Sunday, February 6, 2011

Violent Electronic Music

Dubstep, a fairly new type of electronic music originating in England, and characterized by half-time drums, cacophonous synthesizers, and chopped samples, has risen as one of the most popular "hardcore" genres in music today. The music, which features slow, heavy oscillating bass combined with fast paced percussion, is often judged by its "dirtiness," a measure of pseudo-violence within the music.

While many genres of music like rap and heavy metal feature violent content, dubstep has a violent form. The music itself is designed to synthesize violence; the more violent the sound, the better the song. Skrillex, real name Sonny Moore, is a hardcore-band-frontman-turned-dubstep-producer. His transformation from "traditional" hardcore music to hardcore electronic music is emblematic of dubstep's rise to popularity in America in the past couple years. While teens of the 90s listened to bands like Rage Against the Machine, teenage fans of dubstep are the new generation of hardcore-music listeners.

Skrillex's songs, which include the above "Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites" as well as others like "Fucking Die 1" and "Kill Everybody," juxtapose beautiful melodic samples with violent intense bass, using sampled vocals (which often become the titles of the songs) to set the tone for the "drop," the moment in the song where the heavy bass begins.

Though some violent music does inspire violence among it's listeners (i.e. mosh-pits,) dubstep's listeners often interpret the violence in the music as tongue-in-cheek. The music often features very upbeat (and even humorous) breaks between the drops, and most fans reference the violence of the music with large smiles on their faces. Dubstep has become a sort of guilty pleasure for those seeking high-energy stress release. Browsing youtube comments of dubstep videos perhaps demonstrates the light-hearted violent thoughts the songs seem to inspire. I've attached some of my favorite quotes below, as well as some further listening...

"This is dirtier than being stuck in a sperm bank for 2 weeks, with nothing to drink"

"so my mom just told me to lower the volume.. I BACK HANDED THAT BITCH!"

"When that drop hit, Batman suddenly burst through my window and punched my cat in the face.



  1. Dubstep is a huge generational transformation in my mind. I believe it encompasses our generation's (Generation Next)reliance/ love for technology. Skrillex is just a 20-year old like us, using insane beats and electronic sounds to give his fans what we want- some violently-formed, melt-your face off, Dubstep. [FYI Skrillex is coming to Syracuse on Feb 27th] Overall this new age of music is something that is representative of our generation and shows the new-age reliance on technology.

  2. I want to highlight a concept from your post, "violent form," and pose the question whether new music must have violent form in order to be taken up by youth culture. I'm thinking specifically of rock music, punk rock, and metal/goth music of the nineties. Violent form seems to entail a rupturing of the norms of popular music (rock music incorporating black rhythms into folk music, punk rock eschewing musical complexity for raw energy, metal changing thematics from fun times to "hardcore" activities and reintroducing musicality to the loudness of punk music). Can violence here be understood as revolutionary art in terms of destroying the norms of pop music?

    Interesting also the use of violent metaphor for the enjoyment of the music itself. Hasn't this always been the case in America? A track can be killer, one shreds on the guitar, etc. No one says that a song (associated with youth culture) is a gentle caress, for instance. Perhaps the violence is something inherent in the way young people interact with culture, the need to break down the norms of their parents, etc.

    Side note: I'm glad to see that y'all still talk this way about music. I'm not that much older than you, but one always thinks the revolutionary period of pop culture ends with what he grew up with, and for me that was Nine Inch Nails, Marilyn Manson, and gangster rap.

  3. I think Skrillex's music is actually very diverse, and while songs like "Kill Everybody" are actually quite popular, I do not think that the lyrics and vocal samples that he uses are the reason why people are so attracted to his music. Songs like "With You, Friends" and "All I ask of you" are some songs of his are more progressive, and technically not dubstep. I think that dubstep is automatically assumed to be "violent" because it is a child of the hardcore rock genre and old electronic groups like Kraftwerk.

    That being said, I think it is actually quite interesting how Skrillex can take such disturbing concepts, such as the end of the human race, and craft a likeable song around the concept. I hope that Skrillex uses the violent samples as an attack on the hardcore rock genre that he left. It would be quite disturbing if he actually wanted to kill everybody in the world.

  4. As for Dubstep or violent music in general, I do not feel, as long as you’re a somewhat mentally stable person, that you would feel the urge to inflict violence upon someone else. I believe that in someway, a third party must be involved in order to bridge the gap between the listener and the song. For instance, in class we talked about the unusual and rarely seen grotesque moments in the novel where a character received an injury that we could not relate to, like having your foot cut off. We couldn’t go into our memory bank and pull out the moment of when our best friend Billy got his foot chopped off. No, instead we discussed how the reader would visualize the injury on him or herself. When visualizing this, the reader would not feel any pain or feel the need to make sure his or her foot was still there though. Granted the injury had more of a shocking emotional impact, it was not promoting you into action. Music is another form of sensational experience that interacts with the human body in the same way. I can honestly say that I have never listened to a song that invoked me to go hurt someone just because the song directed, explained, promoted, or depicted violence. Instead the song would have to rekindle some bad memory or relate to a similar experience between the artist and me, in where I would remember past emotions from that specific point in time. This is what I mean by third party, the relationship between experienced scenes and my emotions at that time, rather than music and my emotions at that time. Although it is true that the music made me remember those scenes, it was not the primary provider of the emotion. Whenever I read about someone breaking their arm, I can remember the amount of pain and how my body reacted because I broke my arm when I was five years old underneath a dog pile of hyperactive kids. But when a foot gets cut off, I just thinks its nasty and grotesque but I can’t think of the pain because I never had my foot cut off. Other notions of violence stemming from music such as mosh pits is purely a psychologically phenomena probably explained by some group effect from the people around you. I don’t think I have ever heard of someone moshpiting or being violent by themselves. As for the YouTube comments, why would batman punch a cat in the face, he likes cat women doesn’t he? But seriously, nobody’s cat got punched after that song was played…


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