This article about genres is long overdue. First off, we’re tired of all the blanket genre labels that keep popping up. Take the genre “electro,” for example. Wikipedia lists so-called “electro” artists such as DMX Krew, Kraftwerk, Afrika Bambaataa, Cylob and even Cat Stevens as artists related to the genre. Electro isn’t listed under any of Cat Stevens’ main Wikipedia page genres, and rightfully so. Apparently he dropped some album called “Was Dog a Doughnut,” that was allegedly a precursor to the “electro music genre of the 1980’s.”
At the end of the day, what is electro? Just some bullshit (for lack of a better adjective) commercial term that was developed by record labels to try and put various artists in a box. When artists are nicely packaged in a box, it’s easier to say what kind of music you like, and therefore figure out what kind of music you’d purchase. However, does that mean it’s accurate to do so?
Ever ask someone, “Hey, what kind of music do you like?” Only to get a response like, “Oh, I listen to everything,” or “Oh, I listen to everything but country,” or everything “but rap,” etc. Everything but country. Why’s that, because country is “uncool,” in some circles? It could also be that country is extremely popular in the US, and was the number one genre of music before hip hop or “rap” took its throne. Calling hip hop “rap,” really is kind of inaccurate as well, because “rap” refers to “rapping,” which is a trend in hip hop music. Calling hip hop “rap,” is kind of a thing of the 90’s though, back when music stores were still brick-and-mortar and not overtaken by digital storefronts.
I actually designed the font for the “rap” genre header on the Universal Music Group page back in 2008, just with a handwritten then digitally edited font, because theirs was struggling. Don’t believe me? Here’s a screenshot of my font on their genre header:
Here’s what their previous genre headers were…
Yes, I took time away from studying for law school finals to work on a genre font for UMG. Why not?
Also, just because I’m a digital packrat and nerdy enough to save screenshots of my desktop, here’s the full shot of my desktop at the time as well as the rough font sketch.
Of course, UMG has since revamped their site–after all it has been four years–but graphic design bragging-rights tangent aside, the mainstream labels package music in genres for sales purposes, even if what genre a musician’s songs fit is debatable. It goes beyond that though, mainstream genres are not even correct or accurate anymore.
The genre “electro” is garbage, and referring to hip hop as “rap” is also lamely imprecise, but let’s take a look at the “chillwave” genre. Aside from being a terribly cheesy name for a genre, since any reference to music with the word “chill” in it has always made us cringe, even the musicians at the forefront of the alleged “chillwave” genre do not even classify their music as such. Back to Wikipedia,
The Wall Street Journal quoted Alan Palomo of Neon Indian on genre, “Whereas musical movements were once determined by a city or venue where the bands congregated, ‘now it’s just a blogger or some journalist that can find three or four random bands around the country and tie together a few commonalities between them and call it a genre,’.” Despite the stylistic similarities listed above, Palomo and other artists have questioned whether chillwave actually constitutes a discrete genre.
So there you have it, now we have random people on the Internet trying to put music in boxes as well, and those genres can become “real,” in that people actually use them? Come on! It’s bad enough that genres are imprecise as it is, but now anyone with a web site that gets traffic can create them?
Human nature makes us want to put everything in a box, from music to gender, even though life can’t just all be lumped together. Trying to simplify the world this way is a terribly unintelligent idea. If someone sees a baby boy on a train dressed in pink clothes that are arguably “girly” it can frustrate them because they can’t tell if the kid is a boy or a girl. That’s straight from the professor of a graduate level anthropology class. The tendency to want to see things in black and white is because it’s just easier that way, aside from that fact that human nature is completely irrational.
People who don’t care about music very much don’t listen enough to actually be able to discern differences between different genres and I also cringe at the number of times I’ve heard people say “it all sounds the same,” about a genre when if you actually follow that type of music, you will notice differences that are substantial enough to split into all kinds of sub-genres. Even then though, with experimental music, and even new music that is more conventional, it is best to classify music with multiple genres and sub genres.
The only reason to use sweeping genres that lump together a bunch of pre-existing genres that truly are different is to dumb things down for people who don’t really listen to music, but just skim through it. That’s right. I’ve heard people refer to all electronic music as “house” or “trance.” Again, come on! Really? It’s those same lazy people with typically dull taste in music that use commercially created terms like “electro” and “chillwave.”
So IDM is a stylistic origin of chill wave? Really? As someone who has been listening to IDM since the 90’s, that sounds absurd to me. This Autechre track, “Gantz Graf,” is IDM. So then, shouldn’t we be able to hear some influence from it in Neon Indian’s music? I can’t.
Just because Autechre used a lot of editing in the sequencer and digital sound processing to make that track doesn’t really make it anything at all like Neon Indian’s music. Think back to that person who goes around telling people “Uh, yeah, I listen to a little bit of everything, except country.” For reals? So, we might find them in their car rocking out to the Autechre track above? Doubt it. They probably don’t listen to anything that’s experimental at all. Oh the things we say that are driven by our insecurities.
So in conclusion, the question we pose is this: are you a dumbed-down herd follower of a person when it comes to music? Do you actually have enough passion for music that you spend a reasonable amount of time seeking it out, listening to it without talking over it, and enjoying it? If so, maybe then you will hear enough differences from one musician to the next that it will feel completely wrong to throw a musician in a smorgasbord sack of shit genre. <3.