This year’s most interesting electronic music wasn’t interested in playing nice. It was abrasive in spots and unwieldy in others; it conjured images of complex machinery, foreboding alien landscapes, and tangles of flesh, bone, and gristle. Its creators were sending dispatches from the fringe, trying to document some aspect of marginalization whether it was lived or imagined. They didn’t emerge from the same scene or the same genre, but together they constituted a defined alternative to the prevailing sound of what’s popular now. Electronic music is ready for its grunge phase.
When grunge bloomed from the Seattle underground in the late 1980s, it did so by fusing the searing intensity and angsty alienation of punk to the weight and relative complexity of heavy metal. Its practitioners were disillusioned, obsessed with authenticity, and separated from the rest of the music industry by distance and attitude. They felt conflicted over the mainstream’s promise of money and fame, and they honed their chops in the dingy DIY basements of the Pacific Northwest, not buzzy Brooklyn bars or the clubs of the Sunset Strip.
The scene’s leading figures were interested in justice and defending the marginalized, even if they were benefiting from privilege themselves; no less a figure than Kurt Cobain said, “If you’re racist, homophobic, or sexist, don’t listen to our music.” No one making the music believed it was a means to some commercially glorious end. “The idea of having an indie rock ‘career’ while living in a remote backwater like Seattle was too ridiculous to contemplate,” said Sub Pop founder Bruce Pavitt. “It was simply about having adventures.”