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.

From First To Last: I miss those guys.

Over the past two or three days, I’ve been clamouring for the halcyon days of mid 2000s post-hardcore. It’s tricky to understand its allure – more style than substance, it probably shouldn’t have even been referred to as post-hardcore because most of it didn’t even include the hardcore movement’s most important facets. Instead, it was kind of the hangover from the 90s emo movement, only with added skinny jeans, poppier riffs and eyeliner. Probably my favourite lot from this rowdy bunch was From First To Last. The most pretentious of them all, their first album was a satire on the scene they became so ingrained in and owed so much to. At the same time, they had so much talent – to this day, I maintain that Derek Bloom is one of the best drummers in the business (a point I’m sure will be disputed by Kitteh). Matt Good knew how to craft a decent riff and continues to do so in D.R.U.G.S. Travis Richter was pretty good at black metal and looking sexy. Sonny Moore has one of the most distinctive voices in the business, one which he doesn’t utilise under his new nom de plume, Skrillex.

Sonny Moore effectively had, and still in another form has, the voice of a generation. One lyric that has always stuck with me, despite its satirical purpose, is at the end of The One Armed Boxer vs The Flying Guillotine. “How do I address, a letter to my generation? Sonny she said, save yourself the postage. How do I address, a letter to my generation? Sonny she said, sing it in person.” Sonny Moore was every 15 year old “alt kid” in 2003. Anxious, confused, angry and with ridiculous hair. He was also friends with all of them on Myspace – I certainly remember S O N N Y, and later Skrillex, popping up on my friends list (as well as Panic! At The Disco before they got signed to Decaydance). But alas, the world no longer craves a skinny little man with an insane vocal range – they want pounding electronic beats.

Dear Diary, My Teen Angst Has A Body Count might have been satire and Kerrang! might not have gotten it when it first came out thus only awarding it two Ks, but we all knew what it was about. It was about awesome breakdowns, hilarious lyrics, hidden tracks with rap guys on them and songs about slaughtering the cute girl in your class to wear her skin as a suit. However, Heroine was really where it was at. The opening alone! Even on the bus now, I have to resist the urge to scream out MOTHERSOUND in my best Sonny voice. It was darker, heavier and had a tone that was only aided by Wes Borland’s presence on bass (remember that guy in Limp Bizkit that used to wear the body paint? Yeaaaah!). Everyone liked this one. There weren’t any lyrics about killing people and listening to Morrissey in a car, but there were ones about anorexia, insecurity and desperation. FFTL grew up and got rid of the straighteners. I wouldn’t be lying if I said that Heroine was one of my favourite albums of all time. Definitely in the top twenty.

And then Sonny left. Sonny left and everyone thought it would be a good idea for Matt to take over main vocals. The result wasn’t horrific, but it wasn’t great. It wasn’t From First To Last any more. If anything, it was a bit boring. But from it, new projects were born which have been pretty fantastic. Even if everyone and their mother is now suddenly into Skrillex. Amid the sarcastic cries of “he was ours first!” from me and my housemates, it is kind of cool to realise that the front guy from one of those bands hardly anyone really knew about outside of the scene is now globally recognised.

These days, post-hardcore’s shifted a bit. It’s all about letlive. and their ilk. That’s probably a far more accurate depiction of post-hardcore than those kids that used to scream a bit in their songs. It’s an exciting and vibrant scene, but we’ll always have From First To Last. And I know that because I haven’t seen the scene haircut die yet.

Recommended listening – Kiss Me I’m Contagious, Ride The Wings Of Pestilence, The Crows Are Coming For Us, Mothersound