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[[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

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[[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

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[[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.


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

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[[SOUND OFF]] The sensual world of Kate Bush

By Lewis Pringle 

Stepping out into the wiley, windy moors of Kate Bush’s sensual world. Is she really queen of the music industry mountain after 35 years?

Kate Bush is without doubt one of the most idolised artists in British music history. She catapulted to fame in 1978 at the tender age of 19 with her debut single and number one hit, ‘Wuthering Heights’. Since then she has released ground breaking music and has not been afraid to experiment with different genres and technologies. In 2014 she made a triumphant return to the stage after an absence of 35 years embarking on a 22 date sell out live residency at the Hammersmith Apollo in London titled Before the Dawn.[1] The live shows demonstrated her versatility within music and theatre but equally cemented her legendary status as a consummate performer. But why is Kate Bush so relevant and important to the music industry?

The image of a young and nubile Kate Bush performing cartwheels while singing in a high pitched voice about Heathcliff and Cathy is, unquestionably, forever etched into public consciousness. But there is much more to Kate than this. She has the ability to absorb and transcend influences and inspirations into her work which can be seen as innovative and completely original.

Take her 1989 song ‘The Sensual World’ for example. It combines elements of high culture and pop music. The intent was to include text from James Joyce’s novel Ulysses where the character Molly Bloom delivers a soliloquy and accepts a man into her bed. However, the Joyce estate refused permission to allow the text to be featured in the song and Kate begrudgingly wrote her own version (arguably for the better) in a similar style.[2]

There are frequent lyrics of ‘mmm yes’ establishing the song’s sensuous content, and ‘stepping out, off the page, into the sensual world’ inviting listeners to use their imagination rather than focussing on the text itself. The 1980s style of production of heavy drums, although dated today, proves that aspects (or influences) of high culture can be easily implemented into popular music.

Kate is not unknown to be innovative and use influences that surround her. Another example is a 42 minute conceptual song cycle from her 2005 album Aerial titled ‘A Sky of Honey’ which incorporates bird song and thunderstorms with frequent references to sunlight, sea and sky in every lyric. The cycle creates something of a tranquil experience. For example the track ‘Aerial Tal’ is pure birdsong complete with a light piano track in the background. This element of nature may seem odd but is nonetheless completely original and arguably is something only Kate Bush could compose and produce.

In regards to her impact within the British music industry it has to be noted that her entire career, spanning over 35 years, has been solely on her own terms and in some ways it can be said that Kate Bush offers a definition of feminism; independence and standing up to a male-dominated world, but most importantly acting as a voice for any artist(s) who refuse to back down from dominant forces. At the beginning of her career she pushed for the release of ‘Wuthering Heights’ as her first single when predominantly male bosses at EMI clamoured for the release of ‘James and the Cold Gun’. Kate won that hard-fought battle, pushing for her vision at a time when the industry was a predominantly male, and the rest is history.[3]

But is Kate Bush really a feminist? In Kate’s own words from a 1989 Greater London radio interview – ‘Yuck! God I hate that word… I think all women are offended by that term… what really has power is… women just getting on with it and doing it… really well’.[4] But yet Kate’s work, undeniably, has feminist undertones. For instance her 1980 hit single ‘Army Dreamers’ was written from the perspective of an Irish mother bringing her dead soldier home and lamenting over the futility of war.

Lyrics such as ‘mammy’s hero’ demonstrates a mother’s pride of her son being a soldier, but yet laments over the waste of a young life in which there’s a list of occupations and life roles that were never fulfilled, ‘but he never had a proper education… what a waste’ as young men were being sent to fight a pointless war. It is true however that Kate didn’t see herself as an overt feminist yet it is evident that within her lyrics she has maternal instincts and ultimately displays feminist traits by including political messages within her lyrics.

Fast-forward to 2014 and Kate Bush is as relevant to the music industry as she ever was. There has been chart resurgence due to her recent live comeback with eight of her albums simultaneously charting in the UK official albums chart top 40 in August 2014, becoming the first female in history to achieve the most entries on the chart.[5]

This begs the question why is Kate Bush still relevant?

In my opinion she is illusionary. We know very little about her private life as she shuns celebrity culture but quietly works on incredible pieces of music at her own pace. We expect a Kate Bush album to be exciting and adventurous and in an era of auto tune and fame obsessed artists it is refreshing to see an artist still unafraid to push boundaries and experiment with different musical styles.

Her most recent album from 2011 titled 50 Words for Snow is both experimental and conceptual with songs about snow and winter. A particular favourite of mine is her duet with Stephen Fry titled ’50 Words for Snow’ based on the myth that Eskimos supposedly have 50 words for snow.[6] Fry’s intelligent and authoritative voice is perfect for reciting the somewhat fantastical words.

As a Kate Bush obsessive I relish the chance to use my imagination whenever I listen to her music. This is exactly why Kate Bush is relevant, we can use our imagination and we also have the opportunity to escape into her world, her ‘sensual world’ of music, theatre and literature. She is without doubt queen of the music industry mountain. 




YouTube links

Wuthering Heights –

The Sensual World –

A Sky of Honey –

Aerial Tal –

James and the Cold Gun –

Army Dreamers –

50 Words for Snow –

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

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[[SOUND OFF]] Unite the Kingdom: Burial and progressive patriotism

By Savannah Ramsdale

What google earth undoubtedly spent years and millions trying to document, William Bevan arguably captures in minutes by way of an outdated programme that can be attained for free. And that is: the UK.

The liberal stomach may churn upon seeing the creator of one of the Guardian-ranked ‘albums of the decade’  associated with the now sullied term ‘patriotism’. However, it only takes a glance at fan-made youtube videos and artwork  to ascertain that Burial’s music has inspired a somewhat prolific appreciation for urban UK existence – despite apparent concurrence that it’s a desolate and lonely one.

It would be all too easy to assume a wariness for contemporary UK life given Bevan’s much documented disdain for modern internet usage and seemingly insatiable yearning for the UK rave era that passed him by. Fragmented, drowned out vocal samples such as ‘I walk around, with my head hanging down’ paint the perfect, greyscale picture of technology-saturated postmodern alienation against a backdrop of societal decay. But something increasingly personal about his tracks, such as the inclusion of sounds from his favourite video games, or the clicking of his brother’s lighter, suggest a more complex, realist and ultimately more loving view of contemporary British experience, one in which the most supposedly trivial of working class endeavours can become special and meaningful. What less could be expected from a man deep enough to derive poignancy from Eastenders?

For instance, the tender glow of the ambient track entitled ‘In McDonalds’ shrouds the familiar act of visiting a fast food chain in the small hours with an almost cinematic, ethereal majesty. Similarly, the mournful ‘Nite Bus’ radiates a sense of imparted nostalgia that urges the listener to celebrate their current era, however humble and non-spectacular their activities, before it zips itself into the unreachable past.

Suppose we were granted national omniscience for a moment. It isn’t too difficult to imagine that after experiencing every instance of injustice, depravity and banality, alongside the countless instances of love and joy that somehow manage to endure in spite of it all, what we’d feel is something akin to the ‘downcast euphoria’ his music evokes. His use of the contrary motion technique can be heard as an audible expression of the UK’s duality at any given point – wherever something’s falling or decaying, something positive is rising. It’s an unnervingly uplifting, honest sort of melancholy that many other blooming future garage artists such as Late, Vacant, Nocow, or Volor Flex have (understandably) sought to replicate.

What this contrary sensation beckons is a type of observational patriotism that revels in the real. Patriotism that accepts and welcomes national impermanence; that celebrates the melting pot. Patriotism that looks fondly upon, and withholds judgement of, whatever may exist or be consumed within UK culture, as opposed to the rigid maintenance of some decrepit, exclusive, mythical notion of Britishness in which a sense of spurious superiority is inherent. Who but someone that wholly embraces the integration of the UK’s Indian population could construct a track like 2013’s December release, ‘Come Down To Us’, that falls snow-like into the ears as a euphoric, distinctly Christmassy UK anthem, yet whose core melody is carried by extensive sitar samples and vocals that are pitch-shifted as if to verge on Tarana singing?

Historically, pride in one’s country has been considered a particularly masculine endeavour. As has the creation of, and (though far less exclusively), the consuming of electronic music. But Burial is unafraid to cater to his female audience, acknowledging that ‘blokes might be like, “what the fuck is this?”, but hopefully their girlfriends will like it’. He creates a sound that transcends gender dichotomies, if not through an unashamed emphasis on emotion then through an embrace of gender ambiguity. As well as his recent and extensive sampling of transgender director Lana Wachowski’s HRC acceptance speech, he often employs the down-pitching of female vocals/pitching-up of male vocals (perhaps best exemplified in the Beyonce sample 00:28 into Untrue).

However, this does not necessarily situate his music is female-orientated, but rather egalitarian. Another of his vocal samples attempts to evoke compassion for a man who has presumably committed heinous crimes. The Southern Londoner woman’s seemingly defensive plea in Etched Headplate – ‘he’s not setting out to hurt people, he’s got a lot of love in him, for his friends, his family, his girlfriend…he actually often wants to do the right thing’ is nothing if not an empathetic recognition of moral dualism.

In light of the hopeful, ‘anti-bullying’ tone of his latest EP Rival Dealer it’s acceptable to presume that Bevan is becoming more open. In a brave bail on his much-hailed jungle beats, Come Down To Us’s more ballad like structure focuses not only on Lana Wachowski’s HRC acceptance speech but also subtly interlaces an interview from NASA scientist Melissa Dawson, and in doing so calmly raises a middle finger to any fallacious claim that dance music is unintelligent or nihilistic.

The album was also followed by an official denunciation of his anonymity as a means of thanking his audience, notably by way of a note and voluntarily internet-erected selfie. This could be considered a negative act in terms of his progressiveness, in that anonymity entails a displacement from notions of class, gender, race and age that permits anybody to identify with the artist based on their music alone.

However, for someone who previously displayed shyness and reluctance regarding internet exposure, the choice of a bog-standard ‘selfie’ is not only endearing but arguably shows a growing trust for his audience and a down-to-earthness (matched by his grammatically erroneous typing and casual talk of Dark Souls 2 [11]) that could easily have stunk of pretention had he instead opted to reveal himself via a moody photoshoot. It’s also in line with the themes of coming to terms with one’s identity that riddled Rival Dealer.

Though Bevan emphasises the ‘UK’ aspect of his garage/jungle/rave/techno influences, it’s of course absurd to infer that his music is solely influenced by, applicable to or enjoyed only by the UK. Indeed, his samples are derived from cultural artefacts (of various supposed calibres) from all around the globe, from Japanese composer Motoi Sakuraba’s Dark Souls soundtrack to Texan Terrence Malick’s critically acclaimed experimental drama. It’s only befitting of a time and place, particularly a small island, in which international culture is more accessible than ever. But there’s something that makes the cracked asphalt and dew-ridden wheely-bins twinkle with a majestic familiarity, and makes even my usually anti-nationalist chest swell with euphoric belonging when this pioneer of dark garage signs off with ‘Big shout out to the UK and everywhere else’. Though he doesn’t imply any superiority, and I take none from it – I think it’s pride I feel when this emotive beat-god mentions us first.


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

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[[SOUND OFF]] The Mother of the ‘Riot Grrrl’ Movement

By Beth Brown

Why Joan Jett proves that rock isn’t just for men

Often described as the ‘Original Riot Grrrl’, Joan Jett paved the way for the feminist ‘Riot Grrrl’ movement to emerge in the 90s and produce some of the most memorable female- fronted grunge-punk bands such as Bikini Kill, and Babes In Toyland. Her iconic grunge look and ‘F*ck the world, feminist attitude’ is what makes Jett so memorable, it also doesn’t hurt that she’s famous for her cover of The Arrows’ I Love Rock.

Flashback to Los Angeles, 1975 to the popular clubs on the Sunset Strip; the Whiskey A Go Go, and Rodney Bingenheimer’s English Disco. In the misty, smoke-filled clubs amongst the Bowie wannabees and 70s go-go girls; you’d find 15-year-old Joan Jett, and notorious record producer Kim Fowley (Thompson, 2011). Together, they would change the future of Rock and Roll by creating one of the first all-female bands The Runaways. (Thompson, 2011)

Fronted by the blond -Bowie fanatic Cherie Currie, and sporting the names of future stars such as Joan Jett (rhythm guitar), Lita Ford (lead guitar) and Sandy West (drummer). The Runaways gained attention in a world where Suzi Quatro was the only other female worth giving any thought too (Thompson, 2011). Not all of the attention was positive; in fact much of it was not, they were often branded as ‘Jokes’ and “the best parade of jailbait you could find” (Ron Asheton in Thompson 2011: 41). Despite the negativity, they continued to prosper and even opened for bands like The Ramones, and Cheap Trick. (Currie, 2010)

Whilst the success of The Runaways didn’t amount to as much as they had hoped at the time, although their legacy would be realized at a much later date; “they were still one of the most popular bands on the sunset strip. Because they were all teenage girls.” (Cogan, 2008: 281)However, the novelty of a teenage girl rock band soon wore off, and they didn’t last as long as any of them had hoped or expected. Yet the Rock and Roll bug had bitten Joan Jett square on the ass, and she wasn’t about to give up her dreams of being a Rock and Roll star.

Leaving the dreams of fronting a world famous all-girl rock band, Joan Jett went off in search of something else. She formed Joan Jett and the Blackhearts and proceeded to conquer the Rock and Roll world with her explicit lyrics and sexual provocativeness on stage. She got the ball rolling for the ‘Riot Grrrl’ movement, the 90s feminist music ‘agenda’. The rolling ball, so to speak, began with The Runaways who were playing venues like CBGB by 1977. Their dominating ‘sexual stage presence’ and ‘rebel-girl anthems’ like Cherry Bomb lay the foundations for young girls everywhere to grab their guitars and create the new generation of Riot Grrrl’s (Coogan, 2008). And withy lyrics like ‘Have you, grab you ‘til you’re sore’ who can blame the younger fans of the band for grasping Rock and Roll music and making it their own by adding their own ‘agenda’ and image to the genre.

Throughout the 80s and 90s, Jett’s music reached millions of fans. Her music, published on her own record label, reached millions. Her publicity and preaching that ‘rock wasn’t just for boys’ didn’t stop there. After the brutal rape and murder of Seattle punk band The Gits singer Mia Zapata, Jett collaborated with the remaining members of the band to create the song Go Home. They played a series of shows all along the west coast in order to raise money to keep Zapata’s case open. Joan preached the importance of safety to women, and good self-defense knowledge. The death of Mia Zapata brought the Riot Grrrl movement into the spotlight. It is described as the starting point to ‘third wave’ feminist movement and often focuses on combining music with the non-music themes of rape, sexual abuse and other violence against women, as well as sexual power and sexuality. These references can be found in many of Jett’s songs such as ‘Fetish’ as well as in her covers of ‘Do You wanna touch?’ and ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’ which emanate the sexual power of the singer. (Fere-Jones, 2012)

Joan Jett’s tough, rocker ensemble is really what emanated the ‘its not about the boys’ vibe. Leather jacket, dark hair and heavy makeup have been the staple look of Jett since the 70s (Oldham, 2010). And whilst she has experimented with her hair and looks, she has always returned back to these key features. Jett herself has said, “The tough image was put upon me. I don’t think I’ll ever shake it. But personally I don’t care, I just want to play rock and roll.” The image has certainly not been shaken, and now thanks to the 2010 film The Runaways starring Kristen Stewart, new generations of young girls have been introduced to the ‘rock is for girls’.

With thanks in large part to the commercial success of The Runaways movie, increasing the interest in the band, and in Joan Jett herself. New generations of female rock musicians such as ‘The Dollyrots’ and ‘Girl In A Coma’, female bands that are signed to Joan Jett’s record label, have been able to carry on the Riot Grrrl legacy. Joan Jett’s own commercial success has helped keep her music known and her messages as a feminist, and female Rock star in the know. The fact that Joan Jett is still so popular with numerous generations perhaps proves that she has helped to change the face of the previously male dominated world of Rock and Roll. Her induction into the Rock and Roll hall of fame does show that Rock and Roll is not just for boys.



Cogan, B (2008) The Encyclopedia Of Punk. Sterling Publishing Co. USA

Currie, C (2010) Neon Angel. IT Books, Harper Collins Publishing. New York.

Daly, S (1994) Joan Jett Lives Up to her Bad Reputation. Available at: Accessed on: [27/10/2014]

Fere-Jones, S (2012) Hanna And Her Sisters. Available at: Accessed on: [27/10/2014]

Oldham, T (2010) Joan Jett. Lagunatic music and Film works. USA

Thompson, D (2011) The Unauthorized Biography of Joan Jett. Backbeat Books. Milwaukee.

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

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[[SOUND OFF]] The feminism of Peaches

By Abigail Jenkyns

Peaches, feminist superstar or gender-bending freak show? Is it all in the music or the performance?

With her brash, lycra clothing and ‘don’t give a crap’ lyrics, Merrill Beth Nesker, better known as Peaches, is a force to be reckoned with. The Canadian ex-teacher turned electronica queen has completely overthrown the dominant ideologies upon how women should behave and what they should sing about. Peaches’ lyrics, performances and videos are often grotesque and sexually suggestive and it has often been remarked that going to see the performer live on stage is more like watching a feral dominatrix performing a burlesque act. Peaches is, however, unapologetically herself in doing so which has further cemented her as a prominent figure in the Electroclash/Synthpunk genre and with five studio albums and twelve singles, Peaches has definitely made her mark.

Nesker took her stage name from Nina Simone’s song ‘four women’ and has cited the films Tron and Grease as influencing her showy performances. Similar feisty lyrics are often replicated in other artists from the electronica genre such as Robyn, Le Tigre, M.I.A and Gossip. The pumping beats and synthesised sounds provide the perfect backdrop for the politically/feminist charged lyrics that appear in the genre. Contrasted with the mellow tones of manufactured pop, electronica artists like Peaches are able to surpass the expected and express themselves in ways that shock and astonish. Katy Perry can cavort around the stage wearing a cupcake bra but Peaches takes it a step further, in one of her early 2011 performances, Peaches performed an entire set wearing a costume made out of material breasts and Barbie doll heads. Peaches doesn’t take her performances lightly, although she portrays herself as a woman who has fun at all costs, there is the undercurrent of sincerity within her acts and the idea that she is trying make a stand.

Peaches first album Teaches with Peaches from 2000 really secured her as a ‘two fingers up to society’ type of artist. The album’s most popular and opening track, ‘Fuck the pain away’ sounds electronic in sound but the bold and punchy lyrics suggests more punk/rock and roll undertones. The song opens with the lyrics: ‘Suckin’ on my titties like you wanted me, callin me, all the time’ which really confirms that Peaches is certainly not a warbling wallflower of a singer. The extreme introduction to Peaches and her music way back in the start of the millennium really set her up for subsequent years, in which her lyrics and performances only became more extreme and outrageous. In her video for ‘Diddle my Skittle’, Peaches appears in a brash, pink, lycra outfit and spends the first half of the performance crudely emulating the notion that she has male genitalia, whilst in the second half the singer daintily tiptoes up the street whilst the camera focuses on aspects of her female body. It often feels that Peaches’ performances and music videos detract from the lyrics she is trying to convey.

Peaches is celebrated for subverting traditional gender norms and caused mild controversy upon the release of her 2003 album ‘Fatherfucker’ after appearing on the album cover with a beard. The distortion of gender binaries really made listeners question whether Peaches was really serious about her music or whether her input into the industry was more centred on her obsession with sexual politics. The name of the album itself questions the typical connotations of feminine insults, playing on the typically used phrase ‘motherfucker’. In her 2006 album ‘Impeach my bush’, Peaches again pushes the boundaries of ‘socially acceptable’ and completely dispels any beauty standards we typically see in the videos of mainstream pop artists like Taylor Swift and Katy Perry. Peaches’ track ‘Boys wanna be her’ challenges a patriarchal society by celebrating the notion of the androgynous male. In ‘two guys for every girl’, Peaches uses the lyrics ‘I wanna see you work it guy on guy’, which challenges the porn industries’ obsession with ‘girl on girl’ and how the act of lesbianism becomes a form of titillation for the male viewer. Through using the male body, Peaches aims to challenge the male gaze and ultimately turn it on its head.

It could be argued that Peaches’ apparent form of feminism is just a crass way to objectify men, further propagating the issue of inequality, rather than solving or helping the issue. However, Peaches also objectifies herself, her videos are overtly provocative, she performs on stage in her underwear and she is ‘willing to be as raunchy as a man.’  Peaches doesn’t play up to the sexually provocative female image, she dresses like a woman, sort of, but more importantly, to make her point, Peaches acts like a man. There is a feeling that Peaches’ performances and general personality takes precedence over her musical talent and it’s unusual to see a stripped back, acoustic version of her songs. Peaches is a performance artist and doesn’t make any apologies for that, stating “My work gets misunderstood all the time but I actually love that. I get everything from ‘angry man-hater’ to ‘porn-performer’.” It begs the question as to whether or not Peaches can be taken seriously as an artist, her music definitely isn’t something you would listen to if you were feeling melancholic, everything is too punchy and salacious for that. Although her music can be viewed as a breakthrough of female dominance, it also becomes distasteful and tacky in doing so. Whilst Peaches attempts to challenge the patriarchy, her hyper-sexualisation of her own body only further promulgates the issue.

Does Peaches fully empower women? Is she a pioneer of music? I’m not so sure, but she does make a stand. Peaches and other performers from the Electroclash genre have a certain edginess about their performances that unsettle the status quo of genres such as pop, where dainty, self-indulgent princesses sing about former lovers. Peaches successfully goes beyond that, she may not have impressive vocals or morals but at least she attempts to highlight issues so many other singers so very often fail to address.

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