How Electronic Music Grew Out of Its “Bro Culture” PhaseClick here to view original web page at www.bangerrecords.com
When I was in middle school and high school, electronic music was EDM. Dubstep, or at least America's version of dubstep, was everywhere. Skrillex was pretty much the face of the commercialization of the genre - listening to one of his biggest songs "Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites" now is like stepping into a time machine set for 2010. The sound was pretty far-removed from the actual dubstep of underground UK artists like Benga and Skream, which is chiller and sounds less like Transformers being crushed, so this new, Americanized electronic sound was instead dubbed "brostep."
The name was pretty fitting - the culture surrounding the music was, well, bro-culture. This culture ranged from the Call of Duty, Mountain Dew bro to the tank top and shutter shades bro, and eagerly welcomed the aggressive, macho sounds of brostep. Even when it came to artists like David Guetta, Swedish House Mafia, and Calvin Harris, whose music was less aggressive and more electro-pop than the brostep sounds of their peers, the idea that generally accompanied their music was the fist-pumping dude. Mainstream electronic music was completely dominated by masculinity.
In the past couple years, thankfully, the tides have shifted. As the general public realized just how unpleasant the defining features of brostep are - as brostep pioneer Rusko regretfully put it, "it's like someone screaming in your face for an hour" - the style quickly petered out. The bro-culture aspect of electronic music has been crumbling from all sides. On the fringes of the mainstream, more and more producers are creating music that is unapologetically feminine. Female producers are getting recognized. Even the mainstream in electronic music is becoming less bro-centric, with producers like The Chainsmokers, Flume, and Mura Masa adopting pastel, colorful aesthetics.
Female artists like Grimes, Kuçka, FKA twigs, and Jlin have been creating some of the most innovative, interesting music I've come across, and with electronic music being perceived less and less as a masculine genre, more opportunities are arising for these and other female producers to contribute and find success. It's of course super exciting to see more women finding success and being taken seriously in a genre that has typically been a bit of a sausage fest. Perhaps even more exciting are the possibilities that this shift opens up for electronic music itself. The more open any cultural space becomes, the more voices and perspectives are heard, the more chance there is for innovation. A cultural movement that closes itself off risks becoming repetitive and boring, and eventually becoming irrelevant. With the advent of cheaper technologies that made electronic music production more accessible than ever before, and now the shift in the perception of what kind of person can make electronic music, the already widely varied genre is becoming even more unpredictable and exciting.
On another front, there are producers steadily making their way into the mainstream pop world who challenge the restrictions and definitions of gender and what it means to be masculine or feminine. Norwegian producer Cashmere Cat, whose most recent star-studded album includes collaborations with artists like MØ, Ariana Grande and Selena Gomez, has said in an interview with The FADER that he doesn't want to make music that's "just for a bunch of smelly bros in the first row pumping their fists." When questioned in a later interview with the magazine about the "feminine energy" surrounding his name and his early press pictures, which were not of him but of female friends, he said there was a purposeful element in the beginning perhaps, but he basically does whatever feels right. This way of being fits right into the zeitgeist of blurring the lines between the feminine and masculine, and is definitely a shift away from the "macho" and hyper-masculine.
Another group of artists that is intentionally blurring these lines is PC Music, a label/collective founded by A.G. Cook. The group, which includes artists like SOPHIE, Danny L Harle, and easyFun, has been somewhat controversial, with some saying that they appropriate or objectify femininity in their music, as most of them are actually men. In an interview with Rolling Stone, SOPHIE responded to this by saying that he's "always been on the side of raising those questions and being critical, rather than just falling into saying, ‘I'm a man, and I'm making man music, and that's my place.'" Another example of a producer blurring and questioning the lines of gender, this attitude of making what you want and what you like is so much more conducive to creativity than strictly enforcing the stereotypes of femininity and masculinity.
At the end of the day, music should be for everyone, and artists should feel free to make whatever it is they like most. With artists like SOPHIE getting into the mainstream through collaborations with artists like Charli XCX and Vince Staples, and producers like Flume and Mura Masa seeming to embrace the previously-feminine, now-for-everyone, millennial pink, the perception of what electronic music is, who makes it, and who it's made for is becoming more inclusive. That's what I like so much about the shift away from bro-culture in electronic music. Instead of crowding people out, the genre is expanding and changing, and it is super exciting.