By Zena Ghosn
Have metal fans finally found a crossover into electronic music that they can relate to?
The explosive beats of some types of electronic dance music seem to have fulfilled those metal-head cravings for aggressive music. Certainly, not all metal listeners will relate as some fans tend to be, shall we say, a little exclusive to their music and ideology. However, those who have allowed themselves to delve into the world of electronic music have realized that it is convenient for them to experience the temptations of the bass lines and repetitive drum beats of Drum and Bass, Dubstep, and Breakcore.
But… how did this happen? And why?
Drum and Bass, also known as DnB, is a type of electronic dance music that emerged in the 90s in England and is characterized by its fast break beats, heavy bass, and a deep sub-bass pattern which can be felt physically through the sound systems. According to thedjlist.com, artists like Marky, Andy C, Pendulum, and Hype fall under the category of the best current DnB DJs. Some others you can check out are Aphrodite, Noisia, Bad Company, Dom and Roland, or John B.
Dubstep also originated in England in the late 90s and it grew darker and more experimental. Dubstep incorporated elements of Drum and Bass and UK Garage. Many Dubstep tracks include a typical bass drop where the music is silenced in order to resume with more intensity. A bass line note is manipulated rhythmically and produces variations in the volume and distortions. If you want to have an idea of what Dubstep sounds like, just remember the noise of your dial-up connection… but with more bass. Some recommended Dubstep DJs are Caspa and Rusco, Truth, Kryptic Minds, and Skream.
Breakcore, another type of electronic dance music that began to settle in Europe and is influenced by Hard Techno and Drum and Bass, is characterized by its heavier kick drums and breaks, aggression, and chaos. Prominent breakcore artists include Bong-Ra, Enduser, Venetian Snares, and Aaron Spectre.
With the help of producers, websites, forums, and fans, these elements of electronic dance music have gained international popularity and the Lebanese underground music scene has really taken to them. In the recent years, the scene has quite attracted a dedicated audience. Dynamic organizers such as Kaotik System and Acousmatik System have been dedicating their passion and determination to throw open air parties in different locations in Lebanon, in order to introduce the Lebanese youth to new kinds of electronic dance music– mainly Drum and Bass, Dubstep, and Breakcore.
I am not fond of electronic music in general. I have never been a fan of fancy clubs and trendy bars that play whatever is popular on radio stations. I’d rather be in a pub, listening to AC/DC, and enjoying inexpensive drinks with my good friends. The Lebanese club scene where people show off with their overpriced cars and clothes and VIP sections does not appeal to me. Being a metal listener since the mid 90s, I was once convinced by a friend to attend “The Kaotik Free Tree Party” that took place somewhere in the mountains of Lebanon a few years ago. As I am used to attending gigs, concerts, and metal festivals, I found the idea of attending a “party” with electronic music less interesting, but I simply thought of giving it a try for the sake of good company and camping in the woods. The place was in a forest under a clear starry sky of a summer night. The dance floor was set beneath the high branches of a centuries old oak tree.
As I was admiring the fascinating scenery around me, I hadn’t noticed my subconscious submission to the heavy dropping and intensified electronic bass. My body was enjoying it and I was moving to the heavy music which seemed akin to the experiences I usually have at metal concerts. People were moving and jumping in an undefined and free way. I personally found it odd that one of them was wearing a “Slayer” t-shirt. A metal listener in an electronic event? Most Metal fans I knew ridiculed the idea of listening to other genres of music—especially electronic genres that don’t even use musical instruments in the traditional sense. So I thought that maybe the Slayer fan and I were exceptions.
In addition to “The Kaotic Free Tree Party,” I accompanied some friends to other similar parties organized by Kaotik System or Acousmatik System. Many international and local DJs filled those open air parties with distorted break beats and dark-edged musical influences such as Heavy Metal. The more I went to those events, the more fellow metal listeners I met. I realized that the aggressiveness of Dubstep, Drum and Bass and Breakcore, the vitality of the frenzied down-to-earth crowd, and the absence of fancy cars, clothes, VIP sections and popular radio songs are appealing to many metal listeners. “Slayer” and I were becoming part of something big.
A little surprise treat from Pendulum, who visited Dubai this year and last:
I decided I needed to talk with someone who got his hands dirty with music, so I tracked down Walid, the vocalist of Kaoteon, a known extreme metal band in Lebanon, about the connection between Dubstep, Dum and Bass, and Breackore with Metal music. He said, “The way I see it, is that a lot of Metal heads are drifting to other extreme scenes just to get their fix of noise and violence. Rockers are drifting because our Lebanese scene does not have decent performance venues anymore. However, Dubstep, Breakcore or Drum and Bass are merely a wave compared to Rock and Metal which will be around forever. As soon as we have new venues, you will see everyone coming back to the Rock scene with a hunger that we (musicians) will satisfy.”
Another Metal listener replied somehow similarly. He said, “I simply think it is based on being open minded to new sounds. A metal head would argue that “electronic is not real music.” Somehow, I would agree with that because electronic sounds come and go with evolution. Some people like Aaron Spectre and DJ Scud did set some standards and there came a lot of other producers who wanted to use the same sounds. Eventually, these pioneers can admit that the sounds they produce can be outdated in 2 to 3 years when new sounds replace them. However, when I play my Killers album, I can still easily enjoy it and sing the lyrics. Would I be able to listen to Breakcore if I wasn’t an ex- Metal head? I don’t think so. Metal played a big part in my life to choose Breakcore for its adrenaline and the distortion. You can say it can reach people faster than Metal, but it can’t last.”
But is that a common opinion? Are metal lovers really so exclusive to their genre that they don’t see a value in anything else? So we also asked Youssef Nasser – a frequent attendee of the desert drum and bass events in the U.A.E., and also a fan of the extreme metal genres that include bands like Myrkskog, Decapitated, Lamb of God, Emperor, and Suffocation – why he thinks so many metal lovers are drawn to the DnB world. “Well, it really depends on what sub genre of DnB you’re talking about; but some of them, such as neurofunk, hardstep, and darkcore, share the same ‘qualities’ of some extreme metal genres. Going to a dark DnB night kind of feels like going to a metal gig! It’s as satisfying, on a personal level at least, cause you could headbang to it and sometimes a mosh pit breaks too! So to me it’s just another way of venting the aggression.” Youssef disagrees that this sound in the evolution of music is just a phase, and referred to such bands as Dub Mafia, The Nerve, and drummer Jojo Mayer to show that Dnb is not just electronic, it is very much alive with full bands who use instruments and not computers or DJ sets to perform for their audience.
Electronic dance music essentially borrowed the musical arrangements of the heavy rock styles; a deep and heavy kick drum, a resonating drop and release, and fast breaks drive the wild crowd into a state of madness. In the last couple of years, some big names in the “Metal influenced” electronic scene have played in Lebanon, such as Igorrr, Bong Ra, Drumcorps, Broken Note and The Teknoist which kept the more “experimental” Metal heads interested.
Who would have thought that after head banging in Wacken, the biggest metal festival in the world, I would see myself dancing to some Dubstep and actually enjoying it? Labeling myself an exclusive metal head does not determine everything I am, yet, if it weren’t for the distortions of Breakcore and heavy drops of Dubstep, I would not have been drawn into these types of electronic music in the first place. Is it just a phase for me? Is it only metal that runs in my blood or will I continue to be drawn to the beast of the beats? We’ll see.