Minimal techno, black metal, witch house, goth: They are all some of my favorite music genres, but they’re also some of the bleakest. While reviewing end-of-the-year lists from a slew of magazines, it appears that I am not the only one who has become obsessed with darkness. In the past decade, many genres of music have begun shifting toward dark, sluggish, and spooky themes. All of this begs the question: Why has our culture, or at the very least our musicians, become obsessed with darkness?
Darkness in music is nothing new: The ’80s, for example, were dominated by post-punk and were dark in their own right. But it’s been over 20 years since darkness has been in vogue. Perhaps music is finally becoming a reflection of the global trauma evident in the news: oil spills, economic ruin, riots, revolutions, tsunamis.
As cultural analyst Simon Reynolds points out in his 2011 book Retromania, trauma induces repetition and regression, or hyperstasis. Reynolds implies that while we appear to be moving somewhere, we are actually staying in the same spot or even traveling backwards. In this state of hyperstasis, the past is perpetually reanimated into present culture. This results in individuals exhibiting an aching nostalgia for even the most irrational sorts of retromania.
As a result of global trauma, a large portion of the music being produced today seems to be haunted by the past. It is in music that we are seeing a distinctive reaction to the political and economic atmosphere of the world. This sort of sluggish and spooky music is not like the ’80s music that was dark for the sake of being dark, but rather is a result of social, political, cultural, and environmental shocks. Musicians today are taking ideas and styles from the past and are reworking them to become a reflection of the present. The world isn’t a good place right now, but the darkest hour is just before the dawn.