Monday, November 28, 2011

COLUMN: Skrillex

Listening to me whine about growing old is a recurring theme of this column, and based on my inbox, it's a theme that a lot of you have very little patience for.  After all, I'm only 40 -- it's not like the news networks have my obituary on standby or anything (though, based on the number of drive-thrus I've frequented since my girlfriend and I broke up, it might not be a bad idea.)

In many ways, I'm still a young pup.  And to sit here and be all, "Woe is me, for the sands of time hath blown me closer to the tomb!" when my primary audience is likely OLDER than me?  Yeah, that's not gonna fly.  So I've made it my mission to stop complaining about life as a 40-something.

But just because I've stopped complaining about it in print doesn't mean that I've grown any more comfortable to its dread arrival.  What it comes down to is THIS:  In my mind's eye, I still picture myself as a counter-culture college student. Truth be told, when it comes to MOST things in life that I like -- music, DJing, TV, video games -- I'm past my prime. That 18-34 demographic came and went.  I'm supposed to now be stuck in my ways, listening to dated music and watching reruns of "Law and Order" while telling teenagers what life was like before cell phones and mp3's.  I choose to NOT go gracefully into that good night, thanks much.

So I'm coping.  And trying to keep my yap shut so I come across as calm, cool, and still in possession of as much youth and charm as I can muster up.  But this weekend, something really evil dawned on me that truly brought it all home...  

One of my favorite hobbies is playing in trivia nights around the area, but an ever BETTER time is getting asked to emcee one of them. This week, though, I'd bitten off a little more than I could chew: TWO trivia nights in one week. That meant coming up with 100 questions, 100 answers, and a nifty Powerpoint presentation for each of them.  So while you guys were enjoying the last decent weather week of 2011, I was sitting in my living room, unshaven and occasionally unbathed, furiously looking up random facts about random stuff.

Since trivia nights draw crowds of all shapes, sizes, and ages, careful attention must be paid to creating a set of questions wide-ranging enough to keep everybody happy. So when I was working one of our music categories, I was focusing on artists from all eras and genres... and it hit me.

When I was in high school, the primary objective was to be cooler than the next guy. So when everyone I knew was listening to Bon Jovi, I rebelled by discovering the Beatles.  In a time when radio was ruled by new wave bands that sounded like the future, wandering down Penny Lane through Strawberry Fields Forever seemed nothing less than archaic.  It was, and is, wonderful music; but even back then, it sounded like a beautiful remnant from a bygone and distant era.

I've just realized that I'm now on the OTHER side of that coin.  When I was listening to the Beatles in high school, their music was 20 years old. NOW it's the "new" music I listened to in college that's just turned 20.  Nirvana's "Nevermind" just turned 20.  I believe this may even constitute it now as "classic rock."  Does this mean that kids in high school today hear Nirvana the same way I heard the Beatles?  As some of kind of crusty old antique?

In a way, it's a little disappointing.  Back in high school, bands like Duran Duran and the Pet Shop Boys sounded so futuristic they couldve been from Mars.  And I remember thinking, "Wow, in another 20 years, music will be SO cutting-edge, it'll be unrecognizable!"  Umm... future FAIL.

Guitar rock, for the most part, sounds about the same now as it did back in the early 90's, and about the only thing that differentiates Britney Spears from Debbie Gibson is less clothes and a slightly superior synthesizer. The only REAL evolution in music over the past two decades has come from hip-hop, and a good chunk of that just samples beats and loops from my era and before.

The high school me would have assumed that, by now, our Top 40 charts should sound something like the cantina band from Star Wars crossed with power tools. Thus far, future music hasn't been very futuristic.  Then I heard Skrillex.

Every week, I'm getting more and more requests for his music at DJ gigs, and his popularity continues to grow and grow.  There's a genre of music big in Europe right now called "dubstep" - slow-tempo dance music characterized by throbbing basslines and little else. Skrillex, an American producer, takes that blueprint and adds as many abrasive synth noises as possible. It is definitely the music that was in my head when the 1981 version of me wondered what the music of 30 years down the road would sound like. And it's entirely unlistenable.

Every Skrillex song employs the same formula:  A harmless beat kicks in and is usually surrounded by some etheral synths and dreamy vocals.  Then, right as you're about lulled to sleep, someone screams and the song explodes into what sounds like malfunctioning, shrieking robots through the din of a bassline that goes "WUB! WUB WUB WUB!" violently for 6 minutes.  It is impressive in its awfulness.

This is the music that Death Stars should get destroyed to. The music to turn Elroy Jetson into a delinquent.  It is ahead of its time, proof positive that the world is evolving, and God-awful to my 40 year old ears - just as it should be. But when I first heard Skrillex in a CLUB, where every screech and WUB gets pounded into your soul by subwoofers, I understood.  It might be awful but it's AWESOME, too.  

I'm getting older, going grey, and officially hating a form of modern music.  But even though I can't the stuff, I get why kids would like it and appreciate its awesomeness.  Skrillex is the Kurt Cobain of its time, and maybe even the Beatles of THEIR time.  As long as I've got THAT understanding, I'm ok with getting a little older.  Just keep it off the soundtrack of my video games or I'm gonna get irked.

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