Thoughts: Genre

Back when Lower Than Atlantis were more hardcore than radio-friendly rock Mike Duce shouted ‘Genre, must be hard to distinguish, with only a GCSE in English.’ About a year after ‘Far Q’ was released I achieved a GCSE in English and a year after the release of ‘Changing Tune’ I achieved an A-Level in it. Hopefully in three years I’ll have a degree in it, but that being said I still struggle with genre, in music especially, and I figured I’d write a bit about it.

Genre is defined as ‘a category of artistic composition, as in music or literature, characterised by similarities in form, style, or subject matter‘. When I say I struggle with it I don’t mean with the obvious stuff. I can differentiate between say, Lady Gaga and Machine Head, and not just in terms of quality, but when you narrow it down to sub-genres or whatever the whole thing just seems too complex, or even similar. Maybe it’s just me, and it probably is, but some genres labels seem excessive and only lead to division or stereotypes. Heavy music is normally where more and more divides come into play. What is the difference between hardcore and mathcore? Or screamo and black metal? Why do these labels need to define an artist? Because they do; genre can act as a restriction as much as it acts as a form of experimentation.

I don’t have a direct issue with genre, I get that it’s necessary in that it gives people an idea of what to expect before they listen to an artist or album. If something’s labelled pop they’re in for an upbeat yet disappointing listen, whereas something labelled as hardcore suggests a more crushing and heavy sound. My problem is that genre seems to be less about categorising music and more about showing how the musical envelope can be pushed, to make an artist part of a very small niche, specific to their chosen genre.

Take genres like djent, which I know very little about and wasn’t even aware of until a few months back, and now has a festival dedicated to it. New branches of music seem to be emerging constantly, but surely the more that it exists it becomes harder to pinpoint a specific sound? If I was to review a band like Hacktivist, one of the most well know djent bands (there aren’t many) I wouldn’t think to tag them as djent afterwards. I’d probably label them as experimental hardcore with a grime element, which would probably show some kind of ignorance on my behalf. Meshuggah are technically a djent band as well, but I’d never have realised without the aid of Wikipedia. The Wikipedia page I used lists 44(!) sub genres of heavy metal, which borders on crazy. Is this really necessary or it just a way for artists to show off, by using their chosen genre as a statement? Heavy metal tends to encompass all of those bands but sub genres just lead to even deeper categorisation. Genres like Mathcore to me makes me think of Greg Puciato (of The Dillinger Escape Plan) screaming out trigonometry problems whilst occasionally shitting in a bag but in reality it’s just a more manic variation of metal music. It doesn’t instantly sound like a type of music, or even tell you what to expect, and that’s my main problem. In contrast, if you went into ‘Miss Machine’ knowing only that it was a metal album you might finish the final track equally confused and mesmerised. Mathcore gives a clearer idea but still leaves a lot to be desired. It’s a result of all these labels and the experimentation they imply, leading to issues arising. As what I thought what be a good experiment I’ve gone through my fairly extensive iTunes library and picked out some of the best (most bizarre) genres I could find, along with the artists they apparently describe:

  • Black ‘N Roll (Kvelertak)
  • Cyber grindcore (Genghis Tron)
  • Viking metal (Turisas)
  • Spazzcore (Gay For Johnny Depp)
  • Progressive grindcore (The Ergon Carousel)
  • Cosmic tones for mental therapy (Fleet Foxes)
  • Post-Haka (Dream On, Dreamer)
  • Godscore (Down I Go)
  • Nintendocore (Rolo Tomassi)

See what I mean? In most cases, genre is completely subjective and also equally unnecessary. I’m all for a bit of variety, but it just seems like overkill the majority of the time.

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