Ahhh.. genre. Once this was a simple thing to determine. You wrote an Opera, people knew it was an opera, because some fat broad was singing (we’ll diregard the slight detail that only Wagnerian operas truly require large body mass to sing- and why that is) If it was a sonata, people knew it was a sonata.
Then along came radio. And television. Suddenly, we had major genres like Jazz and Rhythm and blues. Then sub genres of these genres, like swing or bebop. Oh but wait, then we got hard bop an cool bop. And Rhythm and Blues turned into Rock n Roll with Rockabilly and whatnot. Soul music came in, funk, hip hop, rap (which are not one and the same, rap merely being a method of vocalising). It was a right mess. Black Sabbath allowed for Heavy Metal. Grateful Dead allowed for Psychidelic Rock, and so on.
But despite all this, there was very little confusion. You KNEW that Parliament was a funk band. And not just because they told you so by also recording as Funkadelic. You also KNEW that Pete Frampton did Rock N Roll. And BB King did Blues. These were obvious. Then came two things: Electronic Music and the Internet.
The internet is more to blame than electronic music, because it allowed fans of all kinds to make their own little sub- cultures known. Their own definitions of what is what and whatnot. And it allowed people who know next to nothing (as well as those of us who a tiny bit more) to ponificate on what makes, say progressive trance. I don’t have a clue, as with trance, it all pretty much sounds the same, yet there are those out there who feel that there is a genre of trance for nearly every city out there.
There are those that would call an acid house song trance. They’re wrong of course, but only a few of us would know it. There are those who actually think there is something stylistic that defines grunge rock for example. I suppose there is, but it has little to do with many of the so- called grunge bands included among whom are Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and Nirvana. I always found that funny, because those three bands are very distinct and really sound nothing alike, having only their city of origin in common.
The point? Know what defines the genres. Especially if your are an artist. Speed alone does not make a drum n bass tune (I once saw an article claiming this) Especially when you take note of the fact that Drum n bass can be done in any tempo the artist wishes. Ambient music usually doesn’t have beats. at all. There are noted exceptions, but ambient tunes I’ve heard with beats don”t allow the beat to start until about ten minutes in.
Why do I mention electronic musics specifically? because that’s where much of the confusion lies, frequently due to the fact that so much of it is done by no- talents who got the demo version of Fruity Loops. No musical knowledge, not really any effort has been made to study music in any form equals someone confused about what, exactly they are doing. Which in turn confuses a listener, who maybe makes a tune of their own with their own downloaded copy of Fruity Loops (yes I am making fun of fruity loops. Most pros refer to it as a toy. Pro Tools is named so for a reason) And adds to the confusion.
The other problem is all the subgenres that have cropped up. What, for example, is the differences between tech step, drum n bass, jungle, and jump -up? Well… three of them are regarded as sub- genres of the first by Mp3.com, but that doesn’t help. I assume that Tech step is more danceable than jungle… But really, I think that the differences are little more than the personal styes of the artists involved. And it has to stop, really. New genres pop up every other week, partly due to the work of Bill Laswell, Dj Spooky, John Zorn and a few others (even inclluding myself sometimes) who make a specific effort to destoy genre definitions on a regular basis. Also due tothe work of people who actually think that the presence of sound A in song style B actually means a new genre. I’m reminded of the New York No Wave scene from the early 80’s (of which Laswell and Zorn were core personalities I might add) when bands were often referred to with mulithyphenated genre descriptions like “Reggae- punk- surf- country- rock” except that now they claim titles (often the band themselves) like “Vancouver Trance” (I blame that one on my colleague Fish) or Illbient Breakbeat as the french trance artist called one of my tunes. It’s all too much for me, really.
Remember, The Rolling Stones and the Beatles sounded very dissimilar, yet they were still both rock bands. What would they be called if they were late 90’s electronic acts?
For the record, I do ambient, dub and drum n bass. I will get no more specific than that. I refuse to do so.