Djent or What makes a Subgenre? or Hubris on my part

So, as some of you may know, there is a new Meshuggah album on the horizon. This would seem like an opportune time to talk about Djent.

Just what is Djent? It is one of the many subgenres of heavy metal music. What does Djent have to do with Meshuggah? Well, they coined it. Why Djent?

The onomatopoeia of a heavily palm muted distorted guitar chord which is usually played as but not limited to a 4 string double octave powerchord, and as a result sounds much more metallic and sonically present than a ‘chug’ ‘chugga’ or ‘djun’ per se…

Djent bands tend to use 7 or 8 string guitars, allowing them to populate their songs with an abundance of bassy sounding and groovy riffs. Songs may employ polyrhythms, or sound polyrhythmic. Here are some examples:

Whether or not Djent is actually a subgenre of heavy metal music is a matter of some debate and some controversy. While I believe having a term for music that sounds vaguely Meshuggah-ish is useful, others think the idea silly.

Maybe we should start calling doom metal ‘DUNNN’.

Post-metal band Rosetta has said. Let us for the moment overlook that post-metal itself is a subgenre that causes some confusion amongst metalheads.

There is no such thing as ‘djent,’ it’s not a genre.

Randy Blythe, vocalist of Lamb of God.

Understandable that musicians take issue to the fact that Djent is a subgenre that seems like it almost exclusively categorises music on the basis of the sound of a palm muted power chord. I hope you can see from the above videos that there are other stylistic similarities, however.

Unlike, say Gothenburg sound, the Djent scene doesn’t have a particular geographic centre. Gothenburg metal did go on to influence bands from other locations (think of the number of metalcore bands that use Gothenburg style riffs), Djent has really had a more global emergence.

Tesseract are a British band, Periphery are American, Textures hail from the Netherlands, SikTh are another UK based band, Coprofago are from Chile (and their name means feces eating), and of course Meshuggah are from Sweden.

But should we hold this against Djent? The age of the internet has really brought the world closer together allowing ideas to be disseminated much more rapidly than before. Technology has reached a point where for very little money, people can produce music in their own home. The power of the internet in creating a global base for a genre can be demonstrated by the fact that Bandcamp has a tag for Djent.

If a subgenre could be said to be a selection of musical output that shares specific, identifiable characteristics that can then be represented in a market as a separate entity from other flavours of the parent genre, then I’d say Djent may just be a subgenre.

In my infinite wisdom, I decided to play “journalist” (nb, I am in no way a real journalist) and interview a friend about what he thought constituted a subgenre. His criterion was as follows:

fan speciation

The presence of an entire community dedicated to Djent would satisfy this criterion.

Edit: He did concede that subgenres being a way to index and market specific flavours of a parent genre sounds more applicable and less recursive than fan speciation. I just really liked the term =P Told you I wasn’t a Journalist.

I do not see why a lack of geographic centre could possibly invalidate a subgenre of music, especially in today’s highly connected world. It may not have the culture of Black Metal or the immediate geographic recognisability of Gothenburg Sound, but it certainly has a recognisable aesthetic.

The main problem I see for Djent as a subgenre is that bands that exhibit Djent stylings have in most cases already been claimed by other subgenres. If, say Coprofago are a technical death metal band, why should they also be seen as a Djent band? Is there room for Djent? If Coprofago can reach more people through the Technical Death Metal label, is there a need for them to be recognised as Djent, even though they do have Djent elements in their music? Similarly, Periphery is easily subsumed by Metalcore and Mathcore. The Djent style can be applied on top of other subgenres, making the whole thing messier.

The beauty of music is having ideas bleed into and influence other ideas. Jazz influenced Hip Hop is a beautiful thing to my ears, where the majority of the non-Jazz influenced stuff isn’t to my liking, but that is neither here nor there. This bleed and cross pollination, however, makes indexing a pain in the backside of anyone who tries to go about it. I do remember reading reviews of Blackwater Park that stated Opeth were a Black Metal band. True, they had Black Metal leanings in their previous works, but by Blackwater Park, they were truly something entirely unlike Black Metal. In metal I find the cross pollination of subgenres to be a particular problem. The days of listening to a band and being able to clearly identify them as a Thrash band or a Death Metal band or an NWOBHM band are long gone.

So then is Djent better thought of as a series of characteristics to be slotted on top of preexisting subgenres? That is yet to be seen as the Djent movement is still in its infancy.

It’s a rather tricky thing in the end. I shall continue to use Djent among a community that identifies music as Djent because it is sure to lead me to music I will likely find interesting. To me that is the point of subgenre labels, not cultural wankery.


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