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Elliot Alpern: Exploring up-and-coming genres

By Elliot Alpern, Daily Music Columnist
Published February 24, 2014

Back when I was still in high school, I remember a friend bringing up a new style of music he’d been listening to lately: dubstep, dub for short. I’d never heard it before, and the name brought to mind strange connotations — druggy, numbed listeners dancing a shuffling jig, some fusion of stepping in place and whatever the hell “dub” was.

Slowly, the genre began to take root like a stubborn sapling, gathering in strength until it pervaded the house scene as a whole. Skrillex, deadmau5, Modeselektor — at Lollapalooza, dubstep moved from the dance tent to the headliner’s stage in just a year’s time. Predecessors like “wub” had been around since the early ’90s, but it wasn’t until the end of the 2000s that the “wobble bass” style exploded into the limelight.

Once artists like Britney Spears were depending on dubstep (see 2011’s “Hold It Against Me”), it was clear that the style had reached a critical mass. Those rubbery basses have been everywhere lately — even TV commercials, the graveyard of musical trends, have started to feel tired when the bass drops under some guy showing us his cell phone. Clearly, some shiny new influence will rise to become the newest, “hippest” element of pop music. But what? For the time being, I’ve picked a few other genres or styles that I could see propping up the most recent Disney-star musician.

Kwaito/Zef

This is admittedly a weird pick, but I’ve listed it first here because it seems like the most interesting possibility. Hailing from Africa, Kwaito — and more recently Zef — could be the next big hit to come from an unexpected origin (see “Gangnam Style”). South African group Die Antwoord has picked up some traction in the U.S. through catchy (if extremely creepy) club hits, and it’s not hard to extrapolate that some of Africa’s booming hip hop will follow. Usually a bit slower than the current house, Zef will need help via incorporation of American artists, but the potential explodes from there. African rap is downright infectious, and its boisterous presence seems like it would fit in right at home with the current climate of the hip-hop world.

West Coast Vibe

Really, I have no other name for this, other than the phrase Daft Punk used to describe their most recent influence (specifically, those Californian pioneers of the ’70s). But when a record like Random Access Memories wins Album of the Year at the Grammys, how can you ignore what makes it stand out from the other nominees? “Get Lucky” took home Record of the Year with that catchy groove, and “Blurred Lines” has dominated the charts using something like a ’70s funk flavor. Regardless of how you feel about either of those albums, “West Coast Vibe” seems primed to explode into every other band worried that it’s getting stale (and really, if you don’t like Daft Punk, just get out of here).

The New Alternative

If you’ve read my column before, you know that I’m a bit of a fan when it comes to alt. But luckily, this has relatively little to do with that. All you have to do is look at the Billboard Hot 100 at the time of this article’s writing. Four of the Top-10 premiered on XM’s AltNation well before they shot their way up the charts. OneRepublic, Lorde (to a lesser extent), Bastille, Passenger — all of those names hung around the fringes of alt-rock before they ascended to the big leagues. And they’re only following in the footsteps of similar acts like Foster the People and Gotye, proving that we might be in for a decade of alternative trends.

Something Something Something Disney

Once again, this is going to be kind of a strange one to describe, but bear with me here. I think that, these days, it’s only a matter of time before a few more Disney music stars are born. But, shocking plot twist — what if the new Disney star is actually a good musician? Maybe not liked, but at least respected as a talent. And then, in another shock, new Disney star collaborates with a heavyweight of the music world — think maybe Jay Z or Kanye. And it works. Where do we go from there? How does the music world reconcile such an oxymoron of taste? By accepting it, more or less. Slowly, the stigma will fade, and eventually somebody who can actually play the guitar will be selling out arenas with Yeezus right behind them.

Or not. Some perceptions are damned hard to break.


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