Ever had this conversation before? “Yeah dude, I saw this great act. His sound was like Dubstep had a threesome with Neurofunk and Brostep then created a sound child!”
Pretty meaningless conversation I know but we’ve all been there.
Trying to put a label on every single aspect of life seems to be a part of human nature. But in an age where even gender can be as fluid as you want it to be, I feel the question needs to be asked. Is genre within music a relic? Or is it as important as it’s always been?
From the earliest examples of written music, generally considered to be religious plainchant, (where one or more members of the clergy would sing simple melodic lines to praise God). There has been genres or classifications of music. Wikipedia defines genre as a “category that identifies some pieces of music as belonging to a shared tradition or set of conventions.”
We tend to look at early forms of music in terms of periods of styles rather than genre, such as the Baroque period or the Romantic period. But as music became more and more available at the turn of the 20th century, genre became more of a factor. Due to artists choosing to create their own style and interpretation of music. Rather than follow the rigid structures and rules that had dominated classical music composition. For example Jazz music, which in a relatively short space of time evolved from Ragtime (most likely the oldest form of jazz) to Classical Jazz and then into Hot Jazz and people needed to know what the hell they were listening to.
As music became more and more a part of everyday life it became pivotal for the record labels to categorise the musicians, so they could sell more music, and aim artists at specific social, economic and racial groups. While this categorised music was apart of some great social movements like the Summer of Love. It also cuased rifts within people like the ‘Mods’ vs ‘Rockers in the 60’s England. To the ‘East’ vs ‘West’ feud within hip-hop during the 90’s.
But over the last few years the producers and musicians have been taking their music out of the hands of the record labels and out of the major studios, into the dark, dank and creative spaces of their “home studios”. Doing away with the contract obligations and forced direction of the record label marketing teams. Saying F U “traditions” and “shared conventions”.
This new direction within the industry has allowed for far more creative freedom for artists. Now, whatever sound or style is in their brains is allowed to flourish, regardless of what is deemed conventional or marketable. I for one think this is a very good thing.
Although, some people such as David M. Greenberg and his team have looked to update the classification system rather than do away with it. Namely a system based on musical attributes rather than social conventions. You have three basic categories: “Arousal” the energy level of the music; “Valence” the sad to happy emotional spectrum; and “Depth” The amount of emotional sophistication and/ or depth within a track.
For example Michael Jacksons classic track “Bad” would be high on arousal (because of the fast tempo and forceful singing), high on valence (because of the naughty and bad boy nature of the tune) and low on depth (because of the lack of emotional content and superficial meaning).
Fig 1: A table showing how different tracks are tabled into each category.
Nowadays, we live in a world full of artists like Blockhead, FKJ, Mr.Scruff and so many more that cross genre, style, taste with all kinds of tasty beats and melodies. It is this kind of music fusion that creates such a variety within a singular artist, that listening to one album of any one of these artists can be inspiring in so many different ways. And help others to create, explore or get down and boogie in ways you’ve never done before.
While it would be foolish of me to say “GENRE IS DEAD LONG LIVE MUSICAL ANARCHY” I’m glad we have people trying to progress the out- dated systems and artists moving music in fresh new ways. Breaking all conventions of genre, and striding into the future of music creation.