In 2000, Limp Bizkit’s new album “Chocolate Starfish and the Hot Dog Flavored Water” was released. The Playboy Mansion hosted a massive party to celebrate. All the day’s biggest stars were there: “American Pie’s” Alyson Hannigan, “Austin Powers’” Verne Troyer, Hole’s Courtney Love. Hugh Hefner danced in a mosh pit with Xzibit. Man of the hour Fred Durst showed up wearing a furry hat. “Chocolate Starfish” would go on to sell 1.05 million copies in its first week.
The album was fairly simple. Its lyrics were full of poop references, identical words Durst would attempt to rhyme together, and shout outs to the critics who “just didn’t get it.” The critics tended to agree. Limp Bizkit’s music was a sludge of confusingly muddled guitars, record scratching, and shitty rapping, they said. It was angry without being menacing. Most damningly, it was just monotonous. Every song sounded the same.
This was the apex of “nu metal.”
While it held a basis in the previous work of more respected rap-rock bands like the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Faith No More, and Rage Against the Machine, nu metal was something different—angrier, louder, worse—and it dominated popular music in ways that Rage and Nine Inch Nails never did. Music fans try to forget this, but Korn, Linkin Park, and Limp Bizkit were the biggest-selling acts in rock around the turn of this century. Linkin Park won Grammys and outsold everyone in 2001. Suburban kids wore cargo pants, sweat suits, and baggy shirts just like Durst. Korn headlined tours.
The genre had a moment. And now those bands are laughingstocks.
I thought about this yesterday while watching a goat sing along to Skrillex’s “First of the Year.” The goat improved the song, but that’s beside the fact. The point is this: In a few years, we’ll view dubstep—or whatever today’s version of dubstep is called; I’ve heard “brostep,” “gutterwomp,” or just “American dubstep”—just like we currently view nu metal. It’ll be scorned. Skrillex’s three 2013 Grammy wins will be mocked. And we’ll, again, collectively try to forget that we made a skeezy-looking dude and his movement popular.
It’s important to backtrack a bit and say that the current EDM craze didn’t come out of nowhere. Electronic dance music has existed since the 1970s. The 90s’ rave scene was huge. And I can tell you from experience that today’s headliners like Swedish House Mafia, Deadmau5, and David Guetta aren’t really creating music that different from the Chemical Brothers and Daft Punk, who blew up clubs in the early 2000s. But Skrillex’s womp-womps are new. The belching beats and predictable drops, which have now wormed their way into more and more mainstream songs, from Rihanna’s to Britney Spears’ to even Taylor Swift’s, are clear indicators that this bastardized EDM is the biggest force in music.
It’s also the result of what happens when something good, like the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Bloodsugarsexmagik,” somehow creates something awful, like “Rollin’.” Nu metal is rap rock gone awry. Brostep is EDM gone awry.
Dance music was never supposed to become the sonic equivalent of sitting in a dryer for an hour. It was never supposed to be this monotonous, either. But every Skrillex song is the same—a gibberish of modified voices, a pause, a drop, and those hard timbres drilling into your skull over and over again for three straight minutes. Always aggressively loud. But never aggressively creative.
The comparisons between brostep and nu metal go further than just their relative shittiness. Skrillex worked on the last Korn album. Both genres have featured concerts headlined by dudes slamdancing into each other. And just read these quotes from rap-rock and EDM pioneers when talking about what each one of their genres wrought:
“I feel no responsibility for that, it’s their mothers’ fault, not mine.” —Faith No More’s Mike Patton
“Brostep is sort of my fault, but now I’ve started to hate it in a way… It’s like someone screaming in your face for an hour… you don’t want that.” —Rusko
Sound that different?
If there’s any consolation to another rise of an awful musician, it’s this: Nu metal had a very short shelf life. Brostep will as well. In fact, I think its time of death is coming soon: Nu metal fell right around the time that the Christian acts figured out how to copy it. The same thing is happening with dubstep. If there’s ever a sign of a genre’s declining coolness, it’s that.
And then there’s this, too: Certain forms of music will always be welcome on a party’s stereo. Early 90s rap. 80s pop. Beyonce. Try putting on POD at a party now, though. It just hasn’t passed the test of time.
In five years, try putting on “Bangarang.” People will look at you like you’re a chocolate starfish.