Why Do People Like Abrasive Music?

This is an article I’ve been thinking about writing for a while. For starters, it gives me a chance to talk about one of my favorite bands in contemporary music. For a typical 21 year old girl in university its not often I get to talk about my discovery in music without being judged.  But it also is a chance to perhaps inform some people on why exactly people like loud and abrasive sounds in their music. There is a reason that this type of music tends to stay out of the mainstream: it isn’t for everyone. But just because it doesn’t appeal to the masses, it doesn’t mean that it can just be dismissed. It is not uncommon for more obscure and abrasive music to receive universal acclaim from critics. Take, for example, Death Grips’ The Money Store. That was an album that was very challenging upon first listen.

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The problem with abrasive music is that it requires an attitude and a particular taste when consuming it. It requires a more active listening process; one that calls upon the listener to think about their emotional reaction to the sounds they’re hearing and the emotion they perceive is coming from the artist themselves. With Death Grips, most of their music revolves around a feeling of paranoia and violent aggression, and coming into their music expecting anything else may leave you disappointed. I like to cite an old Greek term known as “catharsis.”

According to Aristotle, catharsis (being the feeling of being purged of deep emotions) is the goal of tragedy. I think this can be applied to abrasive music as well. Death Grips appeals to a very primal part of the human being; a part that a lot of us don’t like to even recognize as even being there. It’s the beast in us that wants to destroy things, and listening to this music (or music similar to it) purges a sort of primal aggression in me. It’s an outlet for those deep-seeded feelings of violent anger.

One high point for the angrier and more abrasive side of music for me personally is the lyrics. I know a lot of people who’ve tried to listen to metal music and just couldn’t get into it. The reason that a lot of these people have cited is that they “can’t understand what they’re saying.” That’s a fair point, and at the end of the day this is all just a matter of personal preference. But I have the feeling that perhaps more people would at least understand where the sound is coming from if they dug into the lyrics a bit more. Although this band is a divisive one within the black metal community, I have to give props to the band Deafheaven for proving to me that metal isn’t all screaming and blast beats. There’s actual heart being poured into a lot of this music. Deafheaven’s second studio album, Sunbather, deals a lot with issues of alcoholism, addiction, and feelings of hopelessness. The music is abrasive, but at time, very melodic as well. Sometimes abrasive music isn’t good on its own; sometimes it has to be juxtaposed with sweeter and more melodic moments like those found on Sunbather. Although it arguably requires too much effort when it comes to consuming art, reading lyrics can go a long way in explaining the sounds. One may still not like the sound, but they may then understand why it’s there.

Another reason I’ve seen people cite for liking abrasive music is just the sense of shock it gives them to hear something out of the ordinary. When I hear something you don’t expect suddenly blasting into the mix of a track, it startles me. It can often cause a physical reaction that is just as strong as my emotional one to the sounds. My heart rate goes up, and I may even being sweating in some instances. It’s really hard to explain the complete reaction with words, but in essence it makes me feel alive. I’m reminded that there are still surprises out there in music. I haven’t heard every sound that can possibly be created. So when I hear something that startles me, it gives me a sensation of being surprised and of just being alive. That may sound odd, but there really is no better word I can think of to describe the sensation.

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