Today the Sounding Out blog posted an article called Going Hard: Bassweight, Sonic Warfare, & the Brostep Aesthetic. Now, when people say ‘Sonic Warfare’, that’s usually my cue that it’s naptime… Turns out the essay by Mike D’Errico can springboard some interesting discussions, but his core conceit involves over-gendering brostep. The best example I can give of this is by examing how Mr D’Errico misconstrues & misquotes writer Julianne Escobedo Shepherd.
Discussing brostep, D’Errico writes: “Julianne Escobedo Shepherd describes the style as ‘frat-hazed, misogy blow-job beats.’” That gave me pause. Sure, it supports his reductive thesis, but Julianne Escobedo Shepherd is one of the best music critics around, and DJs an excellent radio show to boot. She’s got her ear to the ground in a way that few others do, and that includes being sensitive to how sounds actually play out on the dancefloor – where context and intent can queer up even the most heteronormative sounds –, and besides, hasn’t Shepherd, like me, championed the work of brostepping Mexican DJ Javier Estrada among others? Strenuously working to position a music production aesthetic as masculine is a tricky proposition at best. Not only does it reinforce gender binaries (male = hard!) but if you’ve spent any time in clubs, it’s never that simple. (Or if it is that simple, then you’re in the wrong clubs, but don’t worry, my friends can help you out).
Since D’Errico’s quotation of Shepherd felt so weird to me, I decided to follow the link to check. What I found was shocking. He had taken two sentences out of context, combined them into one phrase, and slapped an adjective used to describe fans of a single musician onto the music itself — all in the service of inverting her nuanced points about the reductionism required to align mid-range bass frequencies with bro culture!
A male music writer chopped up, distorted, and misquoted – ‘modulated’ to use his parlance – a female writer’s words, willfully ignoring her article’s clear points, in order to support his thesis that Brostep is a hypermasculinst hypermediated control gambit. The mind boggles.
Here’s what Shepherd actually wrote, in a 2012 article discussing how brostep is in fact on the wane:
The concept of “bro-step” as a typecast is also strange — because, what makes mid-range bass so overwhelmingly bro-y? Perhaps I’m missing the point, but I consider myself far outside the realm of brozones, and as a female-born, feminine woman who loves gut-rumbling wobble and monstrous subbass, its codification as particularly bro-y is unnecessarily exclusive and of course super-reducto. Of course in certain realms maybe it makes sense — the misogy blow-job beats of Borgore, say, probably hold a greater fascination for the recently frat-hazed than, you know, me, although I still can appreciate the gnarled nastiness of the rhythm section.
It is as if the twisted distortions of hypermasculinist Brostep have invaded D’Errico’s writerly sensibility. Perhaps this is because they can’t be found in the musical world, especially in 2014, when brostep as a genre is clearly on the way out — although, as has been the case since the beginning, many artists continue using techniques gleaned from it in fascinating, unanticipated ways. Sure, the sounds of brostep are used in violent video games and movies — so are many other music genres and aspects of sound design… And the brosteppy wobble is also present in easy listening radio pop…
To suggest a relevant alternative to D’Errico’s starkly schematic area of inquiry: where does Hatsune Miku fit into all this?… A post-gender android singing synthesizer whose use requires enormous amounts of ‘hypermediation’ to sing well, a feminine-avatared piece of proprietary code that sparked a popular phenomenon where you have boys and girls and women and men spending as much time any brostepper programming synths, and as a bonus, Hatsune’s case gives us uncanny and confusing challenges to standard notions of voice, body, sexuality, transmedia fandom, and more…
Perhaps the Hard, Loud sounds of brostep left D’Errico desensitized to the considerations found in Shepherd’s take. Perhaps the best music critics really are dancers and DJs, not because they engage with the songs at a bodily level but because in order to dance reasonably well one must first be a good listener, and aware of all the many other bodies in the room.