There are an awful lot of musical genres in the world, but are they A) a useful tool designed to guide people towards a band or artist that they will like; B) a constrictive framework that means bands get tagged with a label that they cannot shake off regardless of how much they try; or C) an outdated irrelevance that helps no one because of the sheer volume of different genres on offer?
Here’s my opinion, and please do feel free to disagree with me in the comments section.
For 5 years between 2003 and 2008 I was a DJ (in the loosest sense of the word) in several different drinking establishments throughout Aberystwyth. I played largely alternative music – rock, punk, ska, metal etc. – but I also worked every Friday night in a dingy (and very sticky) night club called Y Bae (or The Bay for those who do not live in Wales). This, unfortunately, meant I had to dabble in the dark arts, or “popular music” as it is also known. I played all sorts of music from Girls Aloud to Cradle Of Filth. Requests are an unavoidable hazard of the job and quite often, rather than asking for a particular track or artist, the customer would ask for a whole genre of music. This led to the night when someone asked me for “Funky House”. I still to this day have no idea what Funky House is. I can’t name an act that fits into this genre, but the most ridiculous thing about the whole situation was neither could the guy making the request. Turns out in the end he wanted something like Pendulum which I am fairly sure is classed as Drum and Bass, but who even knows any more and this is where the problem lies. There are so many different genres that, for the most part, people don’t know what they mean, and as such they are of little help at all.
In the early 70s The Cramps heard a line in the Johnny Cash song “One Piece At A Time” that described his car as a “Psychobilly Cadillac”. They started putting it on the posters as a way to get more business. Inadvertently, The Cramps had created a new genre of music. Currently, in that genre alone there are at least the following sub-genres: Rockabilly, Funkabilly, Punkabilly… is there really any difference between them? Well, technically yes but the differences are marginal – Rockabilly uses a double bass and has a sort of galloping beat, Psychobilly is approximately the same but generally the lyrics are about horror and zombies and stuff, and Punkabilly is the same as Rockabilly but with more distortion on the guitars. Could this not all fall under the same banner? All the extra genre names just makes the whole situation nonsensical.
These days it seems that a genre is a status symbol. There are the “cool” genres: Electro, Breaks, Beats, Ska and Dubstep, among others. Conversely, there are the “not-so-cool” genres: Nu-Metal, Pop Punk, Trance, Pop and Emo. Of course these lists were not always like this – for example, I remember Trance being cool in the mid 90s – but everything changes and now the “cool” sort of dance music is Electro. I’m sure this may well change again any time soon.
The “coolest” thing you can do, it would seem, is to create a fusion of two or three other genres and create a new genre. For example Prodigy have been described as Dance-Metal, Hadouken!, Klaxons and others mixed Trance with Punk and bits of Indie to create Nu-Rave, and Mad Capsule Markets went too far and created what they call Digi-Hardcore-Punk-Metal.
I see that genres can be useful as a way to find other music that is similar to your favourite band, but if every new band that comes along and wants to make an impact is just going to invent a new genre anyway, what’s the point? I think my OCD wants there to be just a few genres and everyone to fit neatly into one of them. I do not need to know what Funky House is, or Breaks, or Electro, or Dubstep or any of it – for me it can all be filed under Dance. From now on, as a principle, I will only be using seven genres: Rock, Pop, Punk, Dance, Hip Hop, Classical and very, very bad music.
Finally, I present you a poem:
Choices (an original “masterpiece” […ahem] by Moggy).
I’m looking for some music,
What can you recommend?
Let me know the genre,
And on me you can depend.
I’m not completely certain,
I’m kind of thinking dance.
Well I’ve got some Breaks, and Beats, and House,
Some Drum n Bass and Trance.
Well maybe something old instead,
How bout some Rock and Roll?
I have some blues and also Jazz,
Some Swing and Northern Soul.
I’m getting kind of flustered,
Can I just get some Punk?
I’ve got some Ska, Hardcore and Skate,
Old Skool and Oi and Funk.
I’m thinking something heavy,
How about some proper Rock?
I’ve got some Metal and some Thrash,
Guitar, Indie and Cock.
OK I do not care this much,
I’m getting fairly stroppy.
I’ve got some lovely RnB,
Hip Hop and lots that’s Poppy.
Forget it all, I do not care,
I’m gonna say good bye.
Well if you don’t want all of that
How bout some nice McFly?