Djent in Tooth and Claw: A Brief Overview of Djent
A Short Introductory Note
In this special feature, got-djent.com moderator Klonere shares his thoughts on the origins of djent and the djent community.
This article came out of a reply to someone in this here thread. It quickly outgrew its original purpose and upon showing it to some of those in #djent and other moderators here, I got the go ahead to publish it.
In the first place I wished to define what djent is, as a musical genre. This was probably my least favourite part. Musical definition is a nebulous science. It is a minefield of opinion, a place where one's sanity is likely to buckle under the weight of pigeonholing. Alas, in this case, it is a necessary evil in a way; I would like people to know what the hell I am blathering on about. Leading on from the definition, I hope to talk about the djent community, of which I have presumed to be a member of for the last year. So, on we go...
THE SWEDISH DJENTILITES
If we accept Meshuggah to be the first "djent" band, taking Nothing as the first "djent" album with Chaosphere as its precursor and Catch 33 the refinement of the sound, then we can base our argument from there. Obviously, taking Meshuggah as the singular influence seems to be a somewhat limiting factor in terms of describing the sound of the genre. However, it is impossible to overstate Meshuggah's involvement; as many a fan will tell you, there is no band that sounds quite like Meshuggah does. What djent bands do is take Meshuggah's formula of rhythm focussed riffing and add other layers to it.
For most of you reading this, there is no need to explain what the Nothing sound is. For the sake of the argument here, I will go ahead and give a brief overview of what exactly I am referring to. Please note, I am not a musician by any stretch of the imagination and therefore may misuse certain musical terminologies. Chaosphere, released in 1998, was an album that was at its core very angry. The extremely aggressive vocal style of Jens Kidman backed by the mechanical groove of the drums and guitars lead to a relatively unique sound that disregarded melody altogether. On Nothing, Meshuggah took the rhythm centric sound to the next level. The entire band essentially became the rhythm section. Haake's drumming became entirely intertwined with the guitars of Thordendal and Hagström. The aforementioned guitars were completely dedicated to creating a groove above all else. The sound was harsh beyond bearing, alien and utterly mechanical. The opener, Stengah, perfectly illustrates the sound; deceptively simple sounding riffs backed by a symbiotic relationship with the mechanical drums. In the definitive re-release, the guitars sounded sharp, yet with an earth shakingly heavy bottom end, the drums isolated and sterile; the sound that set Meshuggah apart from every other band on the planet.
Rational Gaze: the quintessential djent song
On Catch 33, Meshuggah take the Nothing sound and add one other element; flow. Instead of Nothing's salient, contrasting and jarring rhythms, Catch 33's swirling, slowly evolving structures give the album a symphonic element as each consecutive movement builds upon the last. This is the central point of djent as it were: the flowing and evolving polyrhythmic grooves.
THE CLEANSING OTHERBANDS OF DJENT
Getting back to the actual argument at hand, here are some examples of bands taking the base djent sound and adding in their own twist:
Periphery: adds in metalcore (Letter Experiment, Insomnia, Jetpacks), progressive metal (Racecar) some technical death metal (Zyglrox) but all the time harking back to the Nothing/C33 style of riffing.
At the moment, this could be the most well known djent song from a band not called Meshuggah
Tesseract: takes the C33 style of slowly evolving rhythms and grooves but expands upon it by incorporating loads of ambiance and focus on clean vox. Way more geared towards creating an atmosphere and textures rather than writing awesome riffs and traditional song structure a la Periphery.
They actually released something!
Cloudkicker: has slowly evolved to the current style shown on Beacons. Like the Tesseract approach, more focused on atmosphere and flow but takes a far more post-rock/metal orientated outlook. Lots of layering of guitar and use of build ups and climaxes. I tagged him post djent on last.fm but that was more for shits and giggles than anything.
Cloudkicker: recently revealed as an actual human being. Millions disappointed, hoping for higher form of life
JE N'EN CONNAIS PAS LA GENRE
Another point would be that there are several other genres named using onomatopoeia like beebop, doo-wop, jangle rock etc etc so the fact that "IT'S JUST A GUITAR SOUND" is pretty moot.
Of course, many of the actual musicians I cited here would probably disagree with me. Misha and Acle feel that djent is still just largely a guitar sound. Most people would like to kill me for using the term post djent. As a counterpoint to this one should note, Rosetta, the best post-metal band (fact) don't like to be called post at all and Despised Icon despise the term deathcore. Some bands just want to define themselves (Rosetta) and others wish to be disassociated from a stigmatizing grouping (Despised Icon).
Despised Icon: not deathcore
Now hopefully, djent will not be the next deathcore. Why am I even mentioning that dreaded word? Well, over the last 5 to 6 years, death/metalcore were the thing in heavy music. Perhaps I should rephrase that. I would hope that the fine musicians and the enormous talent displayed within this unique style of music gain as much attention as they possibly can. Djent is actually a very slick and marketable term. It rolls off the tongue, can be quickly associated with a certain sound and most importantly is short and memorable. While deathcore's rise was associated with a plethora of samey Myspace profiles and scene kids, djent is more associated with Soundcloud/Bandcamp and international collaboration (hint: one group of these things is better than the other). The whole scene is full of side projects, collabs, guest solos, musicians actively participating in sites like these and folks hanging out in #djent. It's all about peace, love and thick guitar strings.
Of course, there are negative aspects of djent. The online nature of the movement means that physical progress, whether it be in securing actual band members, labels or releasing something solid, can be fraught and unpredictable. There is an ocean of one member bedroom projects, plugging away on their Axe FX and pirated copy of Superior Drummer. The thin, artificial drums coupled with maybe three simple, left-on-the-cutting-floor-of-the-Nothing-sessions-riffs, repeated for a few minutes. Stale, emotionless, vapid. Void of any interesting or entertaining elements (at least deffcore had cr00sh breakdowns or horrific vox to laugh at). The phrase "It's just breakdowns" evolves to "It's just Meshuggah (but worse)".
A DETERMINISM OF DJENTALITY
At our worst, we aren't sure of ourselves. Is X djent? Is Y djent? What is djent (which I hoped I answered earlier)? Is ambidjent a dumb tag? Is post djent even worse? Will Periphery fans ever stop arguing over Mr. Sotelo? We question, bicker and deride. We are frustrated by the big names not delivering, by perhaps the lack of live shows, from the lack of coverage. We are angry at being put down by the naysayers who instantly dismiss the genre's validity, the trolls who tell us to stop listening to our limp wristed Meshuggah rip-offs and the elitists who don't really think much of the music anyway. A scene born of the internet, subject to all the internet can throw at it.
So, we are left hanging on the words of those who know. The nature of djent really precludes a defining figure or band however. Why choose Acle over Misha, Ortiz over Browne, Ben over Auré (full marks for recognizing all these)? Who knows? The debate is always shifting and flowing. New bands come crawling out of the primordial soup that is the internet. Bands that will appreciate being able to show off their work to a knowledgeable and tight-knit community that will literally listen to anything and be willing to give feedback. No one really knows what's up in the djent scene; too much shit happens too often. Too many bands, too many songs, too many new ideas. It's pretty much up to you. Stumbled on some awesome band? Tag it on last.fm, submit on got-djent.com, link it in #djent. Last.fm'ers will scrobble, the djentlemen here will listen and #djent will probably argue about it for 5 minutes and then get back to linking some really disturbing YouTube videos (but thanks for trying!).
From my perspective djent is probably a genre, at the least it's a style of music, definitely one of the most open, international and friendliest communities on the internet and the status quo is defined by folks like you and me submitting news articles about announcements about announcements (think about it). Most importantly, it's about those bedroom projects I so disparaged a few paragraphs ago. It's about the shift away from the traditional and utterly broken business model of record labels. Djent is caught up in an evolution of the control of information, the shifting away from relying on expertise originating out of a select few institutions.
Now, if I may put my English/Communications undergrad hat on, the fact the Periphery's self-titled debut long play record is entirely home recorded is part of this shifting of expertise. As Misha has said in many an interview, the guys didn't have to go into $10,000 worth of debt to get into a studio to record an album. They didn't have to be screwed over by any restrictive record deals. They own their music, every last note. They could go to a record company and present a finished product. This netted them some great deals which will allow them to make music how they want. For all the misery Tesseract has endured over the epic saga of their label hunt, they too have undoubtedly signed a deal that gives them control over their music. Paul Ortiz recorded At The Dream's Edge using keyboard drums for god's sake and doesn't that album sound beautiful?
Isn't this a lovely mess? I guess what I'm trying to get at is that djent is definitely a strong and vibrant scene and community. The arguments over genre semantics and Spencer Sotelo are bound to continue, as will the new music. We here at got-djent.com are certainly going to try and make sure you don't miss a minute of it.
All throughout this article I have mentioned you, dear users. You who make this community what it is. What do you think of the state of djent? Where have we come from? Where are we going? What are we doing? Do we even exist? Will Tesseract ever release 'One'? Comment below, head over to the legendary #djent or start a forum topic! To you my djentlemen and djentladies I thank you and will stop talking now.
AU PODCAST NATAL
As an aside I'd like to formally announce my plans to create and host an official got-djent.com podcast! I've wanted to get going on this for the last month or so, but alas, I have been super busy with college work. After Christmas I will have a relatively clean plate and hopefully the audio equipment to give the podcast the professional sound that all you wonderful people deserve! On the show I aim to have interviews, debate and discussion, news round ups, loads of awesome new music and plenty of listener interaction. See you in the new year!
Daniel "Klonere" O' Connor
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