Editorial: Soundsphere editor Dom Smith argues it’s time to embrace “hybrid music” as a genre, and offers a beginner’s guide
By Dom Smith
Korn go dubstep… Linkin Park promise “mindblowing” next album… Skindred play the main stage at Download… What’s going on?
Today I want to talk to you about hybrid music – as a genre. My mission here is not to make you an avid listener of standalone bands mixing pure dance and club-friendly music with rock and metal influences.
I’m not going to try to sell you US crossover masters Celldweller, dent pioneers Periphery or electro-poppers innerpartysystem; disco-punk act Does It Offend You, Yeah?; UK drag genre leaders Officers, prog-post-whatever band 65daysofstatic; or hardcore “scene” botherers Bring Me The Horizon. I won’t even try to lecture you on The Prodigy or LCD Soundsystem before them.
My mission is to make you aware of some of the great talent out there consistently crossing genres and breaking boundaries in ways that you’ve never heard before. Why? Because in an industry that seems to churn out the same type of new-wave indie, alternative rock and 80s-inspired metal bands every week, the hybrid style actually has a shot at being truly innovative no matter how popular – or not – it becomes in the future.
You may say, “Oh, he’s talking about some form of industrial music.” Actually, I’m not. The hybrid genre I’m looking at is without question more accessible than anything the industrial genre has offered in recent memory. It amalgamates established modern styles of club music like rave and dubstep with typically heavy acoustic styles of rock and metal.
If you’re still reading I’ll now admit it: “hybrid” is a tag that I’ve adopted myself. I’m surely not the first person to use it, though, or the first to want to move the genre away from the lazy “industrial” or “electro-rock” classification.
Although the roots of this sound are within that pesky industrial music niche – machine-esque beats, synth elements, grungy guitars and distorted vocals feature heavily within the hybrid sound. But the thing that moves this style away from “proper” industrial is its tendency towards the incorporation of pure electronic, techno and even pop elements.
The vocal style is not always aggressive and fast-paced in the same way that celebrated industrial music acts like Godflesh, Killing Joke or Nine Inch Nails would have it. Instead there is to be found a haunting and soulful quality. That’s if vocals are present at all – some of the best hybrid music I’ve heard recently – Officers’ Counting My Guns and Celldweller’s Narrow Escape – are instrumental pieces.
The hybrid style isn’t actually a new thing. Sheffield natives 65daysofstatic have been flirting with drum’n'bass, rock, electro and metal influences under the “post-rock” umbrella since 2001; while some of Incubus’ material from 1997 oozed the hybrid ideology: mix every style you can imagine into a genre-bending musical madness that will appeal to fans of pop, funk, metal, hardcore and techno.
The latest addition to the rosters: nu-metal stalwarts Korn just teamed up with former From First To Last front man Sonny Moore – aka dubstep producer Skrillex – to produce a modern hybrid sound; while Skindred’s latest album Union Black features many tasty dubstep licks that seem mingle within their tried-and-tested ragga-metal shell.
Still confused? Listen to Linkin Park’s last record A Thousand Suns – that thing has the hybrid tag written all over it. As evidence compare that one to their previous ones; or, because I don’t want to be lynched, just compare it to Skindred’s Union Black.
Is there any real heavy hybrid stuff? I’ve got you covered: UK cyberpunks Digicore have the sound down in the same way that Atari Teenage Riot did. The band produce heavy and hard music while focusing on the composition to find out just how many styles of modern dance music that they can squeeze in there next to their backbone of Dead Kennedys-influenced madball.
Meanwhile, Baltimore’s Periphery must also get a mention. While their sound is more often than not lumped into the progressive metal category, I would argue the material is melodic and electronic enough to receive the hybrid badge of honour. They mix sounds in a way that I think is unmatched by most in the world today.
So, there you have it: a starter pack for the burgeoning international hybrid genre. I’m not talking to you about the next musical evolution: the style will probably stay underground for a few years yet.
But if you are starting to wonder what will happen when rock and metal elements meet pop and dance above the surface… you know where to look.