The Complete(ly abridged) History of Cybergrind

Autumn of 2006. I had graduated high school a few months earlier and had started attending classes at a technical college. I had also recently begun working. It was cold and damp in Denver, and I had little interest in doing much outside of making music and browsing Myspace. 

Autumn 2006 was a weird time in my life: being in and out of relationships, failed projects, and having most of my friends either still in high school or living out of state. My college friend group was still too new to reliably hang out with. I was caught in the perfect storm of teenage angst, adulthood anxiety, and some “fun for all ages” depression when I came across an anomaly – an avatar of a pixelated pink octopus commenting on a grindcore band’s profile.

I couldn’t tell you which band they were commenting on, but I can viscerally remember the name of the artist who made the comment: Matt Morden, also known as m@ the c@ and (most importantly for this article) Bubblegum Octopus.

“You’re a Bad Cat Man,” one of the many strange tracks I listened to that night, instantly stuck with me. Chiptune-meets-blast beats. High pitched falsetto singing with death growls. I was flabbergasted. What the hell was I listening to? It was an ear worm that could not be replaced. I showed everyone in my class who would listen; I was mesmerized. This was an artist who, up until that point, didn’t seem like they could possibly exist.

Ironic enjoyment and bewilderment turned to genuine love and fascination, and soon, I started digging into m@ the c@’s project more. I independently came up with the term “cybergrind,” not realizing it had already seen wide usage, and formed a comedy music project around it – stupidly named Furry Yuri-san, a.k.a The Lesbian Kitty, which failed before we even got around to having a single practice.

The rabbit hole didn’t end there. After exploring m@ the c@t’s friends list, I began to notice other interesting names: Kamikaze Kitty, A Beautiful Lotus, 120% Says You’re Going To Explode…I could spend the rest of the word count just listing the influential names that appeared next to the weirdest act I could imagine. This was something I needed to explore further.

Fast forward almost eighteen years later, and I sit here, fully entrenched in the genre’s history as one of the cybergrind elders. I’ve released multiple albums (many unlistenable and bad but a few I’m proud of) and collaborated with acts both new and old. Now, I’m ready to write about the history of a genre that, in many ways, changed the entire course of my life.

What is cybergrind?

A genre riddled with misunderstandings due to overuse of the term nowadays, cybergrind is best characterized in one of two ways. Definition one is short and simple, much like most of the music: it’s electronic music with programmed blast beats. This tends to be the most controversial of the definitions, surprisingly, despite it being the technically correct one. Although the Japanese drum machine death metal act Catasexual Urge Motivation is often credited to be the first cybergrind band, even going so far as to describe their music as “cyber grinding death metal,” its history can be traced back a little earlier to the band O.L.D. 

After their split release with grindcore act Assück in 1990, they released Lo Flux Tube the following year, melding their comedic grindcore roots with more experimental and industrial elements, and laying a lot of the groundwork for what came later with their programmed drums and synthesized instrumentation. The melding of extreme speedy music with electronic elements would later be followed by acts like Agoraphobic Nosebleed, Libido Airbag and The Berzerker.

The second definition is the technically incorrect one, but the one most accepted by the modern cybergrind community, including myself: the genre’s about the do-it-yourself mindset, experimental and often electronic instruments, and “fitting the vibe.” In essence, you don’t need to be fully digital to be a cybergrind artist, you just need to feel like a cybergrind artist, a definition which has its ups and downs. One of the first to define this particular ethos was The Locust, a powerviolence band that formed in 1994 who later started using synthesizers in their sound, creating a chaotic, noisy mesh that combined all the heaviness of grindcore with the industrial soundscapes of noise music. Genghis Tron, Whourkr, and the aforementioned Bubblegum Octopus would then take this mantle going forward, breaking the mold set up by previous acts.

It really was Myspace that became the perfect coalescence of scenes and ideologies, though. The site became the habitat in which the genre could thrive, and where the divergence of scenes would emerge more prominently. While acts like wecamewithbrokenteeth and Kindergarten Hazing Ritual would carry on with a more traditional style of cybergrind, newer acts emerged that combined elements from death metal, metalcore, and even sassy screamo, carving out their own niches. Such examples include Iwrestledabearonce’s first EP, the previously mentioned 120% Says You’re Going to Explode, and Watabou. Labels and blogs dedicated to promoting both sides of the genre began to form, with Robo! Robotica and Piranhaparty exposing hundreds of listeners to new artists. During this time period, it seemed like there were new cybergrind acts popping up every week, and they were all growing fast. Jay Randall of Agoraphobic Nosebleed even admitted that his band “pretty much peaked,” and that “it’s been all downhill from there” since Myspace.

Around the time of cybergrind’s popularity boom, there was another musical movement growing parallel to it – Nintendocore. It was one that took a decidedly similar but slightly different route when Horse the Band began incorporating chiptune and video game samples into their metallic sound on 2001’s Secret Rhythm of the Universe. However, the band would later go on to reject the Nintendocore label after having come up with the term as a joke to describe their sound.

The history of Nintendocore – while documented a little bit better due to it forming around the same time the internet was becoming more widely accessible – is still muddied since its defining feature is “video game sounds.” And while a fair number of bands incorporated them, such as Attack Attack!, Fucking Werewold Asso and I Set My Friends On Fire, it was a different interpretation that we’re more interested in – cybergrind with video game sounds.

Now, it wasn’t uncommon for cybergrind acts to incorporate video game themes into their sound, but acts like I Shot The Duck Hunt Dog, Unicorn Hole, and Weeatpixelsforbreakfast not only based their entire personality around the thematic elements, they turned them up to 200 BPM, with blast beats that could pound a hole through your chest and screams that would send Mario to the fiery pits of Lava World. 

The convergence wasn’t an obvious one at first – many fans were either exposed to cybergrind through Nintendocore, were exposed to Nintendocore through cybergrind, or didn’t really understand the difference either way. And for the most part, this was beneficial to both parties. Having the freedom to appeal to multiple niche fandoms meant that there was less of a push towards genre loyalty, and more of a push towards creating the music that truly interested them.

Other artists were more than happy to bring their own personal flare to the genre, from the synthpunk aesthetics of I Killed Techno!, to the speaker destroying harsh noise grind of elephantknuckle, to the more dance music inspired ravecore of The Captain Kirk on LSD Experience. This isn’t to say that this expansion was entirely a good thing, in my personal opinion. Around the early 2010s, a proliferation of acts constituting the genres “goregrind” and “pornogrind” took hold of the scene, releasing music that could charitably be described as purposely obtuse and off-putting; often terrible and offensive just for the sake of edginess.

It was around this time I had initially left the scene, unable to honestly reconcile my political and social maturity with a genre that had strayed so far from what I considered to be its glory days, as well as my personal grievances with the way labels did business at the time. Little did I know that had I stuck around, I would have seen the beginnings of a cybergrind renaissance, and less than a decade later, the music I loved would be relevant again.

Let’s skip ahead to 2021. Kitty on Fire is a techno label now. Myspace has lost twelve years worth of music stored on the platform. Purevolume and Soundclick are useless. Piranha Party is mostly dead links. Oh, and the world is confined indoors due to a global pandemic. By this point, I had long assumed that cybergrind was a dead genre, propped up by a few for nostalgia purposes and a long-running joke. 

And then I heard about a group of four trans women making something so unique, and yet…so familiar. That band was Thotcrime; the album, ønyøurcømputer. Released in November of 2020, the album had all the usual trappings of cybergrind: the synthetic elements, the focus on fast and loud, the screeches and squeals erupting through the speakers. But this was different; there was an emotional weight that had not been baked in before. It felt like the album was exploring a style that had previously been dripping in layers of irony with a raw, emotional weight that couldn’t help but chill you to the bone.

That isn’t to say that cybergrind acts had never dealt with heavy subjects before, but this felt different. It felt as if they were all just laying bare their deepest fears and regrets. Over the course of just under 18 minutes, I became thoroughly engrossed in a scene I had almost completely left behind.

It wasn’t just the music and the emotion, although those were extremely influential in me coming back. The scene just felt like it was in a better place. It was queer friendly, welcoming, and extroverted, whereas before, even with the existence of LGBTQ+ acts such as myself, Watabou, Codex Orzhova and I Killed Techno! having influence, the genre still had a reputation of being exclusionary and bigoted. But heavy music has changed a lot since then, and it’s no different in the cybergrind scene. 

On top of the acceptance, there was just a general vibe that the music was being taken more seriously. While comedy in song titles still plays a big factor, Blind Equation, ZOMBIESHARK!, Sissy XO and so many more have discographies full of songs about self-expression, loneliness, breaking through mental barriers, and more. And on top of that, production and musicality became key components in the scene, making quality sounding pieces of art as opposed to just whatever is the loudest. 

I knew at that moment that I couldn’t stay away any longer.

It was through happenstance that I found out about Big Money Cybergrind, a Facebook group turned DIY label that basks in a sweeping sense of nostalgia while also pushing newer artists into the scene. After chatting with the owner and joining their Facebook group and Discord, I could feel a sense of community that I had not felt before; people from various backgrounds coming together for a scene being resuscitated purely by force of will. Much like the second wave was motivated by the rise of Myspace and social media, this new wave was inspired by the widespread availability of information on social media. The change was incredible to see, and since then, a wave of music from both the classic oldheads and newcomers continuously amaze and attract fans.

Big Money Cybergrind alumni have gone on to impressive places; Thotcrime and Blind Equation both signed to Prosthetic Records, ZOMBIESHARK! signed to Theorian Records, CHOP CHOP CHOP CHOP CHOP CHOP CHOP has appeared on The Needle Drop, and Bejalvin recently played shows with huge dubstep acts Svdden Death and Marshmello and even appear on the former’s EP. The extremely popular X (formerly Twitter) account crazy ass moments in nu metal history posts a litany of cybergrind tracks and features their music in playlists and on their website.

All this has led to what could be considered a golden age of the genre, and with many young artists getting into the scene such as Alluce, bottom surgery, and Hitbox, as well as veterans like A Beautiful Lotus, I Shot the Duck Hunt Dog and I Killed Techno! all releasing music this year, we’re witnessing yet another evolution of the genre – one that appears to be going in an even more positive direction.

And I’m ready to witness it as it all unfolds before our eyes.

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