appropriated the sounds of Neu, Can and Kraftwerk for his very western and very large cult following, it is important to accept that David Bowie is to this day being cited by contemporary pop artists such as; Lady Gaga, St. Vincent, Calvin Harris and Lorde and it is this period of work that is time and time again referenced as his greatest imprint on music.

There is also a separate discussion to be had on Brian Eno’s influence on the colourful landscape of modern music.

Eno and U2 as part of the Passengers project (1995)

Whilst Brian Eno began his career as a producer by working on the various cornerstone records of post-punk and new wave, it was from this that he became the master of turning big bands into great bands. When it came to U2, he turned them from the biggest cult post-punk band into THE biggest band of the late 1980s and 1990s. This was evident in the various reinventions in U2’s career that begun Eno-produced The Unforgettable Fire and had continued through until the late nineties. U2 of course also being a product of early post-punk influences courtesy of the sounds of CBGBs with Television and Talking Heads having a large influence on the Irish band along with the dystopian experimental sounds of British bands Joy Division and Wire. Then there is the sequel to U2; Coldplay who enlisted Eno as producer on their Viva La Vida and Mylo Xyloto which spawned a variety of anthemic pop songs that topped worldwide charts. None of this could have possibly happened without Eno’s beginnings as a member of glam rock outfit Roxy Music and the subsequent genre fusing that led to post-punk.

Of course there is the highly influential feminist post-punk bands such as; Au Pairs and The Raincoats who can share the acclaim of heavily influencing nineties alternative rock acts such as; Nirvana and Pixies. It is documented that Kurt Cobain had high praise for The Raincoats and went as far as to listing their self-titled debut in his top 50 albums of all time as well as being credited as being a reason for their mid-nineties reformation. The Raincoats’ amateurish punk sound had been the framework for the sound of Nirvana, not only in its bare bones approach to a defiant rock sound, but in its both personal and often self-celebratory spirit which is reminiscent of the few and far between almost joyous moments of Nirvana’s short career, a key example being ‘Silver’  and ‘Been A Son’.

So while it is only quietly, you will find admission of post-punk’s wide ranging influence on the music of today and a lot of what has transpired since it faded into the early 1980s, once David Bowie’s work with Brian Eno is considered as being a sort of genesis for post-punk and those whom took influence from Low and Heroes in this period, it is easier to find how the roots of post-punk led to a portion of the popular music of today. And perhaps the most key example of this can be found here

[[Sound off]]: From Starfish to Stardom

By Lauren Rackham

They used to be bland and boring, now, they give it all for an adventure of a lifetime

For a newly upcoming band in the alternative rock spectrum, it’s quite difficult to make everyone instantly like you. For Coldplay, their music was arguably non conformist to the alternative rock ‘n’ roll stereotype, much to the extent that many people sought to reject their musical style and seek something…let’s just say, a bit more “rebellious”.

 

Since then, the band have faced mass amounts of scrutiny from fans of the genre for their lack of rock ‘n’ roll significance, going as far as branding them as being very bland.

 

Why, you might ask? Rock bands such as Rage Against the Machine use their songs as platforms to voice their opinions of society. Listening to Coldplay, there’s no underlying issues raised in their work.

 

What does ‘Fix You’ mean? Are they voicing their opinions on the political, economic or societal state of the world? No, they’re singing about love. Richard Bradley, a writer for the Huffington Post, argued that Chris Martin’s ‘songs ought to be more political, less personal.’

 

Take this into account and substitute the “in your face” guitar distortion that is often associated with rock, for sweet melodic piano driven relaxation vibes. Subvert the riotous singing for calm undertones of a peaceful serenade from a leader that in the eyes of Andy Gill thinks is, the ‘world’s least impressive rock star by virtually any criteria connected with rock’n’roll’ and you get an alternative rock band that isn’t really much of a rock band at all…or at least, perhaps one without a cause.

 

As sad as it is, people actually use that about Martin as an excuse for disliking him and the band, and arguing how dull they can be…truth is, if they were really that boring, then why is it that they are still relevant sixteen years later?

 

According to Forbes, the band earn $88 million as the eighth highest paid celebrity in the entertainment industry, having apparently sold over ninety-three million records with seven incredible albums, by which, according to Official Charts, all reached the number one
spot in the UK charts.

 

For the decade of the noughties, Coldplay released Parachutes,

Coldplay, X&Y album released in 2005
Rush of Blood to the Head, X&Y and Viva La Vida. Ultimately Coldplay are known for their consistency within albums. Even though X&Y was least favoured by some as Adam Silverstein demonstrates, it obtained the number one spot in the UK Official Charts for four consecutive weeks, containing top notch singles like ‘Fix You’ and ‘Speed of Sound’.

 

A collaboration with Johnny Cash, having only made it to the written stage as he unfortunately passed away before recording could be done. This was a major victory for Coldplay because if they were so tasteless, then why would one of the most iconic figures from rock ‘n’ roll history want to collaborate with them?

 

In fact, why would artists like Beyoncé, Jay Z, Rhianna and the Chainsmokers, want to collaborate with artists that had a reputation for being uninteresting? How would this profit themselves? Yes, so Beyoncé may have turned down a song before and said it was ‘awful’
but every artist has the occasional bad song but lets not forget she did collaborate with them for their newest album, A Head Full of Dreams, lending her vocals to ‘Hymn For the Weekend’ – they must’ve done something right?

 

Coldplay have blossomed in the spotlight; by embracing their blandness critiques, they’ve managed to constitute it for a more emotional performance. So much so, that having been emboldened to try new things, visually and sonically, came with great success and relevance throughout the years.

 

Although they have no political stance, they’re admired by fans around the world for being different. Martin himself has stood his ground for over a decade cultivating a genre that was full of stereotypical madness.

 

Even though some lyrics may be considered border-line cringe – singing about generic love and loss (lost in translation to someone who’s tired of hearing those things, yes, it can be a little boring) but, the music is expressive.

 

Coldplay live

The emotion in Martin’s voice, the soul in the music; how it can make you smile, laugh and cry, all at the same time reflects all the attributes of an amazing artist and experience.

Despite whatever criticism Coldplay have received in the past about their songs, their performances have been beyond a dream, enough to have millions of fans worldwide eagerly wait on the edge of their seats for tour dates and tickets to be released.

 

Following the release of their newest album, A Head Full of Dreams, on 4 December 2015, the same album which won Best British album of the year at the Brit Awards in 2016. Touring started near enough immediately, having first appeared at in Buenos Aires, Argentina on March 31 2016.

 

Still performing around the world just over a year and a half later, there’s no denying the band’s determination is inspirational. Aol reported back in 2016 that, a ‘second round’ of dates had to be ‘added across Europe’ because the 2017 tour had ‘sold out in minutes’. At present, Coldplay are still adding tour dates on thanks to the major stadium sell outs and the cry for more dates.

 

No one can argue that their journey from Starfish days, singing in local pubs to global sell out stadiums has become anything but an adventure of a lifetime. They’ve provided their fans with enough memories in one night, to last them a lifetime – I’m sure of this because I still remember 
July 16 2016 at Wembley Stadium like it was just yesterday – firework and confetti explosions, inflatable surfing, laser beams, illuminous colour changing bands that lit

up by nightfall. Martin running, jumping and leaping in all directions of the stage, it appeared like he didn’t care if his vocals were a bit pitchy and his dancing was a bit outdated…but neither did I or the thousands of other fans that paid hundreds to see him and fellow bandmates either.

 

Still sound boring to you?

 

[[SOUND OFF]] is a series of student-written features on artists/albums/music worth checking out

[[Sound Off]] Nostalgia Chip: The Appeal of Chiptune

By Michael McKitterick michaelmckitt@gmail.com

Back in September 2016, Square Sounds Tokyo held its annual gathering for musicians from around the world to come and perform ‘chipmusic’ live. This genre, more commonly known as ‘chiptune’ (which is how I’ll be referring to it hereafter) or ‘8-bit’, refers to the creation of electronic music using sound chips commonly found in vintage computers, game consoles and arcade machines. If you need an example, think of the original ‘Super Mario Bros. Theme’. That’s chiptune before ‘chiptune’ even really existed as we know it today.

Chiptune setup
Chiptune tracks are often created on actual GameBoy hardware using special ‘tracker’ software

Upon watching a performance from Irish musician Chipzel (Niamh Houston) at Square Sounds, I began to wonder why so many people, including myself, enjoyed listening to music from this relatively niche genre. It seems odd, as a society, to have made so many technological advancements in music and sound quality over the past few decades and yet still occasionally rely on creating music through this method that existed purely due to technological limitations.

Let it be clear that this is not a ‘new’ genre. It has existed since the early 1980s, ever since equipment such as personal computers and video game consoles became outdated and hence more accessible to creative individuals who wished to use them for sound or art purposes. The reason I think many people see it as a new genre is because it sticks out like a sore thumb now more than ever because of, as I say, advancements in technology, as well as the simplistic nature of the sounds used in chiptune. Most people associate this genre with the soundtracks of video games in the ‘70s and ‘80s, such as Super Mario Bros., Tetris, Sonic the Hedgehog etc. The fact it has made a comeback from the 2000s onwards is bound to confuse many who didn’t think there was a market for ‘video game music’. With the release of consumer software (such as LSDJ, a GameBoy cartridge created specifically for creating chiptune music on the console) from the late 2000s-early 2010s, there has been a sharp rise in the number of people utilising these old-school sounds, including popular mainstream artists.

For enthusiasts, it likely elicits a very strong sense of nostalgia. It takes them back to a time where they were playing video games as children. In this sense, they experience a sense of loss – a longing to return to this simpler, worry-free time, and the consumption of this music genre helps to bridge that gap. It sounds odd that a certain genre could achieve this. Nostalgia is usually specific – associated to a specific artist, song, phrase or lyric – but chiptune is such a distinct and recognisable genre that it can be linked to almost any video game from the ‘70s and ‘80s. Keiji Yamagishi, composer for Ninja Gaiden, chimes in on the appeal of chiptune, and states that “it’s difficult not having any limitations. I feel like I was being tested.” It’s an interesting concept – having technological limitations could actually make you feel less pressured to outdo other artists or create something incredible – it gives you a sense of focus. This familiarity would understandably benefit both composers and listeners.

But technological advancements in music and music production have not been lost on some chiptune artists. While some do create ‘pure’ chiptune tracks, using nothing but these old-school sounds for every instrument, including drums, bass, keys etc., the majority incorporate chiptune sounds into other styles of music. This creates many different subgenres of chiptune, including one that I found particularly interesting – Nintendocore. Yes, you read that right. Take a listen to ‘Four to Six‘ by Math the Band. They have found a way (and they are not, by any means, the only artist to do this) to combine punk rock and chiptune. Two genres that are very different from one another, but they somehow work. Other examples include EDM mixed with chiptune, courtesy of the aforementioned Chipzel (which, as a sidenote, works wonders live) and even orchestral rock (Curious Quail’s Rallying Cry). I’m not sure why any of these work, but they do. I’m the last person to be listening to punk rock, but throw some chiptune in there and I love it. It brings that sense of nostalgia and familiarity to any genre it’s paired with – it’s hard to explain

However, the (potential) problem with chiptune is that it generally doesn’t have lyrics. Much like the video game soundtracks it emulates, chiptune creates its melodies through instrumentation rather than vocal work. This makes it harder to break through into the mainstream, which is why many notable songs that feature chiptune (such as Ke$ha’s ‘Tik Tok’) simply sample it and use it sparingly as a background instrument rather than the main focus. A few artists, however, have created chiptune-centric tracks with vocals, such as the Somerset-based duo You Love Her Coz She’s Dead. These artists, however, very rarely see mainstream attention. Perhaps the most mainstream artist who can be considered ‘chiptune’ would be Crystal Castles, but even then, it seems to take a back seat to EDM in their songs.

Chipzel live
A shot of Chipzel performing live in 2015

This, ultimately, leads to it becoming a very niche genre, and seen by many as ‘hipster’ music because of the fact it is a fairly-recent trend that is outside of the mainstream. And the fact it is so niche is amplified whenever someone claims to have done this technique for the first time. This happened as recently as February 2016 when Killscreen ran a story about a musician who had used a Sega Genesis sound chip to create a remix of some music from Sonic the Hedgehog. He said he believed he was the “only producer within the contemporary music platform that’s using that sound chip.” Needless to say, this pissed people off – so much so that they had to change the article to account for the massive amount of chiptune artists who pointed out the obvious oversight in Killscreen’s reporting (and the man’s ability to perform a quick Google search).


Maybe it’s an acquired taste. I know plenty of people who describe chiptune as simply “noise” and don’t see the appeal, which is fine, I see where they’re coming from to a certain extent. But in the right hands, these simple sounds can be a very powerful tool. Take a listen to the Spotify playlist and see what you think. There’s a wide variety of different chiptune tracks there for you to make up your mind about this relatively unknown genre.

Whether you love it or hate it, just don’t try and claim you invented it.

[[SOUND OFF]] is a series of student-written features on artists/albums/music worth checking out

[[Sound Off]] ROCK IS A PUTRID, ROTTING CORPSE

Or: How the Tediously Hyperbolic Laments About the ‘Death’ of Rock Music from Reactionary Critics Have Poisoned General Discourse Surrounding the Genre

By Jake Kelsey @JakeKelsey94

When discussing genres, music critics love a good death metaphor – and it’s easy to see why – as a general theme around which to centre a review or think piece there’s so much room for witty, clever and entirely non-derivative turns of phrase that seek to illustrate to the reader the sombre truth that we, as a culture, have suffered a tragic loss. A music genre is no longer as popular as it used to be. A moment’s silence please.

A notable victim of music journalism’s psychopathic serial killer streak is Rock music, with scores upon scores of articles being written every year that mournfully state as an unequivocal fact that rock music, if not stone-cold dead, is barely hanging on to life – conjuring images in the reader’s head of a hospitalised middle-aged white man, R. Music, connected to machines by tubes and wires after being involved in a tragic (but totally rad) high-speed crash while thundering his Harley Davidson down Route 66. His leather jacket lies in tatters next to his tin pail of Jack Daniel’s and book of LaVeyan scripture.

The main problem with this ‘rock is dead’ narrative (aside from the obvious factual inaccuracy that we will get on to later) is that so many reviews of contemporary rock artists’ work is viewed through this lens, and not only is the rhetoric dull, tired and repetitive – but it places a severe amount of undue pressure on upcoming bands that presumably just want to play some music and not be tasked with the daunting challenge of striding purposefully into R. Music’s death bed, looking at his chart, and giving him the life-saving treatment he desperately needs in order to get back on his Harley and head out onto the open road.

Royal Blood albumTake, for example, this piece in NME[1] where The Nicest Man in Rock™, Dave Grohl, singles out Bristol-based duo Royal Blood as being a good band – not a particularly sensationalist statement – and there are certainly no insistences that we have finally found the fabled saviour of our resident over-extended metaphor R. Music. This then gets picked up by another website under the considerably more hyperbolic title of ‘Dave Grohl reckons Royal Blood will save rock ‘n’ roll’[2], an article that impressively even links to the original piece where the Foo Fighters frontman explicitly does not say that. Then of course when the album is reviewed – it is seen at least partially through this lens, whether they think the album is good[3] or bad [4]. There have been many bands that this claim has been levelled at over the years, such as The Strokes[5], The White Stripes[6], Gaslight Anthem[7] and many, many more[8] – so many bands, in fact, that one might begin to question whether rock is actually even dead at all!

To be fair to music critics, they are generally not the ones who have written the obituary – they seem to be just part of a climate where it’s essentially regarded as received wisdom that rock music is dead and as such, it’s convenient to proclaim that any fellas with a guitar and some good tracks will be the ones to save the genre. The people we truly have to blame for this questionable received wisdom are, bizarrely, rock musicians themselves.

Roger Daltry[9], Flea[10], Gene Simmons[11], Bob Dylan[12] and Joe Perry[13] have all recently been quoted in articles as saying that rock music has died. What’s particularly irksome about the incessant claims from these musicians, is that after they were all tearfully huddled around R. Music’s bedside during his final moments, they will have left (presumably on Harley Davidsons) to play sell-out stadium tours with their respective bands – disproving their own point and earning millions of dollars collectively by playing rock music.

So that point is obviously not entirely fair, all of the aforementioned musicians are already established (bewilderingly, in the case of Gene Simmons) as rock legends and, as they come from a time before the supposed tragic demise of rock music, they are still able to find huge audiences and rake in the cash. This is where the ambiguity of the term ‘dead’ comes into play – if we’re to assume that a ‘dead genre’ is one that is simply not currently the most popular in the world then sure – forget all the snarky bullshit I’ve spouted over the last seven hundred words; rock music is dead – I’ll do a reading at the funeral. However, if we’re to assume that a ‘dead genre’ is one that is creatively and artistically spent – that there is nobody doing anything interesting within the confines of the generic conventions of rock music then I am delighted to announce that reports of its death have been greatly exaggerated.

The reason I think the distinction between the two different possible meanings of ‘dead’ is an important one is that the popularity of the genre should have no impact on and is of no relevance to the critical discussion surrounding the actual music within the genre, which is why it is infuriating to see articles that proclaim new bands to be the saviour of rock, or to hear old musicians claiming that the genre is dead.

Artistically, rock music has been doing just fine for decades – it may not be the biggest genre in the world any more but that doesn’t matter, there are still great bands doing great things and it’s okay that they’re doing them to moderately smaller audiences. So when a website runs an article with the headline ‘Gene Simmons: “Rock is Dead, It Was Murdered”’ it may as well read ‘BREAKING: Old White Man Thinks Things Have Changed Since His Day and Boy is He Angry About It’.

 

[[SOUND OFF]] is a series of student-written features on artists/albums/music worth checking out

[[Sound Off]] ‘Hipster Black Metal’: A Crisis of Authenticity

By Bradley Bulch @Mnspector_Iorse

When Deafheaven released their sophomore record Sunbather in 2013, not many would have predicted quite how much attention it received. Achieving a rating of 92 on critical aggregate site Metacritic, Sunbather finished the year as it’s most highly regarded album [1]. Which was pretty much unheard of, considering the ‘black metal’ label many critics threw at it.

Deafheaven - Sunbather
The ‘Sunbather’ artwork hardly screams black metal, does it?

Sunbather was unlike anything many outside of the black metal community had heard or seen before. Deafheaven sidestepped the corpse paint and morbid lyrics for a bright pink cover and songs filled with nostalgia, romance and despair. The blast beats and tremolo picked guitar leads still forged ahead, but they were sandwiched between pretty post-rock sections comparable to some of Explosions in the Sky’s most poignant moments.

The guitars blared, but they also twinkled at times. The album bypassed all the stereotypes that most music consumers would affiliate with black metal artists. Deafheaven weren’t Burzum, Varg Vikernes didn’t spearhead their line up with tracks about ethnic cleansing and an all too real history of church burning and murder [2]. They didn’t parade themselves around forests in music videos carrying medieval flame torches [3]. They wore shirts and derby shoes, sported Hitler Youth haircuts and played music that appealed to Pitchfork readers more associated with indie rock and synth pop than extreme metal.

Sunbather didn’t mark a shift in the black metal landscape, the musical amalgamation present within it had already been explored in 2005 with Alcest’s ‘Le Secret’ EP. However, Alcest have slipped past the waves criticism from the die-hard black metal community that has been levelled at Deafheaven and their fans. Alcest have for many years been producing records that combine shoegaze and black metal that is both ferocious and beautiful. The one element missing from their music was the widespread critical acclaim and commercial success. Unlike Sunbather, ‘Le Secret’ didn’t find it’s cover gracing the new Apple iPhone advertisements [4].

Deafheaven and Gorgorth
Deafheaven’s George Clarke and Kerry McCoy (Left), and Norwegian black metal band Gorgorth (Right).

Criticism has been just as fierce toward Liturgy, another band carrying with them the ‘black metal’ tag without acceptance from it’s respective community. Perhaps this is more to do with frontman Hunter Hunt-Hendrix’s boastful claims of composing ‘Transcendental Black Metal’, complimented by his outlandish manifesto that tries so hard, yet misses the mark by such a distance it’s almost embarrassing [5]. Liturgy’s new album The Ark Work contained many elements which in theory fit the black metal bill; layered tremolo picked guitars and intense blast beats shape the most consuming moments of the album.

Liturgy - The Ark Work
Were Liturgy ‘trolling’ us with ‘The Ark Work’?

Throughout The Ark Work however are some interesting stylistic shifts; droned, glitching vocals, extensive midi trumpet sections and bagpipes galore. Hendrix is incessant in his attempt to ‘reinvent’ black metal, as evident by the unusual, yet enticing union of ideas within The Ark Work. It remains no surprise critics were perplexed by the release, to the point that one accused Liturgy of ‘trolling’ their fans [6]. While another rightfully questioned whether it was even black metal [7].

Battles for authenticity between those that consider themselves the cultural elite, and less concerned fans have been waged time and time again. During the 90s when artists such as Green Day and The Offspring broke the mainstream, accusations were made of them ‘selling out’ [8]. This backlash from punk rock purists didn’t prevent the success of either band, and neither will they stop Deafheaven’s apparent march to success.

Ghostbath’s ‘Moonlover’
Ghostbath’s ‘Moonlover’ album cover.

This case however is different in that there is so little commercial appeal here that any accusations of Deafheaven lacking authenticity is laughable. While they may have found a market for a genre of metal that is emotional, beautiful and brutish. The screamed vocals and harsh sonic landscapes littered throughout their releases aren’t exactly accessible. This music is still extreme, whatever genre you call it.

Try telling that to Ghostbath, a North Dakota based band whose latest album Moonlover received minor attention for bearing a stark sonic resemblance to Sunbather. This led to some disappointed comments from Deafheaven guitarist Kerry McCoy, as he accused Ghostbath of ripping them off [9].

A channel appropriately called Hipster Black Metal has been lurking in the depths of YouTube over the past few years [10]. The aim of this channel appears to be calling out bands for appropriating a genre of music they have no business operating within. It’s content is filled with lengthy videos criticising bands such as Deafheaven, Liturgy, Wolves in the Throne Room, Ghostbath and Panopticon. Bands all given the black metal label by critics, without being welcomed by the black metal community. The videos make audible comparisons between ‘real’ black metal bands and the aforementioned ‘hipster’ variations [11]. These comparisons are convincing in making their case for the mislabelling of certain bands, though one major flaw remains in their argument.

Comments such as this are commonplace in videos and articles associated with Deafheaven or Liturgy.

The use of homophobic and derogatory slurs such as ‘faggot’ and ‘retard’ is a staple throughout this channel and of many black metal elitists in comments sections regarding these bands throughout the internet. Behaviour like this makes black metal purists appear foolish in their attempts to assert authority, it’s akin to children having a temper tantrum, preventing their argument from holding weight in a serious discussion. Sure, such bands may suit the ‘screamo’ tag more, but this is irrelevant to those enjoying their music, who aren’t going to be turned onto ‘true’ black metal because someone on the internet called them a ‘poser’.

It is undeniable that ‘blackgaze’ bands such as Deafheaven, Alcest and Ghostbath are far removed from the early Norwegian black metal outfits such as Darkthrone, Mayhem and Gorgoroth. The latter artists, who propelled the genre forward in the late 80s to early 90s, featured more abrasive production and a sharper guitar sound, while bathing in an air of pure malevolency that is impossible to find in the former groups. These modern US iterations with their cleaner production appear more emotionally frail, and open to experimentation with less affiliated genres. They tap into auras of despair, romance and hope, often within the same song.

Instead of perpetuating division, black metal fans should be wearily accepting of ‘blackgaze’ bands entering the relative mainstream. It’s not about the genre these bands operate in, it’s about what they offer to the musical repertoire of those who listen to them. Bands such as Deafheaven offer an easily digestible glimpse of black metal that may entice fans to delve deeper into the genre; one that is thoroughly rewarding when explored in full depth.

[[SOUND OFF]] is a series of student-written features on artists/albums/music worth checking out

[[Sound Off]] Welcome to the Trap House

By Darryl Smith Jnr

It’s safe to say that hip-hop, specifically rap music, is here to stay.

After over 40 years of existence hip-hop has made its way into becoming, according to Spotify’s analysis, “the most listened to genre in the world”, proving that rap music has come far from its beginnings in the low income housing projects of America, to being a force to be reckoned with, within music. Naturally with a progression of a genre, you begin to see new forms of that genre beginning to place. In rock you have Heavy metal and Glam rock, or in R&B you had the New Jack Swing scene as well as the Neo-Soul scene. These new forms of old genres are often referred to as sub-genres and will usually last for a few years and eventually fade out due to various reasons.

Sometimes, one may look at rap music and believe it all to be the same, however just like with Rock and R&B music, this is not the case. Rap music has its sub-genres that range from socially conscious rap to gangster rap. Two total opposite styles of performing rap music that may or may not deliver totally opposing messages, depending on the artists you choose to listen to. Now here’s where you’re not-so-everyday rap fan may get confused. When it comes to the sub-genres of rap music, those sub-genres can have a sub-genre; this is the case with gangster rap.

When it comes to the sub-genre gangster rap you have another sub-genre, known as trap music. Trap music encompasses all of the basic forms of gangster rap music from telling the stories of the harsh realities of the urban life in America, to challenging social authority in a way that members of all urban communities can relate to. But what makes Trap music different from Gangster rap is deeper than just words. First and foremost the word and the culture originates in the southern part of America. Mainly Atlanta is given credit for the creation of the music and the word “Trap”, which speaks to a house in urban America that is usually occupied by individuals who take part in the selling of, as well as making, illegal drugs; mostly crack-cocaine. Therefore trap music speaks directly to those individuals who spend majority of their time in what’s known as a “Trap House”. Big Boi of the duo Outkast has a line in their song “SpottieOttieDopaliscious” from their 1998 album Aquemini that speaks directly to what the trap house is, what it does to an individual, and why one might choose that as their occupation. Big Boi states, “…the people at the post office Didn’t call you back because you got cloudy piss/ So now you back in the trap/ just that, trapped”. The line signifies the trap house as being exactly what it is, a trap for individuals who may have made the wrong choice earlier in life and now they have walked themselves into a risky situation.

Nevertheless, regardless of the risk that comes with being in the trap house, the music that has grown out of this culture is just as addictive and informative as its daddy sub-genre, gangster rap. However, artists who are of the trap culture rarely speak of it in a negative light and often times glorify the life they live inside of the trap, along with the things that come with that life, such as; death, violence, drug addicts, and even prison. One of the most famous trap rappers is a man who goes by the name Gucci Mane, known for his hit songs that detail life in the trap house like; “My Kitchen”, “Trap House”, and “Kick A Door”. In fact, Gucci Mane lives for the trap so much that he has been given the nickname of “Trap God”. As the “Trap God” Gucci has taken the culture to new heights inspiring other trap rappers like Future, Chief Keef, and even Fetty Wap whose hit single “Trap Queen” dominated just about every party and urban radio station this past summer.

However, there’s more to it than just the music coming out of the trap house. One can argue based on what I given you so far that trap music has been around since the 90s, maybe even before, with groups like the Wu-Tang Clan who talk about houses in which drugs would be sold out of, going to jail and committing various crimes. However, I would argue that Trap music doesn’t come around till about 2004. What makes Trap music different from what was being done in the 90s is the actual sound of it. This is why artists like Gucci Mane and Young Jeezy are often noted as the beginning of trap music, as they produced lyrics over these beats that were edgy, hard hitting, and quite frankly gave you the feeling of being just as gangster as Gucci Mane & Young Jeezy.

The production of trap music is basically the sound of the brass, triangle, triplet hi hats, loud kicks, snappy snares and low-end 808 bass samples. This all work around a rapper’s voice, whose lyrics usually lack depth and just cut straight to the point. An example of this is Gucci Mane’s song “Trap House”. Where the beat is a basic 4/4 time signature with a heavy bass, consistent snare kick, and very energetic melodic synths to work around Gucci’s simple lyrics. Some example lyrics from the song “trap house” are, “Choppa on the floor, pistol on the coach/ Hood rich so I never had a bank account/ Junkies goin’ in, junkies goin’ out/ Made a hundred thou’ in my trap house”. The lyrics are straight to the point as Gucci Mane describes the basic lifestyle that comes with the trap house as well as the reward. However, the lyrics are only 50% of the song, what’s most captivating is the beat which has a bounce to it that both hypnotic and addictive when listening.

As stated earlier, trap music is a sub-genre of a sub-genre. It is another form of gangster rap, however, it differs when it comes to sound and subject matter as trap music often times glorifies the things that someone would see as evil or just plain stupid. For example the lyrics above where Gucci Mane actually brags about not having a bank account, something that can be looked as being financially irresponsible. However, what matters most to regular artists doesn’t really matter to a trap rapper as they come from a world that is dog eat dog, survival of the fittest, and most young men don’t live to see the age of 18. The sound that comes with this often times is so hypnotizing that an individual can completely ignore the words and be swept up in the bouncy beat and hard hitting bass, feeling like the sound of a champion rather than a drug dealer. Trap music invites all listeners into the trap house and completely ignores all of the opinions one may have of their lifestyle as the music creates both revenue and an outlet for an artists to tell a more gruesome side of the “ghetto American story”.

Works Cited

  • Mane, Gucci. Trap House. Gucci Mane. Big Cat Records, 2005. MP3.
  • Spottieottiedopaliscious. LaFace, 1998. CD.
  • The Independent. Independent Digital News and Media, n.d. Web. 11 Dec. 2015.
  • “What Is Trap Music? Trap Music Explained | Run The Trap.” Trap Music Blog Run The Trap The Best Hip Hop EDM Club. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Dec. 2015.

[[SOUND OFF]] is a series of student-written features on artists/albums/music worth checking out

[[Sound off]] Electronic Catastrophe: The Questionable Misuse of EDM and IDM

By Liam Swan

With the terms EDM (Electronic Dance Music) and IDM (Intelligent Dance Music) so liberally used in contemporary music journalism to segregate electronic music further than ever before, one inherently important question comes to mind; are the terms EDM and IDM legitimately defined and are they required?

Even in the early formations of progressive rock, Jim Morrison of The Doors undertook a very bold speculation on the future of music in the 1960s, claiming that eventually there would be ‘one person with a lot of machines’  to produce popular music. Ironically, the dawn of electronic music started ever so soon with the birth of artists and bands such as Neu! and Kraftwerk in the late 1960s and early 1970s, hailing their use of synthesisers to produce melancholically progressive tracks such as “Autobahn” to what could perhaps be perceived as colder, more robotic sounding tracks like “Numbers.”

With such artists eventually circuiting Europe and beyond, a popularisation of producing music through a heavy use of electronic equipment emerged quite rapidly leading up to the 1990s. Take “Love Will Tear Us Apart” by Joy Division for example. Although defined by post-punk aesthetics of rock, the song essentially owes itself to its heavy use of synth to maintain its melodic rhythm throughout the song. Stephen Morris, the drummer of Joy Division, even went as far as stating that “if I ever start a band, I’d like them to sound like this” in reference to his first listening of the Krautrock band, Neu!

Following this circulation of what has been formally labelled as Krautrock & electronically infused artists from Germany, the production of music through an electronic means, to me, seems like a fusion of differentiating, or even similar genres to form new styles of sound through electronic instruments; the likes of which can be seen in bands experimenting with genre, much like Joy Division throughout the post-punk period of rock. However, although this defining structure of genre may hold true, for example, with rock being a fusion of country and blues music, the popular use of the terms ‘EDM’ and ‘IDM’ as genres promotes a certain ignorance of genre classification the music industry has never seen before.

When I say ignorance however, I don’t necessarily mean to undermine the intelligence of certain electronic music journalists, but instead to promote a certain awareness to the origins of artists placed under these umbrella genre definitions. As an example, FACT published a list relative to the usage of the ‘IDM’ term with what they claim to be the best ‘IDM’ tracks to have emerged from the music industry since the genre’s supposed conception.  One of the many artists thrown into this pile, known as Apex Twin, made it abundantly clear that he finds such a term to be “really nasty to everyone else’s music” and that “it’s basically saying ‘this is intelligent and everything else is stupid.’”

To an extent I believe Aphex Twin is correct. Labelling one kind of music as ‘intelligent’ and another outside the genre creates a certain snobbishness surrounding what could be seen as a ‘higher’ form of music with a much more acquired taste. That’s not to say the genre was born with no reason. I can understand why the music journalism world required such a term when artists such as Aphex Twin emerged with tracks like “Come To Daddy”  and even Squarepusher with “Come On My Selector.”

Tracks which, although produced through electronic means, do not conform specifically to genres such as ‘Detroit Techno’ or Chicago House’ which were becoming popularised around Europe during this period. Genre terms such as ‘Drill n’ Bass’ have been used to an extent in relation to such tracks, but when referring back to such artists, the term IDM is unrightfully so used as an umbrella genre term. With the term being so liberally used in music journalism today however, a certain skepticism surrounding such a dumbing down of genre classification comes to mind.

It is this, I propose, which is stifling musical growth inside and outside of the mainstream music industry. Think of it through the eyes of a massively popular artist like Aphex Twin; if you were a musician of such a calibre, would you like to be thrown into a pile of other musicians, whose music may not even remotely sound like your own? Or be labelled as ‘intelligent’ compared to other musicians who you may enjoy listening to?

When EDM as a genre term is considered, it fall under the same problems which IDM suffers in terms of classification alone; why is EDM labelled as ‘electronic’ dance music rather than just dance music? If this is such a concerning feat, why aren’t most popular forms of rock considered just dance music rather than rock? I alone have been to countless live rock gigs such as Echo and The Bunnymen this year and there were countless people dancing. Although I’m understanding (to an extent) of the genre classification of dance, it serves as an injustice to, once again, label certain artists under an umbrella genre when they may not sound remotely similar.

Artists such as Emancipator are more often than not labelled under the EDM genre term, when their sound is much more ambient and atmospheric than the kind which you’d want to get up and dance to. Seeing them in 2013 in Leeds, everyone around me demanded an encore of “Soon It Will Be Cold Enough To Build Fires,” which may seem strange based on the fact they don’t project a ‘dance’ sound through their tracks, but this is essentially why these people came to see them; to become lost in their music. Drug culture played an inevitable role in this through the smell of weed lingering in the air near the stage, but this aspect alone rejects the notion of the all-encumbering EDM classification through a relaxed vibe in the crowd. There was even a rejection of what is often seen as a mindless set through a willingness to be physical with their instruments; one playing an electric violin, and the other furiously hammering buttons to produce ambient drones.

In my personal opinion, as totalising terms ‘EDM’ and ‘IDM’ seem counter-intuitive to what they set out to achieve. Music journalists who use such terms should be ashamed of their own lack of respect and knowledge of the genres of music which they classify as these terms rather than what they’re actually influenced by. It’s a massive shame to see artists like Aphex Twin and Emancipator be viewed through a lens which distorts what their music is about, to what it’s not.

Links
[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iS3dIyHpAgc
[2] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x-G28iyPtz0
[3] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4vhNRl9N9R4
[4] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zuuObGsB0No
[5] http://thequietus.com/articles/05413-joy-division-new-order-stephen-morris-interview-favourite-records?page=4
[6] http://www.factmag.com/2014/09/22/the-100-greatest-idm-tracks-100-51/
[7] http://www.residentadvisor.net/dj/aphextwin/biography
[8] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h-9UvrLyj3k
[9] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z_SkJb7LPYE
[10] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QRgPIbSX1mg

[[SOUND OFF]] is a series of student-written features on artists/albums/music worth checking out