As I explained in my About Me page, I am a lover of all music, especially djent, and despite djent getting a lot of hate, djent musicians are masters of their craft. As a fellow gear nerd, I have always felt inspired by the founders of djent. The likes of Misha Mansoor of Periphery and Acle Kahney of TesseracT who both created world renowned bands from their bedrooms thanks to their vast knowledge of music production and guitar equipment. Read the full story of me here! Djent is also a widely under-appreciated genre who’s artists definitely deserve a little more love so I thought I would take the time to explain what djent is.
The world djent was originally used by Meshuggah’s Fredrik Thordendal. Thordendal was talking on the Meshuggah forum and describing the sound made by their guitars. The sound made from the high gain, heavily distorted, palm-muted chug of the lower strings. Meshuggah produced the sound from playing a three fingered power chord (frets 133xxx) with an added 5th (1331xx). From there it has grown into so much more.
Djent is now an entire subgenre of metal. It even goes one step further as it is a sub-genre of another sub-genre which is progressive metal. It also happens to be a genre full of some of the most talented and creative minds today.
Djent came into being as a genre from a bunch of guitar nerds trying to recreate meshuggah’s tone. From this relentless search to recreate that sound, came some highly talented guitar players whose technical achievements can clearly be heard in the music produced. Because of this, djent is the genre for musicians, mainly guitarists but there are also some incredible vocalists and sick drummers. It is starting to branch out into a wider audience, but at its heart, it is musicians who truly appreciate the music as they can fully appreciate the intricacies of playing when they try and copy it at home. Or when the cycle continues and they hear the bands playing and think to themselves “that’s awesome! I wonder if I can make my guitar sound like that!”
Every band that has found themselves in the djent genre are all striving to push the standards of technical playing and quality music production. Every new album released is a stark contrast to the previous, you can hear the time and effort that’s been put in to create every new piece of work, the new music the band must have listened to as well as all the new technique you can hear they’ve been working on. Periphery, who are hugely important in the foundations of djent, have said in the past they don’t want to be classed under the djent genre because they found it too limiting. They don’t want to be stuck producing the same music year over year. I for one will always have them as a djent band but I am also glad they will continue to push themselves.
But what’s the whole story?
The true djent sound is definitely first heard (though it wasn’t labeled as such) on Meshuggah’s second album Destroy Erase Improve in 1995. If you listen to the song Soul Burn you can hear the odd rhythm guitar and chugging off time groove a decade before it’s time. You can hear them pulling away from their thrash metal roots and with hindsight we can hear the start of something wonderful. Pioneers, Meshuggah guitarist Fredrik Thordendal recount always wanting to get 7-string guitars, at the time 7-string guitars were very few and far between, you could only get the custom made with a hefty price tag attached. Then, in 1990, the first mass-produced 7-string guitars designed by none other than Steve Vai were released and Thordendal jumped on the chance to explore a new world of sound. Meshuggah kept on experimenting with their digital set up to get as tight a sound as possible and kept working on technique following along crazy polyrhythmic rhythms over a 4/4 beat.
The genre as a whole is largely thanks to Misha Mansoor, the founding member of Periphery. He appeared online under the name Bulb as a bedroom musician who started producing music that blew the minds of more than a few and began using the word djent. He got himself quite a following, thanks to his online presence, and once he got a band together Periphery’s success was inevitable. While Mansoor was busy in The United States, two other bands were forging ahead in the United Kingdom. Kyle Acle who founded Tesseract and John Browne who founded Monuments. Both former members of Fellsilent, Acle and Browne started their individual bands as studio projects. Producing music from their bedrooms and teaming up online to share tips and tricks with guitar gear, setups, tone, figuring out how to use the AX FX and to its full potential, stuff like that.
Then, in 2010, Periphery released their debut self-titled album and with it the song Icarus Lives, which is one of my favorites. At the end of the song a humorous rundown of the band is given and the audience are invited to “Be dazzled by distortion, be bombarded with bass beats and jitterbug to djent!” Which I’m sure at least made a couple of people become curious and delve into the wonderful genre of djent.
This is the essence of djent. It is an online phenomenon coming from guitar nerds staying up too late in their bedrooms, showing men can, in fact, be trusted to be productive alone in their bedrooms… Djent is about proving what you can do, not so that you can justify yourself to others, or so that others help to justify what you’re doing, it’s about pushing yourself creatively and technically to explore the deep realms of possibility while headbanging to a beat that is downright groovy as shit. Because of this, djent bands tend to have one mastermind who writes and produces all the songs of the album, while the band tends to be for live performances. This is mostly so in the band Chimp Spanner, where Paul Ortiz has complete control over this instrumental band. Other bands such as Periphery began from one mastermind but have grown together to become an unstoppable creative force of like minded talented individuals all working together to create something magnificent.
From this bedroom mentality where the people in question did not have a huge amount of money to outsource their problems or hire consultants so they picked up some serious skills! They needed to learn everything from composing a great piece of music to navigating their way through the POD settings. Then there is the matter of programming realistic drums that are technical enough that you wouldn’t know it was written by a guitarist. Then getting them to sound like a human is playing them is another matter entirely! Considering the process these people have taken to get to where they are it is no surprise that many djent musicians go on to start their own production companies!.
On a basic level djent is the onomatopoeia for that distorted high gain chug. To get this sound you need quite a technical set up from your guitar, as well as a specific technique from the picking hand. Everybody who plays guitar likely has a different way to pick the string, from how hard you pick hits the strings, to the angle it hits, and even where the hand is along the strings while playing, it’ll produce a different sound played closer to the fretboard than closer to the bridge. So to get the perfect djent tone once your electronic setup is complete what you want to do is this.
You want to be palm muting the strings but instead of the usual position at the bridge you want to be about half way between the bridge and the bridge pickup so the sound produced is REALLY palm muted. Then you want to hold your pick at an angle and pick really hard. Don’t strum but really deliberately pick the strings; like they’ve pissed you off. You caught them bad mouthing your momma so you gotta show them what’s what by attacking them with your pick! For more on how to get the electronic side of things sorted out check out the guide over at the Sevenstring forum here. It is a fantastic guide to all the electronic questions you could possibly have about getting the right djent sound.
The sound is everything when it comes to djent. The pioneers didn’t spend so long experimenting with their setup and tone for it not to be about the sound! It may have begun with the onomatopoeia but it has definitely grown into something much more complicated than that. Don’t get me wrong that sound is what started the process but it is now being used as a mere foundation for the complexity that lies above. Djent bands encompass all areas of great musicianship from taking the listener on a journey through the storytelling of the lyrics like Uneven Structure like to do to adding in influence from a love of electronic music like Jake Bowen of Periphery. It should be pointed out that djent is not a money-making genre, because of this the sound produced are all intricately woven together and unique. No one has produced an album to make lots of money so without that pressure, the musicians are able to really explore themselves and their passions. So every band who falls under djent gives you something new and exciting to listen to.
The djent sound is largely produced by electronic methods. I don’t mean that it is all done with electric guitars but it is all produced by a feed from the guitar into the computer while the drums and atmospherics are programmed in. The debut album by instrumental djentists Animals as leaders was recorded entirely without the need of an amp! Which makes sense why the band keep complaining that Tosin Abasi, the founding member, keeps writing the songs so that they are way to hard to play!
As I said before there were three initial clear players in the djent scene, Periphery, TesseracT, and Monuments. But Meshuggah will always be credited with starting off the process and providing the inspiration for many budding musicians. Sikth are another band who heavily influenced the djent movement. This is unsurprising when you listen to songs like Bland Street Bloom which was released in 2006. You can hear that deep chug similar to the djent sound as well as odd polyrhythmic solos and atmospheric elements throughout.
Then you have other djent bands such as Uneven Structures who are a french band pushing away from the electronically produced sound. Uneven structures are a complete contrast to Hacktivist who combine the classic djent sound with clean rap vocals! The main thing all the bands have in common is that they are all pushing their musical boundaries with what they are creating.
Check out this list of the best djent bands for the full rundown!