Stale Bread, Stale Music: The Bandwagon Effect & When Music Gets Old
by Jonathan Jaeger
I love discovering new genres of music that I haven’t really listened to too much yet, so even if some of the music in that genre is repetitive it still sounds new and exciting. What happens if everyone else is in on this same music discovery? Do we get rapid innovation by artists as the style changes or do we get a flood of artists all playing pretty much the same thing? Most music genres are not exempt from this problem. Sometimes too many people get driven to a particular style, more and more bands mimic the innovators of that style, and suddenly there are too many subpar and generic rip-offs of your favorite artists that lead to the whole genre becoming outdated. If it doesn’t become outdated, then it is mocked until one day the music passes for the fad of a previous generation. Everybody remembers what 80’s hair metal was like and how 90’s grunge rebelled against the excess of the preceding generation. I was either not alive or not old enough to enjoy both those music generations, but I think I’ve watched enough VH1 nostalgia shows to get the gist. In the post-boy band era that we are in right now, we might not have the same mainstream music fads, but music genres are still not immune to the bandwagon effect. Now with the presence of online forums and blog commenting, we get an “elite” group of music enthusiasts who are ready to pounce on any new artists within a genre that’s becoming stale and overdone. Even if in the minority, those who criticize the overhyped and overextended artists of the genres they care about foresee the same demise of a music generation that happened in the 80’s and 90’s. Every good thing must come to an end.
Two of my favorite genres have recently been struck by the bandwagon effect: metal and dubstep. Over the past decade, the New Wave of American Heavy Metal (NWOAHM), pioneered by such groove metal and hardcore acts as Pantera and Biohazard in the 90’s, welcomed my generation’s new heavy metal titans—including Killswitch Engage, Lamb of God, and Unearth among others. The mix of metal and hardcore (dubbed metalcore) brought on many imitation acts that decided to copy the style of the increasingly mainstream metal acts. What became of this: the breakdown. The breakdown is defined in one post on UrbanDictionary as, “A style of guitar riff used in Hardcore (punk) music that consists of a single note being chugged slowly for maximum heaviness and brutality.” The breakdown quickly became the cliché of many of the new metal and hardcore acts, resulting in a backlash by metal fans tired of the same old chugga-chugga guitar riffs used as an excuse to start a mosh pit. These fans wanted something they liked to listen to at home too without getting bored! Of course the naysayers are usually the most vocal bunch of the metalheads, so it’s possible that the mainstream metal fans still love the breakdown as much as I do. Either way, when something in music becomes overused to the point of mediocrity (and boredom), I tend to only enjoy it when the music is done well or the clichéd aspects of it are at least done in a tasteful and artistic way. I still swear by the breakdowns in many of my favorite metal acts when they’re actually delivering the goods (reference to old school Judas Priest song intended).
The “wobble” bass sound used in a lot of the dubstep music these days is falling victim to the same overuse and scrutiny as metalcore’s breakdown, although the dubstep scene has not been as saturated as the metal scene since the genre itself has only been around for a little over a decade. The wobble sound, which actually sounds a lot like “womp womp womp wa-womp” (try saying it out loud), was only popularized in the last few years by such dubstep artists as Benga, Skream, and Rusko, with heavy play in the U.K. underground electronica scene. The movement has reached the States, and now everyone and their brother (and sister) are remixing the latest pop or electronic track to make it sound dubstep-y. To be honest, I can’t get enough of it, but really it comes down to being tasteful. This is a lesson for artists who are not currently part of a popular music movement. If you cling to something good, something that’s gaining rapid popularity, there’s a good chance it actually is as good as everyone thinks it is. But maybe it’s too good! Something as wicked as the wobble might get played out to the point that we all become tired, jaded, cynical versions of our past selves. Ok.. that might be a stretch for some, but it is a warning that we should only pepper in the greatest sounds and effects in our music rather than pouring on the whole bottle of ketchup. Don’t let the lid fall off. Moderation in music is the key to perfection. I just hope my favorite genres are not ruined by their excesses.
These are not the best metal and hardcore breakdowns, but it gives you a good idea about the transition from fast guitar riff to slow chugga-chugga riffs:
The dubstep wobble starts early in this one: