Let us not pretend that the music in vogue today did not once offend the sophisticated ears of the previous generation. Although most of us have ears, with opinions attached, we do not always know how to meet strange and exotic music styles halfway; believe it or not, the problem is that we do not always know how to listen. Every music style has a simple key that unlocks the ear to it.
And so, here is a guide for the uninitiated into the world of subversive Electronic Dance Music, complete with the keys to understanding, listening to, and possibly even enjoying three of my favorite EDM sub-genres: Intelligent Dance Music (IDM), glitchcore, and breakcore.
IDM: Aphex Twin, “Vordhosbn” from the album Drukqs. Starting with the most famous and accessible of the genre of so-called Intelligent Dance Music (IDM), I bring to you Richard David James, more commonly known as Aphex Twin. Although James rightly stated in an MTV interview that all good music is intelligent, I think that the stylistic category of IDM is used to contrast Aphex Twin with the slightly less-intelligent genre of commercial EDM, which is of the usual and repetitive “boom-boom” club variety that everyone claims to hate until they find themselves drunk on the dance floor of a club on New Year’s Eve. The key to Aphex Twin’s work is to expect (and enjoy) rampant eclecticism: his musical output ranges from experimental (think John Cage-style works for prepared piano), to tranquil electro tracks that are of a high emotional density (like “Vordhosbn” on Drukgs). Technically, James is not one single artist, but a proverbial jukebox of electro styles, although most of his music is united by a sense of wistful melancholy.
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Glitchcore: Venetian Snares, “Szamar Madar” from Rossz Csillag Alatt Született. Aaron Funk, a.k.a. Venetian Snares, is one of the few artists able to include classical music in an electro idiom without making it sound corny, or like a bare sample taken out of context. In “Szamar Madar,” he has taken Elgar’s Cello Concerto and turned it into the colors of his musical palate through sampling. The product that comes from its re-working is a perfectly amalgamated hybrid of these two styles, with both the frightening chaos of glitchcore sounds (clicks and electric zapping) and the sublime serenity of classical pure-tones. The key to “Venetian Snares” is: COUNT TO SEVEN. Most of his music is written in 7/8, and until you actually count a few bars in order to establish the downbeat, it seems totally mysterious and shapeless. Go on, try counting.
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Breakcore: Bong-Ra, “Slaytronic” from Full Metal Racket. I cannot condone Jason Kohnen’s, a.k.a. Bong-Ra’s, music or message on any level: his will is toward total musical and aesthetic destruction. In his genre of breakcore, the tempo is high, and the kick-drums are heavy; think rave made by a black-metal musician. The key to Bong Ra is to understand that this music is about hate. If you hate it, that’s good! If you feel aggressive toward it, so much the better! This is the musical equivalent of the Second World War: feel the blood pump through your veins and the fear of encroaching death. Although we rarely allow ourselves to willingly break our comfortable state of emotional equilibrium, I believe that even “normal” people can take a certain measure of enjoyment and catharsis from indulging in this state of mind under controlled circumstances. My advice is, read a couple of chapters of A Clockwork Orange as a hors d’oeuvre, then listen to some Bong-Ra. You might just enjoy it.
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