Music of the 2000s: Who Created the Sound of the Noughties?
Well, that came around quickly. It only seems like five minutes ago that millennials were “the kids”, but already some of them are knocking on the door of 40, and plenty are settled down with children of their own.
It means their tastes are officially retro. Nu metal and pop-punk are now “dad rock”. Destiny’s Child and UK garage are played at brunch.
We’re as far historically from the new wave revival as that revival was from new wave itself. We are, in other words, already in the throes of a noughties (also known as the 2000s or just 00s) revival.
All of which can lead to some fun nostalgia – but also some perspective.
Checking out super producer Gordon Raphael’s book The World Is Going To Love This: Up From The Basement With The Strokes got us to thinking, what really was the sound of the 00s? Not just stylistically, but sonically – what were producers like Raphael doing with artistes in the studio that made the decade have its specific character?
Gordon Raphael in Buenos Aires, Argentina (2013) Credit: Juani Bousquet/Wikimedia Commons
It’s not a simple question. The first decade of the 21st century didn’t have a revolutionary moment in it, as when psychedelia, or punk, or hip-hop, or rave arrived. Quite the opposite, in fact: the arrival of downloading (legal and illegal), of iPods, of YouTube, of music blogs, blurred many things together.
The past was suddenly super available like never before – curious music fans no longer had to track down physical copies of obscurities to know what they sounded like but could instantly preview things.
Some people as a result of this thought that innovation had stopped, and we’d be swamped by the past.
And certainly, there was a lot of revivalisms about – whether it’s The Strokes digging into new wave, the Black Keys into blues rock, Amy Winehouse into vintage soul or LCD Soundsystem into post-punk and acid house, many defining records of the decade had their feet firmly planted in previous generations.
Timbaland on Centre Stage during day one of Collision 2019 at Enercare Center in Toronto, Canada. Credit: Collision Conf/Wikimedia Commons
But of course, there was immense innovation going on too, most notably in hip-hop and R&B. Mega producers Timbaland, Rodney Jerkins and The Neptunes were boggling minds with their off-kilter rhythms and sci-fi sounds, while in the deep south, the trap beats of Manny Fresh and Shawty Redd were creating a stripped back set of rhythm patterns with monumental bass that continues to dominate global music to this day.
Pop wasn’t standing still either. Producers like Xenomania, Stuart Price and Red One were turbocharging classic pop and dance from the 80s and 90s with weapons grade digital processing to create juggernaut tracks for the likes of Madonna, Lady Gaga and Girls Aloud to inhabit.
Similar things were happening for rock, metal and indie bands, too. Just witness what producers like Ross Robinson and Neil Avron did for the likes of At The Drive In and Weezer, or what Nigel Godrich and Paul Epworth did for Radiohead and The Futureheads.
Mark Ronson at NH7 Weekender 2015. Credit: OML Entertainment Pvt. Ltd./Wikimedia Commons
And in fact, those retro tracks weren’t really so retro. What Mark Ronson did for Winehouse, what Danger Mouse did for the Black Keys, what Raphael did for The Strokes might have picked up where old artistes left off but it wasn’t recreating the past.
Just like Red One or Ross Robinson, it was building something that could stand alongside Missy Elliot, Lil Wayne and Girls Aloud. And what’s more these things combined – pop, alternative, rap and rock all bounced off one another.
So, we’ve made a playlist that demonstrates exactly that. We hope that this captures the confusion but also the energy of a decade where things flowed together in fascinating ways.
The disco-punk, the ultra-pop, the crunk and trap, the multiple flavours of guitar music: when you put them together you start to hear the distinct character of the time.
There might not be obvious sonic signatures like the dominance of AutoTune and EDM style compression overload that would kick in in the 2010s, but there certainly is – we think, anyway – a vibe.
Note, there is some “spicy” language in the hip-hop tracks – and from Lady Gaga too – so this isn’t one to put on at work. But whether you’re after nostalgia value, a sonic exploration, or just something to cut loose to, it’s worth giving two hours of your time to.
And it’s worth appreciating all those producers – Missy Elliot, Rich Harrison, Scott Storch, Richard X, DFA, Lil Jon and the rest – who made the start of this century what it was.
Cover Credit: Irena Lazarova/Pexels, Ave Calvar/Unsplash, Kaysha/Unsplash
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Writer | Joe Muggs
Joe Muggs is a writer, DJ and curator of many years standing, covering both mainstream and underground. His book 'Bass, Mids, Tops', covering decades of UK bass music, is out now via Strange Attractor / MIT Press, and you can subscribe to his newsletter at tinyletter.com/joemuggs