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Wednesday, December 28, 2011 

Worst music of 2011.

After a couple of years where it's seemed as though mainstream music was hurtling towards deserved ignominy, with the record companies seemingly welcoming their own demise, it's a relief to note that 2011 has seen a slight revival in general fortunes. Not that this, it should be noted, has been driven by their choices as to what should be the next big thing; rather, what we've seen if anything has been a uprising from the bottom. Powered increasingly by YouTube and backed up by the social networks, the sound of 2011 has been fired by clicks rather than decrees from above.

It's rather churlish then to deny that the year has belonged to Skrillex. Having for so long rejected European electronic dance music, it's been amazing to seen how what is ostensibly dubstep capture American youth culture, even if it is only a flash in the pan. To do so though, the sound has been bastardised. Where the music which emerged from Croydon in the early 2000s was dependent on sub-bass first and the "step" from UK garage second, this has been turned on its head by the main US adherents to the genre. True, the emphasis on mid-range can be traced back to Vex'd and indeed even the revered Digital Mystikz, but it wasn't until this was subsequently taken to new extremes by the likes of Caspa and Rusko and the "new wave" of producers such as Flux Pavilion, Doctor P and Borgore that it seemed to be getting out of control.

Having started off in the emo band From First to Last, Skrillex continues to claim that he doesn't set out to make dubstep. His first productions, including a remix for Lady Gaga, are bog standard electro-house. Referring to it simply as working at a different tempo, his argument doesn't really stand up: even if it lacks the bass, the beat patterns are the same as those of his contemporaries. What can't be debated is that his tracks are very well made; the problem is that they're so soul-crushingly formulaic, and that his tried and tested method has now become the essential blueprint for the "brostep" sound. Listen to almost any of the tracks posted on the UKFDubstep YouTube channel, and you'll find thing eerily similar: the intro lasts for until between 0:50 to 1:10, then comes the "drop", followed by a breakdown, then the drop again, which will almost certainly be exactly the same as the first. Where dubstep that followed similar standards before often had a different drop and a changed riff (see almost any Skream track, for instance), now laziness, copy and paste and a lack of imagination seems to have taken over.

Even more terrifying has been the latest development: the mixing of nu-metal with brostep. UK producers like Distance have long been combining heavy guitar riffs with their bone-crushing productions, but this is something else entirely: they never imagined throwing screaming vocals into the mix, for very good reasons. This hasn't however stopped KoRn, apparently desperate for any chance to remain even vaguely relevant. Narcissistic Cannibal with Skrillex is one of those songs that just doesn't seem real: not only for the god-awful title, which would be too good to be true on its own, but for how Jonathan Davies of the band then promoted it, telling the world that his band were dubstep before it existed.

If Davies can at least be admired for his chutzpah, then the comments of both Jessie J and Adele instead give you something of an insight into the bubble in which pop stars in this country live. Both emerged from the horror factory known as the BRIT school, the state-funded arts college that has given us Amy Winehouse, Katie Melua and now, most terrifying of all, the lamentable Rizzle Kicks, who seem to be trying to be a more credible Goldie Lookin' Chain. In Adele's case, this pampering by the taxpayer doesn't seem to have rubbed off, as she complained about her tax bill. "Trains are always late, most state schools are shit", while a possible improvement to some of her lyrics, aren't views guaranteed to engender sympathy among those who hand over what little they have to pay for their copies of 21.

You can at least somewhat see why Adele's album has been far and away the best selling of the year. Even if Someone Like You seems more than slightly creepy if you bother to examine the lyrics from the other way round, Rolling in the Deep is a fine song, and even better when remixed by Jamie XX. Very little however can be done to improve the oeuvre of the aforementioned Jessie J, just as you can't polish a turd. If Adele seems to lack a sense of awareness, then Jessica Cornish (it's unclear where the extra J comes from) appears to be permanently living somewhere other than Earth. It's not just her widely marvelled at remarks after she broke her foot ("I have a different respect now for people who don't have legs", "You give so much as an artist, you give, you give, you give. I break my foot and I've got fans going, 'I've got a tummy ache, can I get a re-tweet?' People think you go to a special hospital, get special casts and treatment. It's like, 'No, I'm the same as everyone else,' and that was the moment when I had a proper good cry."), it's the remarkable contradictions contained in her music itself. Price Tag, with its refrain of it she doesn't want your money and just wants to make the world dance simply invites the question then of why she charges so damn much for tickets to her concerts, or why her album got repackaged in a "platinum" edition six months after release.

Her real crowning glory though is "Who's Laughing Now", a song which revels in its unpleasantness. Meant as a riposte both to bullies and those who doubted her abilities, it instead comes off as someone who's risen to the top not turning the other cheek and letting go but shitting on those whom now most likely regret their past behaviour. There is little that hurts as much as past stupidity which later comes back to bite you, and rather than having sympathy or forgiving, Jessie wants everyone to know that she is literally laughing all the way to the bank. And while it's difficult to know just how badly she really was treated at school, it certainly doesn't come across as especially vicious in the song, although that could just be her wretched lyrics: being compared to an alien and having teeth like Bugs Bunny might hurt if you're under 10; once you're 22 you really should have got over it. Likewise, if your former so-called friends' crimes only amount to tagging photos of you with them on Facebook, you might be the one with the problem rather than them.

Almost inevitably, having been around for 5 minutes and only written music which will be forgotten within 10 years, Jessie has been invited to be a coach and mentor on the BBC's latest doomed to failure attempt to outdo the X Factor. As a warning of what's to come in 2012, along it seems with the possible collapse of HMV, leaving essentially only supermarkets selling new physical music on the high street, it would be foolish to imagine that this year's up-turn will be repeated.

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