From Nü-Metal to Nü-Meta: How Body Horror Connects Slipknot and Oneohtrix Point Never

Daniel Lopatin, aka Oneohtrix Point Never, is an electronic music luminary — he’s given lectures for Red Bull Music Academy, done residencies at Rensselaer’s experimental media center, and generally received unanimously rave reviews for all of his work.

He also fucking loves Slipknot.

He tweets about them, shouts them out in interviews, and cites them as a direct influence on his music — one of an increasing number of artists who show reverence to nü-metal, one of music’s most historically reviled subgenres. Lopatin’s new album, Garden of Delete, sometimes sounds like Slipknot songs repurposed as ambient glitch: tracks like “I Bite Through It” use glitch patterns that sound like blastbeats and stuttering samples that call to mind Corey Taylor’s clipped vocal style. Most tellingly, Lopatin directly references Slipknot in the album’s first video.

Slipknot’s “Duality” video, from 2004, is one of the defining moments of the nü-metal era, maybe the defining moment. After a fan invited the band to perform in his parents’ home in Iowa, they put out an open invitation for fans to show up to the shoot. What results is a crushing mass of humanity and destruction as spectacle: the video opens with a swarm of fans charging the house in question, and follows them as they tear it to pieces. The destruction of the house, as a spectacle and a celebration, might be the definitive image of nü-metal. The video was released as the movement was reaching the end of its cultural relevancy, and, as a document of pubescent frustration (of a specifically male variety — there are two or three women in the video, at most) translated into pure, destructive kinetic energy, it’s a fitting cap to the era as a whole.

Oneohtrix’s “Sticky Drama” video opens similarly, with a slow-motion shot of a group of kids running toward a house. In “Duality” the kids’ destructive intentions were betrayed by their bared teeth and visceral expressions; here it’s by their “body armor” and toy weapons. From the teenage ass crack visible in the opening shot to the piss, vomit, and pulsating slime that appear later, the video is heavily influenced by body horror, relishing in depictions of organic grotesquerie. Violence is abundant, but the camera focuses less on the act itself than the effects thereof, lingering on grievous injuries and melting, disembodied heads.

Central to Garden of Delete’s alternate-reality campaign is the fictional character Ezra, “a humanoid alien stuck in an infinite loop of molting puberty” who has his own Twitter account and is featured in the “Sticky Drama” video. Ezra is depicted as an average-looking pubescent boy, but with the gross bodily signifiers of puberty amplified: his acne is huge and bulbous, pus-filled sacs an inch in diameter that look like bad burns or clusters of alien eggs. Ezra’s “skin is constantly melting off,” and “all [his] friends are dead because being around [him] makes them sick”. A big fan of the fictional “hypergrunge” band Kaoss Edge, Ezra is something of an avatar for nü-metal culture’s influence on Garden of Delete and an externalization and making literal of the pubescent horror inherent to it — a gangly, gangrenous teenager in a constant, cyclical state of decay, who’s also obsessed with music and energy drinks.

Horror was also a clear influence on nü-metal, although the type of horror that directly influenced Slipknot, and the genre generally, was never really the gross-out, body-horror variety; largely agnostic of the Cronenbergs and Street Trashes of the world, its imagery was that of direct, external, physical threats of violence. The movement took imagery of serial killers, psycho clowns, blunt and physical brutality as an illustration of the music’s sonic muscle and adolescent rage. The only bodily aspects present were the aftermath of the violence that constitutes the real threat, a byproduct. When Corey Taylor threatens to “slit your throat and fuck the wound” it’s his body and the immediate threat that it presents that you fear, not your own and the resulting mess of bodily fluids. But that body horror — the slime and ooze — is the essential, defining horror of the nü-metal era precisely because it wasn’t there by design. It was endemic to the movement, unintentionally generated by it. The scary masks and threats of violence were pretension in its most literal sense; they were playacting. The grotesque physicality was real.

Think of Woodstock ’99, maybe the closest thing nü-metal had to, well, a Woodstock. The festival featured artists such as Korn, Limp Bizkit, and Godsmack. It was also such a disaster that the carnage immediately became its own spectacle, superseding that of the festival itself. When fires broke out, audience members flocked to them, dancing around them and stripping plywood from nearby buildings to feed them. With unexpectedly hot temperatures, no shade, and high prices for bottled water, concertgoers were dehydrated. Think about the feeling of drying up from the inside out, mouths becoming dry and sticky, throats hot and scratched, vision blurred. When frustrated participants broke water pipes for easier access, huge mud pits formed, human bodies interacting with organic ooze. The participation of concertgoers in the destruction proves that physical violence wasn’t an actual threat but an attraction, much like Corey Taylor’s threats of violence are a draw to his music rather than a repellant. That physical violence, though, was done in service of avoiding the real horror: that of the slow self-destruction of the sweaty, fleshy human form.

Maybe more saliently, consider how intrinsically tied in to adolescence nü-metal is. It was more or less explicitly targeted toward pubescent male fans, an audience who were in the process of experiencing the horror and discomfort of bodies in flux. Gangly and unsure, erupting with acne and newfound body odor, fans were experiencing their own individual, subjective visions of body horror, bodily grotesquerie soundtracked by the equally grotesque music. The presence of body horror and organic disgust in the Garden of Delete campaign, then, is taking those grimier aspects of nü-metal culture and bringing them to the forefront, treating them with the same level of pretension and playacting that the original movement did slasher horror and using nü-metal as a base the same way that nü-metal itself used those earlier aesthetic signifiers. Call it nü-meta.

This might be the highest-profile of example of nü-metal showing its influence in supposedly “highbrow” spaces (though Lopatin would no doubt scoff at that attempt at compartmentalizing the two), but it’s not unprecedented. Over the past couple years or so, nü-metal has been slowly crawling back from its previous state of revilement, if not quite toward relevance, then at least toward respect. Nü-metal apologia has in recent years been its own subject of discussion with Noisey positing a “nü-metal revival” and the Village Voice listing “Nü-Metal Bands You Shouldn’t Be Ashamed To Like.” Some asshole even made a case for Korn as one of the great idiosyncratic ’90s rock bands.

Most notably, EDM — the form of music that currently attracts the demographic that used to be the domain of Korn, Slipknot, et al. — bears no small resemblance to nü-metal. Take acts such as Skrillex and Excision — they make mosh-worthy music out of pummeling ugliness, mixing the harsh and melodic together, all within the template of a four-minute pop song. Even the artists’ logos, harshly cybernetic, look they could be on the cover of a Linkin Park album.

Nü-metal’s original fans are now old enough to be the musical elite themselves. No doubt the perpetually teenaged Ezra is at least partially influenced by Lopatin’s own youth, a sentient version of his formative influences (Lopatin even told Rolling Stone that with GoD he wanted to “do some basic rock experiments that I hadn’t really fucked with since I was 16”) frozen in time. The genre’s recent cultural resurgence, in legitimizing a long-derided art form, gives artists an open invitation to use it as a canvas, twisting, subverting, and evolving its original signifiers. Whether Garden of Delete will actively move that trend further along and lend it more visibility remains to be seen, but its very existence proves that when we reject previously held notions of taste and artistic hierarchy, things can get really, fascinatingly weird.

Jacob Moore is a Boston-based writer. You can find him on Tumblr and Twitter.