Laptop Rebels – Why 2014’s Electronic Music Was More Punk Than Punk

Punk [noun] Music that eschews perceived excesses of mainstream rock. Often fast, hard-edged music, typically with short songs, stripped-down instrumentation and political anti-establishment lyrics. Punk embraces a DIY ethic with many bands self-producing recordings and distributing them through informal channels.

There were some stunning guitar-based punk rock releases this year from the likes of Against Me, The Lawrence Arms and Brawlers. With short, sharp songs, perceptive lyrics and intense live performances throughout, the spirit of ‘traditional’ punk is alive and well in such bands. But the term gets more and more safe every year with the likes of tweenpoppers 5 Seconds Of Summer appearing in alternative rock press, the proliferation of misogyny in pop punk lyrics and t-shirt designs, or even emo faves Real Friends’ continuing refusal to grow up (I loved the EP but the album – and their Twitter feed – is plagued by unnecessary woe-is-me clichés).

But then I realised that punk 2014 isn’t necessarily in the hands of washed up dinosaurs such as Green Day or the three chord regurgitations of airbrushed boy bands with tattoos. In fact, the DIY ethos and ‘anyone can do it’ attitude is alive and well in bedrooms and basements around the world, populated by kids making electronic music with little more than some cracked software and a wifi connection. Even with the most basic set up it’s possible to make a record, release yourself it via Bandcamp, and promote it on social media and blogs (such as this fine publication you’re currently reading), all without shutting down your computer or needing to put a penny in the hands of the so called music industry. And what could be more punk than that?

Anyone can participate in this new punk revolution, as you’d be pushed to find a college or school without some element of music technology education available. And the age-old prejudices of gender, race and sexuality that guitar-punk claims to fight against need not apply. Whether black or white, male or female, straight, gay or trans, you’re an anonymous SoundCloud URL just like everyone else.

In the way that singers used to leave rock bands and go it alone with an acoustic guitar it wasn’t too long ago that Sonny Moore left post-hardcore heroes From First To Last to make electronic music on little more than a laptop and some readily available software, consequently redefining a genre alongside the likes of Excision and Noisia. Without getting into the trolls’ favourite debate about what is and what isn’t dubstep/brostep/whatever (no Skrillex didn’t invent it, yes other people also used distorted bass wobbles way before he did, we get it) he essentially took heavy metal riffs and transferred them to ear shattering synth noises. Finally releasing his debut album this year, with a mix of bass-centric styles aside from his early work, he’s become the poster boy for the laptop generation. The sound he pioneered has been appropriated, gentrified and made safe for public consumption through the vacuum of radio EDM (a term as soulless as it is meaningless) in the same way that mainstream pop punk filtered out the serious bits of its predecessor to leave a throwaway shell – it might look the same on the outside but it’s empty on the inside!

Some of my own favourite ‘punk’ releases this year have come from electronic artists such as Heartsrevolution, a fantastic producer and vocalist duo (plus live drummer) whose mission it is to put the heart back into music. 2014 saw the release of the Ride And Die album. Renowned for touring in unorthodox ways such as their trademark homemade ice cream truck, lead singer Leyla ‘Lo’ Safai out-punked her rock band contemporaries with a scathing attack on manufactured pop and celebrity-obsessed culture in the likes of ‘Kill Your Radio’ and ‘Brillianteen’. With a good helping of riot grrrl empowerment and political lyrics alongside a musical mix of New York garage rock, French house, and J-pop melodies the result is a revolution that is both affecting and accessible.

Another defining and defying record of the year came from house producer Drew Daniel and his The Soft Pink Truth project. Following on from his fantastic hardcore punk covers album Do You Want New Wave (Or Do You Want The Soft Pink Truth), his third full-length under this pseudonym takes the even less likely subject matter of black metal and reforms it, via some truly ridiculous 90’s rave samples, into an experimental dance music context. Drew, who also performs with his boyfriend in electronic duo Matmos, is a lifelong fan of punk and metal and made Why Do The Heathen Rage as both a salute to the genre and a baiting challenge to its regrettable reputation for homophobia and violence. Irreverent about the past, pushing new boundaries of music and noise, and promoting equality and acceptance along the way, this is everything punk should be in 2014.

Embracing the DIY, doing whatever the hell you want, and inspiring others to do the same. This Christmas, the future trailblazers of punk won’t be asking for a Squier strat and a fuzzbox, but a PC World bargain and a copy of Ableton. I guess they were right all along, the Dell really does have all the best tunes.