There’s a particular trend that’s taken over a lot of electronic music lately, one that a lot of producers have begun to embrace, if not fallen prey to entirely. The genre, which has been dubbed deconstructed club, is defined sonically by a lot of harsh industrial sounds, choppy drums, processed samples, and tense beats all wrapped around this futuristic, hyper-digital style. Though it’s been a growing genre since around 2009, it had a particularly large boom around 2014-2015 with artists like SOPHIE, Yves Tumor, and Arca getting attention and releasing fuller projects that began to really solidify the style.
The term ‘deconstructed club’ is a sort of all-encompassing label to describe a general shift in the attitude of electronic music producers. It’s a genre that’s defined by its transition, expanding and subtracting ideas within an overall structure. To forcefully put a definition to it wouldn’t be a misstep, considering a surface-level comparison of most of the artists in the genre adds up to a prevailing sound that is almost predictable in its unpredictability. The music is inherently influenced by club music, which can mean many things but most often refers to the sounds of EDM, trap, dancehall, grime, techno, house, footwork, and more. The result is a transformation of those influences into something more abrasive and unique, infusing them with electroacoustics, odd rhythms, and atonal elements.
To explain it in base terms would be to say it’s like IDM for the 2010s; they’re both glitchy extensions of electronic music with an emphasis on being hyper-modern and crisp, and they’re both pretentious names that are often disliked by the artists. But deconstructed club is not IDM, at least not in the late-90s Warp Records sense of the word. Most producers who make the music would call it “noise” or “experimental” but in my opinion, there are too many implications attached to those labels for them to be wholly accurate. The sounds propagated by this style are dipped in an obsession with artificial, processed noises and samples of things like hard plastic, bubbles, nails-on-chalkboard screeches, and various other foley effects that noise artists have been playing with for decades, only contextualized around a sort of implied phantom beat.
The essential ethos behind the music seems to be part of this natural evolution that results from producers taking somewhat formulaic dance music tracks and experimenting heavily with the sonics and song structure. Producers start asking valid questions like “How about I just not introduce the beat until the first minute of the track?” or “Can I flip the cheesiest sounds in my DAW into something insane?” It’s the natural result of giving a generation of curious and creative people a giant studio’s worth of equipment in, like, 60 gigs worth of software. Interestingly enough, a lot of this music sounds like a hybrid of the variety of electroacoustic experiments that the first electronic music producers were doing back in the ’50s combined with legit party music.
One could argue that a lot of what dub techno presents is technically deconstructed club since it’s another sort of response to electronic dance music, only wholly minimal in terms of amplitude and song elements. The reduction of tracks into simplified chord progressions and delicate sounds to create something moodier and more spaced out is again, flipping the style on its head. The genre was also born out of a club atmosphere, as shown by Basic Channel’s twist on the genre, as well as the obvious Selected Ambient Works 88-92. Likewise, artists such as Andy Stott, Laurel Halo, and Dedekind Cut are carrying the torch into this decade, rearranging tropes into
Unlike a lot of these influences and comparisons, however, the genre of deconstructed club tends to appear as a harsh and abrasive presence within the club atmosphere and caters to an audience of peers rather than a more esoteric bourgeois art scene. The principal driving force behind a lot of this music is a DIY, almost punk attitude, one that eschews more academic notions of what art should be and why it should be made. Artists are often pushing a subdued political message, one that’s not super overt but a driving principle for the sound. The context is that we’re moving closer to this post-gendered, late capitalist, completely electronic world, and a lot of these people who are stuck in the transition are at the forefront of this movement.
Artists will change names and infuse their identity with computer-generated avatars and characters that play up their demeanor, which is shown in the digital and phrenetic nature of the music. A large number of producers in the genre are usually nonwhite, queer, or don’t subscribe to the gender binary, set sexuality or gender roles, opting for something more fluid and less restrictive. Not only that but often the musicians will set out to tear down patriarchal norms as well as draw attention to social issues such as race and class. The music reflects this attitude as well; while not exclusively queer, working class, or POC, a lot of artists in the genre assume a sort of genderless, transhumanist style, playing up aspects of digitalism and steeping itself in a completely intangible realm, i.e. the internet.
A lot of this attitude harkens back to the origins of electronic dance music and DJ-based clubs, being a mostly queer and black scene that had ruled over the underground of cities like Chicago and New York. It’s a movement I think a lot of artists in this genre are trying to channel, consciously or not, the idea of taking back the sounds of their culture from the patriarchal and hetero scenes that have adopted it, either through just disregarding heteronormativity itself or by deliberately disrupting the atmosphere of the club via queer and femme performances in combination with aggressive and off-putting sounds.
Live, the genre can go into so many different avenues, often with the presumption that what’s about to be performed is a multidisciplinary art piece showcasing fashion, dance, visuals, and music, obviously. The purpose of deconstructed club is to literally “deconstruct the club” itself, meaning to redefine the space with which music is typically played and alcohol is typically served. It’s evident in the way Eartheater combines CDJs and live instruments, Sega Bodega’s exploration into string composition and soundtracking, and how Arca performances can sometimes be insanely elaborate fashion shows.
The use and abuse of DJ mixers into these crazy noise and ambient portions is a large part of this scene, outlining the kind of versatility and creative thinking behind a lot of the artists, and transforms the club atmosphere by introducing a multitude of genres in the mix. Most audiences are into it, as I’ve noticed, since we’re in this sort of post-genre world where musical tastes are more fluid and less divisive. People can enjoy dark ambient, hardcore, bubblegum pop, R&B, trap, and deep house all in the same night and nobody bats an eye unless it’s their first time there.
The divide in the genre comes from the people who are dead serious about what they’re making, these complex statements of social commentary, and those who see it as a cool outlet with a chance to add some crazy digital noise in a club setting. Check the first item tagged deconstructed club on RYM — it’s a Total Freedom x Yung Bukkake mix. How esoteric. Just as well, check Arca’s cover of “Hips
That being said, you can see as these deco club artists get older they become more willing to work within those spaces, and it further blurs the lines between club music and serious art pieces. It’s apparent in the evolution in the discographies of artists that fall under the label, such as Vessel’s transition from dark techno to the chamber music-noise-ambient hybrid album Queen of Golden Dogs, a young and spirited Kate Wax into the spiritual and sober Aïsha Devi, Renaissance Man into Amnesia Scanner, and SOPHIE’s early club bangers. Just as well, these artists have strong, ambitious visions that become more realized as the budget gets bigger. I mean, the music videos themselves are there to show that a lot of these artists aren’t really fucking around when it comes to making some powerful, albeit somewhat cryptic statements.
A cursory glance at the Rate Your Music page shows the genre starting towards the end of the last decade, where it was more “constructed,” coming off the heels of French House’s noisiest and skittering avenues. Artists coming from the UK and Europe, mainly, where electronic music has a stronger, more serious hold than in America, make up a lot of the originators. You can see the evolution that extends from somewhat jaded techno DJs looking to push the genre further with each Ableton update, plug-in, and synth module. Check out the growth in compilations from labels like Night Slugs, Doom Trip, and
An initial listen of the music begs the average listener to think “what the fuck” and the average producer to think “how the fuck.” The answer to the latter lies in a deep dive in the fuller capabilities of DAWs and various synth plug-ins. Often times you can catch artists like Iglooghost and Rennaisance Man revealing their process, using samples that are transposed, retextured, stretched, and warped into oblivion. Starting off with what one might call experimental techno, the cracks in the structure of the songs start to appear once some chopped-up amplified synths begin to peak through the mix.
Where normally dance music in the club is made up of a bunch of chained loops and clips, the arrangement of a lot of the tracks becomes the main canvas and allows producers to flex their compositional chops, adding and subtracting sounds like a conductor with an infinite orchestra of sounds. Hence why a lot of artists in the genre often dip their toes into soundtrack work. More often the music foregoes a lot of conventional song structure, but still stays gridded to a tempo, making the whole song inherently beat based. Mixing plays a large part in this genre, with all the work being done in the box and imbued with an almost disdain for unprocessed recorded material.
While this style is pretty fresh and exciting to a lot of listeners, the tropes start to become somewhat dulled as the initial shock wears off. The rapid rise and falls of the music creates this really jarring dynamic range that’ll make you audibly “whoa” on the first listen, but how many times can you hear a warped sample of glass breaking or gunshots coupled with plastic textured swells before it gets played out? Dance music will never die, but how far can you push a dance track before it’s totally unenjoyable? The genre is sort of predicated on this initial shock of complete freedom from typical melodies and structure, and while artists find ways to keep it interesting, the label “deconstructed club” may quickly become a relic if it doesn’t get solidified as a part of an overall mainstream sound. Nevertheless, seeing this genre grow as a result of technological advancements, disturbing realities, and the rise of introspective artists is very exciting, to say the least, and it’s inspiring to see so many young producers who have come up through a club atmosphere completely challenging their own environments.