Music Article

Pop in a Blender

Genre-blending rock -- Bands like EMF and Red Hot Chilli Peppers are mixing music by jamming different styles together

Burn down the disco/ Hang the blessed DJ,'' sang Morrissey four years ago. His words were a call to arms for his college-rock following, who thought dance music was mindless and manufactured. But for a new generation on both sides of the Atlantic, the old barriers no longer make sense. Bombarded by the gaudy debris of a fragmented pop culture, these kids like punk and rap, acid rock and acid house, metal and funk. Now that they're forming bands themselves, they see no reason not to combine everything that turns them on.

A new band called EMF — which combines pulsating techno-rhythms with brash, swaggering metal riffs on their single ''Unbelievable,'' a huge smash in the U.K. and currently breaking on MTV — typifies a new breed of British youth for whom high-tech dance music is the rock & roll of the '90s. EMF's name, short for ''Ecstasy Motherf---ers,'' is a cryptic reference to an illegal, euphoria- inducing drug associated with the massive outdoor dance parties the British call ''raves.'' Some critics immediately hailed EMF as the Sex Pistols of dance-rock crossover, seeing them as the spearhead of a new wave of British groups for whom house music could be called the new punk. But the comparison is more appropriate for Happy Mondays, delinquents from Manchester with a murky, criminal past, who play undulating trance boogie and amount to a '90s validation of the punk belief that, in the words of the Clash, ''the truth is only known by guttersnipes.''

U.S. counterparts (like the Red Hot Chili Peppers) of these British bands don't have the same underworld aura, nor are they as much at ease with technology. But they think funk is cool, because it's a sweaty workout between musicians grooving off each other. But there is one post-funk black pop genre funk & rollers dig: rap, perhaps because it was rappers like Run-D.M.C. and L.L. Cool J who first showed them that the mix 'n' match of gritty funk beats and pulverizing hard-rock riffs could be a winning combination. Soon the more alert metal groups noticed the affinity. The speed-metal band Anthrax recorded a rap track back in 1987; Bay Area headbangers Mordred have incorporated the rap technique of turntable scratching into their sound.

These new hybrids might prefigure a more racially integrated pop culture. In Britain, the rave scene blurs race and class lines in the ecstatic communion of the dance floor. Despite the rise of black rockers like Living Colour, the American funk-metal scene is predominantly white. But funk-metal has helped erode metal's insularity. Cut off from its R&B roots, metal grew stiff and sterile; the rigid thrash of bands like Slayer is about as white as rock can get. At the very least, the influence of black dance pop has provided rock with a vital transfusion of groove and swing. It's the latest installment in a long running saga: Rock looks to black music to regain its edge when its own resources are wearing thin.

Originally posted May 24, 1991 Published in issue #67 May 24, 1991 Order article reprints