A fascinating topic of discussion came up a few months ago in the fantastic Reddit subcommunity /r/letstalkmusic. The post pointed out the interesting, rarely-before-seen prominence of "darker" electronic music as of late. The points it made are absolutely true: there's not only been a rise in ominous, bass-heavy styles of electronic music recently, but said music has gained mainstream acceptance in a way that hasn't happened to this extent in many years.

The lush Balearic house so popular not only in its '80s heyday but also in the recent resurgence it experienced has been all but replaced with the London-at-night dubstep and garage of Burial, the gloomy electro-pop of The xx, and the monolithic negative-space electronic of Nicolas Jaar. This kind of phenomenon has happened before - see the prominence of legendary acts like Aphex Twin, Massive Attack, and Roni Size - but never has its popularity been this widespread.

To an extent, this kind of counter-culture movement surged forward the same way most counter-culture movements do: as a motion against the purportedly "uncultured" mainstream. As Simon Reynolds points out in his excellent book Energy Flash, the culture of electronic music has always been driven by a split between people who listen to music "for the body" and music "for the mind." This rift first became apparent during the heyday of UK hardcore in the early '90s, when Warp Records purveyed "intelligent techno" as a response to the drugged-up hedonism of hardcore's heavily percussive, usually non-melodic format.

The split between body and mind is easily visible today as well. We've got the obvious, of course: big-room house producers churning out banger after banger to immense sales and huge "EDM festivals" selling out before lineups are even announced. However, the massive popularity of neon-glazed hip-hop like the tunes Rustie, Flume, and Cashmere Cat are putting out also fuels the rupture. It's more critically acceptable to like Hudson Mohawke, for whatever it's worth, but the syrupy, energy-dripping trap that many people (myself included) love so much still creates a maximalist impetus towards more minimalist music.

  • Cashmere Cat.

Therefore, it's reasonable to view the near-universal acclaim for acts like Andy Stott and Demdike Stare as representative of the ever-present mind/body dichotomy. Sure, the fissure has always existed, but the popularization of the Internet has eased and amplified the dissemination of ideas around the world - people peddle their music and their ideas to whomever will listen. The bitter war of ideas between the two factions has been around since the original rupture; Reynolds, in an essay for The Wire, observes that "critics who like to deal with [music] as a surrogate form of literature are the most threatened by this anti-humanist noise, which is closer to a power source or intoxicant than poetry." Though the quote was especially relevant during the propagation of "intelligent dance music" twenty years ago, it still holds true. Look at the comments section of any review of a pop-focused electronic release from the past few years, and you'll find people dismissing the music as "easy sales generating, lowest-common-denominator, populist trash."

As a fan of both "mind-focused" and "body-focused" electronic music, what I find most interesting about this resurgence of more industrial-tinged and bassy music is how similar it is to a lot of the endearing qualities of maximalist electronic, despite how fans of the former tend to dismiss the latter. Take Darkside's excellent 2013 album, Psychic, for example. It's easy to see the release's focus on desolate soundscapes and coldly efficient sound design - just look at opening track 'Golden Arrow' and its slow, sinister build over the course of many minutes. Its use of subtle transitions is impeccable, it delays its brilliant climax almost indefinitely, and its disorienting guitar wails are especially difficult to listen to compared with the liquid brilliance of Swedish house or melodic hip-hop. But it's also easy to argue that Psychic affects the body in much the same way a Lunice track would. In the case of 'Golden Arrow', the machinistic funk of the vocal-bassline contrast, especially juxtaposed with the straight ahead kick-snare pattern, is not unlike a more subdued version of a Disclosure-esque pop-house tune. The experience I had with Psychic was magnified when I went to a Darkside concert in February: the 4x4 kick, amplified to the point of being literally chest-rattling, awakened some sort of primal, endorphin-triggering instinct, letting adrenaline and serotonin flow as I lost myself in the crushing synths.

  • Darkside.

And, really, that's why I listen to electronic music in the first place. At its most base, a lot of the music on both sides of the mind/body dichotomy is just trying to trigger certain synapses in the brain in order to alter the body's chemical states. After all, I listen to the music - no matter its classification - in order to feel something. My pursuit of reaction, both mental and corporeal, is what attracts me to the music in the first place, and why I try to listen to everything I can from both sides of the schism. And, in the end, ease of access - whether iTunes, Bandcamp, or free Soundcloud downloads - fuels the creation of more and more quality music.

As Reddit user autophage commented on the above post, "I think it's just that it's easier to get from the center to the fringe, and therefore it's easier for people to realize that stuff outside of what's on the radio exists. I can listen to all the black metal I want without paying international shipping. I might realize I don't even like black metal - but at least I know that it exists... and some portion of the population will like it if they can only get the exposure." More exposure leads to more diversity in taste, which in turn leads to more quality music produced in every style, which then leads to a more interesting musical landscape - and no matter your stance on the ever-present split, that's a very good thing.