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Scrunk happens

We're not fans, but the kids seem to like it
By LEOR GALIL  |  July 14, 2009

LCD SOUNDSYSTEM? brokeNCYDE's mixture of lowest common denominator screamo with misappropriated gangsterisms and garish emo fashion have drawn ire from the punk world.

You're traveling to another dimension, a dimension where the most detested trends in pop music combine to make a sound that teenagers cannot resist. Sure, the Warped Tour (which comes to the Comcast Center on Tuesday) isn't The Twilight Zone, but Rod Serling's taste for the absurd certainly fits well with this year's lineup. The tour's 15th year sees a large number of acts that have embraced a combination of minimalist Southern hip-hop, Auto-Tune croons, techno breakdowns, barked vocals, and party-til-you-puke poetics.

It's called scrunk, a bastardized combination of crunk and screamo, and it's the hottest thing since sliced bread joined Twitter. Chief among all the scrunk acts performing as part of the punk carnival is Albuquerque, New Mexico's brokeNCYDE, who have drawn considerable ire from the punk community and have ridden their infamy to #87 on the Billboard 200 with their debut album, I'm Not a Fan, But the Kids Like It! (Breaksilence). To the punk community, a genre like screamo had already hit rock bottom a few years ago, so the idea that a handful of kids would remix lowest-common-denominator screamo with crunk beats, misappropriated gangsterisms, and the extreme garishness of emo fashion was sure to incite hate-filled diatribes.

Musicians from Steve Albini to Thursday's Geoff Rickly trash them (there's even an awareness group named Mothers Against Brokencyde drumming up outrage), but the members of brokeNCYDE couldn't care less. "We don't care what people say," says vocalist Mikl on the phone from Utah. "All these critics are trying to bring us down, and yet we're selling a lot of copies of our music and that's because of our dedicated fans."

Carefree as Mikl may try to sound, he takes a defensive turn when it comes to how the band members are perceived as people. "We get this in interviews and other places all the time; that we're suburban kids, we're rich, we had it easy, our parents pay for everything, and it's the total opposite. We were raised the best that our parents could raise us, but there was times that we didn't have food, water, lights."

Yet, despite the various hardships the members of brokeNCYDE claim to have endured, it is by no leap of the imagination that people assume they're rich suburban kids with hot software. We need look no farther than their lyrics, which revel in the accoutrements of suburban comfort. Mikl states that the band writes about "everyday life." However, many of their rhymes come across as almost painfully juvenile attempts at plasticine gangsta rap, completely detached from the real: Put your hands down in my pocket/And make my pee-pee hard ("Sex Toyz"). Now drop it girl go shake that ass/I wanna see you make it clap/Like clap clap clap/clap clap clap ("Booty Call"). Kickin' it baby/Get crunk, get crazy/All fucked up/Make me wanna punch babies ("40 oz.").

BrokeNCYDE's messy setting of blandly misogynistic lyrics against a backdrop of catlike wailing, formulaic hip-hop tropes, and, yes, plenty of Auto-Tune has become poisonous to many punk ears. "There hasn't been a level of backlash like this toward one act in the 10 years I've been doing this," says AbsolutePunk founder and CEO Jason Tate via email. Tate is a regular contributor to the website's forums and has been absolutely stunned by the mere existence of brokeNCYDE. "They're just that bad, and they epitomize everything that music (and human beings) should not be."

Writer, musician, and author of the recently published TheGirls' Guide to Rocking, Jessica Hopper agrees with Tate's sentiment, and chats on the phone about how brokeNCYDE are "everything awful about pop music rolled together." Yet Hopper can sense the potential appeal to teenagers scrunk acts have. "If you are 16 or 17 right now, brokeNCYDE just completely references anything that might be a contemporary pop culture reference, or anything that a teenage person is into. . . . You kind of get everything at once."

When it comes to scrunk's newfound popularity, Hopper traces the sound's influence back to 2005, when Panic! At the Disco first mixed up emo and electronics, much to the delight of mainstream music listeners. Warped Tour co-creator and CEO Kevin Lyman points towards Boulder, Colorado's 3OH!3 as the real tipping point for scrunk. "They were right at the cusp of this at the beginning," says Lyman over the phone from Phoenix. "Though 3OH!3 doesn't incorporate the blood-curdling screams of many scrunk acts, they were the first emo-influenced act to depart from traditional instruments in favor of pre-programmed beats, all while retaining many of the same stylistic elements that define emo today. A couple of years ago, this stuff started coming around, and I let them [3OH!3] play one show in Denver. It went exactly like the showcase I'd like to see."

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Related: Smack downer, Slideshow: Warped Tour 2008, The Big Hurt: Checking the Billboard Hot 100, More more >
  Topics: Music Features , Entertainment, Pete Wentz, Hip-Hop and Rap,  More more >
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