Remember when music could be neatly divided into genre bins? Those days are long gone. Nowadays, artists mix and match styles so indiscriminately you’d be forgiven for thinking traditional categories have become almost completely meaningless, and you’re no one until you’ve coined your own neologism. Just ask Meshuggah (djent) or Dave Nada (moombhaton).
2012 was the year that doomstep moved out of the shadows and K-pop became a global concern. Sharon O’Connell celebrates our favorite micro-genres to have emerged the past 12 months.
Astral House & Future-Funky
As post-house and dubstep continued to splinter and mutate, myriad micro-genres emerged in less time than it takes to make a new tumblr tag. Astral house blasted into the stratosphere, using the fractured and trippy styles of Hudson Mohawke and Rustie as its launch pad. London’s Becoming Real unleashed his Technicolor Solar Dreams/Neon Decay album, Manchester’s Lone his Music For Reliquary House, half of a challenging and glitchy LP shared with Rene Hell. Hyperdub’s new gal on the block, Cooly G, represented the shift of UK funky into something deeper, moodier and sweeter with her dubby full-length debut, Playin’ Me, while erstwhile grime producer DVA ranged across techno, dubstep and nu-jazz with his cool melodic misfit, Pretty Ugly.
Editors’ pick: Lone, Galaxy Garden
Bass music for meatheads? Maybe, but there’s no denying that 2012 was the year the US take on dubstep became a low-end force to be reckoned with, thanks largely to five-times Grammy-nominated fan of the shaved undercut, Skrillex. Characterised by an almost comically over-the-top wobble, lethally slamming breakdowns and pitch-shifted vocals, brostep mostly resembles a monstrously excessive Justice, although Canadian producer Datsik combined grimy bass and twitchy beats with Euro-trance synths on his Vitamin D album. Leeds producer Rusko — one of the UK’s main brostep players — delivered his Songs LP, which shifted his head-banging bass sideways, to align it with dub’s Jamaican roots. Rusko’s collaborator Caspa also had the UK scene’s Croydon roots more in mind with his Not For The Playlist EP, while seeming to shrug his shoulders with “It Is What It Is”. Indeed it is.
Editors’ pick: Datsik, Vitamin D
Not, as the name might suggest, a small town in Belgium, but a metal micro-genre — heavy and progressive/industrial and onomatopoeically suggestive of the digitally processed power chords favoured by its practitioners. Djent dudes — and the bands are all (very) male – tend to sound like Swedish tech-metallers Meshuggah (who actually coined the term and dropped their Koloss this year) — playing dubstep. Djent began very much as an online, guitar-geek concern but began leaving boys’ bedrooms via the likes of Engel, Swedish djent/hip-hop hybridists, and Denmark’s Mnemic, who added Mnemisis to their thoroughly modern metal canon. Scandinavia doesn’t have the monopoly on djent, by any means: As Surfaces Align and Exotype are from Australia and Florida respectively, while TesseracT, Red Seas Fire and Hacktivist represent the UK.
Editors’ pick: Meshuggah, Koloss
Doomstep / Dubtronica
Taking Burial and Kode9′s muffled and grimy illbient soundscapes as their blueprint, a new generation of moody post-house producers tweaked it and made it their own. Manchester’s Andy Stott dropped his acclaimed Luxury Problems, which featured some unsettlingly scratchy electronica and the haunting vocals of his former piano teacher. Mixing deep dubstep with ambient drone and techno, Stott’s label mates Demdike Stare released the dank Elemental, while self-confessed Earth fanatics Raime released their Raime EP that fused industrial dubstep, minimal techno and electronic hauntology. Vessel’s Order Of Noise followed an equally compelling clank-and-wobble path, along with Italian producer Madteo’s seductively sullen three-track release, Recast. Actress stuck another compelling spoke in the genre wheel with his R.I.P, a more four-to-the-floor affair than previous records, but more richly textured and deeply introspective, too.
Editors’ pick: Actress, R.I.P.
Drum ‘n’ Boogie
A broad church, running the gamut from Blawan to Untold, whose worshippers generally favored a twitchier, more minimalist techno interpretation of dubstep that showed its garage roots. In the case of Hessle Audio co-founder Pangaea, that didn’t exclude the odd (synthesized) orchestral interlude, either, as on his Release album. Pangaea’s compadre Pearson Sound typified the strand’s fondness for stressed-out, tachycardiac beats with his three-tracker Clutch / Underdog / Piston. Representing outside the UK were Milwaukee producer Lorn, with the oppressively corroded bass of his Ask The Dust LP and Holland’s Martyn who, after chasing serious club tunes with his second album, got back on his techno-informed dubstep horse with the Hello Darkness EP.
Editors’ pick: Lorn, Ask The Dust
A noticeably more housed-up development of the ubiquitous chillwave of recent years, with the focus as much on the old-school, build-and-release pattern as on woozy, sun-kissed atmosphere. Top of the list of 2012′s hypnotronica high achievers was Barcelona’s fêted John Talabot, who released his euphoric and neo-Balearic Fin, while the Montreal-based Doldrums took off on a psychedelic glitch-pop tack with his Egypt EP, and young London-based producer Slime dropped his beatific, markedly s-l-o-w-e-r second EP, Increases II. Slime associates Vondelpark shifted well away from the witch-house tag with their textured and in-fact-not-at-all gothy “Dracula” track, an online taster of debut album Seabed, set for release in February 2013.
Editors’ pick: John Talabot, Fin
Indie pop with structural and lyrical smarts — shock! — reared its head well above the guitar parapet this year. Sunderland veterans Field Music saw their Plumb album nominated for the 2012 Mercury prize, although the gong was scooped up by young intellipop pretenders Alt-J, with their debut An Awesome Wave. The self-titled debut from London Can fans Django Django suggested a clattery and minimal update on The Beta Band, while Manchester’s Dutch Uncles made kook-pop waves by opting for piano, analogue synths and marimba over guitar on the clever and dead groovy “Fester,” the first single from their upcoming second album, due in January.
Editors’ pick: Django Django, Django Django
Tangentially, we have Justin Bieber to blame for the globe-ravaging virus that was “Gangnam Style,” the ersatz rap smash sung and danced by South Korean artist Psy — signed by Bieber’s manager, Scooter Braun to his own record label. Of course, Korea has been manufacturing its own slick and hyper-bright hybrid of electro/hip hop/R&B/pop for years, but it made serious inroads into Western consciousness in 2012, abetted by the peppy likes of Wonder Girls and their 2 Different Tears, the nine-strong Girls’ Generation and the first world tour by all-boy quintet BigBang.
Editors’ pick: Wonder Girls, 2 Different Tears
A strand of deconstructed house and super-minimal techno that crackles and buzzes like a TV on the blink, but which may feature some or all of the following — astral jazz, illbient glitch, concrete noise and psychedelia, sometimes within the same confounding track. Chicago’s electronic iconoclast and Mathematics Recordings boss Jamal Moss is static house’s standard-bearer, Hieroglyphic Being representing the more out-there of his countless aliases. He drops a new album, Imaginary Landscapes in February 2013, sure to slay appreciators of HB’s So Much Noise To Be Heard. Along similar, if less extreme lines are fellow Chicagoan SvengalisGhost, whose Mind Control EP was a collage of ethereal/jagged, light/dark, upbeat/brooding and Berlin-based sonic shapeshifter Steven Warwick, who works as Heatsick and this year released his Déviation four-tracker.
Editors’ pick: SvengalisGhost, Mind Control