Turn That Noise Off: A Brief Exploration of ‘Genre Diversity’ in Contemporary Musical Culture.
“…anyone who’s worth anything reads just what he likes, as the mood takes him, and with extravagant enthusiasm.” Virginia Woolf
I suppose it is safe to suggest that at some point in our musical lives we have all at least once became victims of ‘genre shaming’. To those few that are unfamiliar with this inquisitional process, it is that unpleasant social interaction where upon the mention of a particular genre or sub-genre one is met with an inflamed grimace of condemnation and is subjected to a number of spit-laced, belligerent remarks regarding the inadequacy of their musical preference; and in some circles, an airborne chair may even travel in the direction of a by-standing stereo.
It happens; opinions can be such. And although I am by all means planning to approach this article using the most objective and fair of observations, I would like to begin by saying: that’s bullshit. Clearly there is no merit in dismissing one’s tastes simply because of…something. Yes, the reason. What is that ultimate cause upon which ‘genre shaming ‘is built? Is there one?
‘Genre shaming’ is far from a novel phenomenon; after all, if we were to delve into the history of popular music we shall find accounts where particular musical directions – and their appreciators – have come under fire from a plethora of disapproving fronts; be it for their stereotypical attributes or aesthetic characteristics (Taking for example the disdain from the public regarding those individuals who listen to Rock music and its subsidiaries).
In the larger scope of things it can quite possibly develop into a class, race and belief centred debate, or a Marxist manifesto; but I will suggest that we leave such potential escalations for another time and forum. The specific area of the phenomenon that I wish to cover in this article concerns its manifestations throughout the Metal/Rock/Punk sub-culture (I am combining the aforementioned genres into one sole musical contingent due to the shared values which they represent.)
Allow me to begin by stating that the main issue here is not genre debate, no, it is the debasement of an individual based on their musical preference – such as assigning one the status of a plebe and sending them off to shovel horse-shit simply because they lean towards power chords over scalar riffs.
Now, healthy discussion and playful jibes between music fans regarding the merits of their chosen musical field have long been a part of culture – particularly within the genres that are at the centre of this discourse. Be it the technical proficiency and artistic conceptuality that is the domain of Progressive Metal, the socio-political message of Punk Rock, the emotional catharsis and raw materials of Post-Hardcore, or simply the pure essentialism of Hard Rock, constructive arguments from all parties regarding the validity of a given genre are more than welcome; it is almost a rite of passage upon the choosing of a new group to admire - and an intellectual pursuit for many. What is not acceptable however, is the slandering of a fan based on nothing more than elitism and superficial criteria.
Yes, Elitism; yet another phenomenon that has in recent years become a prominent factor in musical sociology. Much like its place in Social Stratification, ‘elitism’ assumed its role within the society of alternative genres as an active contributor to the class division between followers of different styles; thus arguably setting the much cherished unity of this sub-culture upon the path to disintegration.
Of course this is not a call for a revolutionary uprising – please, put down the pitchforks - for we must still look upon all sides objectively. It can be said that musical Elitism does in fact posses certain virtue behind its highbrow crusade. Its aim very much coincides with the sentiments of many a tattooed, hair-dyed, moshing patch-branded melomaniac out there: which is to eliminate lacklustre, mind-numbing specimens of fabricated music – the misrepresentations of true musical values. Members of the Metal world in particular have long been disseminators of resistance towards the synthetic, commercial qualities of contemporary popular music.
Alas, it is fairly certain that there are substandard musical representatives within any given genre. Thus if we search the alternative realm we may in fact discover inferior bands in any sub-category. However, they are not emblematic of an entire genre and are mere false representations of an otherwise potentially appealing movement.
The modern musical landscape continues to present us with a vast plain of diverse and experimental visions of the sonic evolution. The crossbreeding – inbreeding in some of the more “open-minded” communes - of styles in the past twenty or so years has drastically altered the genetic material of some of the cornerstone genres in the industry, yet as these family trees continue to branch out we must remember that every deviation from the trunk has its beginnings at the omnipresent root.
Dr. Charles Ford (University of London) in his meditations on ‘styles’ - which appeared in his essay ‘Musical Presence: Towards a New Philosophy of Music, in reference to their constant development - presented a comparison of music styles to Matryoshkas (Russian wooden dolls), underlining that each is in essence is comprised of an amalgamation of a variety of influences; he writes:
“Styles are often organised like Russian Dolls within one another. For instance, Robert Johnson’s recordings of blues in the mid-thirties are in sub-style of Southern US acoustic pre-war blues, which is itself a sub-style of the blues generally, thence of the entire history of Black US-American popular music, and finally that of recorded popular music as a whole.”
Thus, whilst we are clearly witnessing a drastic progression and variation within modern musical genres – i.e. the abundant creation of new sub-genres – and given that some of these variations may appear as somewhat distasteful and borderline kitsch, we must keep in mind that their directions are interwoven and that they all carry some essence of their origins within them.
Genre diversification therefore is a part of natural musical progress, as organic as evolution, and perhaps each genre plays a part in the procreation. It may not carry the torch but it is still one of the drops that fuel the fire. Ford continues by saying:
“Styles change within themselves and in their relations with others. These changes are brought about by music produced within those styles. Some pieces advance styles more than others. Some reproduce them by reaffirming their secondary musical materials. Other do not necessarily develop, but at least play with their style.”
Nevertheless, one bad apple does indeed seem to spoil the bunch, and once that spoiled produce finds its way into a given sub-category, the rest are bound to take on some bruises. As individuals hop onto the bandwagons of discontent and traverse across the map of social media outlets to promote their loosely based opinions regarding a particular genre, the hate begins to spread, thus throwing certain bands at the mercy of the label-maker; suggesting that it is not just the fans that end up disenfranchised by the phenomenon at hand.
Perhaps the type of aforementioned dissonance should be directed at the industry as a whole (that old riotous chant) whose values continually contribute to the furnishing of radio waves – or in this era the Internet – with garish misrepresentations of a given genre through promotion of sub-par material; and essentially inadvertently breeding the concept of Elitism.
We might even go a step further and suggest that ‘genre categorization’ as a whole is of no relevance when it comes to the appreciation of good music, and that it only contributes to the division of what is largely considered a strong culturo-musical front.
In recent years some of Metal’s own have come forward to voice their disenchantment with this issue of musical branding. In a 2014 interview with Metal Hammer magazine (Issue #254), vocalist Austin Carlile – formerly of the band Of Mice & Men – openly expressed his dismay with the issue of pinning useless labels on works of musical expression by saying:
“I hate labels…It’s just music, we’re a hard rock band…metalcore, scream, emo, death metal, breakcore, all this crap. I just don’t care! I listen to the stuff I want to listen to, putting labels on it is bullshit.”
Although Carlile’s sentiments do ever so fervently uphold the points mentioned in this arguments, the same interview also saw him take a somewhat critical – in essence Elitist – stance towards his own band with the following statement:
“It’s like when people say we’re a metal band. If you think we’re a proper metal band then dude, you need to listen to real music!”
I must admit, I never thought that a citation involving the word “dude” would ever make it into one of my essays, but the quote nonetheless supports a point. Granted that Carlile may not be the authority on such issues, but it goes to show the extent of the effect that such typecasting has upon the scene when the acts themselves begin felling insecurities regarding their validity.
And Carlile has not been the only musician to voice his opinions regarding the ‘genre assault’ that has been taking place amidst the current musical scene in recent times. Throughout this past year alone we have seen a fair number of artists step forth and dismiss the issue of genre politics and ‘elitism’.
Deathcore collective Whitechapel’s 2016 release “Mark Of The Blade” features a single entitled “The Elitist Ones”, a track that in itself is quite an evident statement against the issue at hand. In an interview with Metal Wani Magazine, vocalist Phil Bozeman upheld the aforementioned sentiments expressed by Carlile by admitting that negative, elitism-oriented genre criticism is fast becoming a sordid affair for fans of modern genres. Bozeman spoke of how metal is one of the most scrutinized genres in music and how unfavourable stereotypes of modern Metal traits often prevent fans from appreciating certain bands – his included – and alienate parts of the metal community. In regard to the song he said:
“The main reason for that song is because we are a metal band…People are so judgemental, it’s one of the most judgemental genres that you can be in. Because of you’re not this type of metal then you’re not true metal…”
“One of the most judgemental genres that you can be in”; alas we love it. Yet Bozeman’s comments do seem to ring true, for Metal – and its subsidiaries - does indeed appear to have a rather elevated benchmark when it comes to its selection of pedigree.
Do not be mistaken, this is not to suggest that we must play just about anything that slides off the production line - for rigid quality control is perhaps one of the most coveted values that set this genre apart - but in recent years, with the advent of extensive genre diversification and increase in overall commercial musical output this benchmark has become the guillotine that slams down upon anything that is not recognised by the Metal elite.
Of course, one side of the argument might suggest that one should always strive towards appreciating a higher aesthetical end of any given genre; a quest for higher education if you may. That is true, one should indeed gravitate toward more sophisticated musicianship, but at the same time you are still entitled – particularly within such a liberal genre as Metal – to the freedom of listening to whatever the fuck you want (pardon mon Français). Who is to say you cannot be enticed by both sides of the spectrum?
So after chewing up all this fat, what verdict have we come to? What is that illusive reason that creates ‘genre shaming’ and negative attitudes towards musical tendencies? Well…the debate can go on - just like those regarding the actual genres - but in essence…there is none; at least not from a musical point of view. Genre diversity – just like any other kind – shall and will create differences of opinion.
From a somewhat more inappropriate and perhaps juvenile point of view we may even look at it as one does at religious disputes - for admittedly the similarities are quite striking. Individuals will continue to push their agendas and snowball into groups that shall do so with even more fervour. Perhaps at some future point we may indeed approach this topical from a deeper, more psychological perspective, but I am afraid that for now we will have to make due with the fact that this phenomenon is merely a product of personal – and in turn social – discontent.
Of course at this juncture I feel a strong, honest urge to embark on some sort of inspirational tirade regarding the importance of unity within the ‘alternative’ realm, and how paramount it is for music enthusiasts to respect each other’s preferences – but I believe that the those sentiments have been seeping through this text all along. Quite frankly, the opening quote should most certainly suffice, for Woolf’s words prove that any given artistic realm features detractors that will aim at disparaging one’s tastes and propagate their ideals. What we should all remember is that such constraints are purely trivial when it comes to the appreciations of things that one finds truly enjoyable, and that the craziest, most bizarrely filled palettes are also the ones that paint the most astute pictures of individuality.
SO TURN THAT STEREO BACK ON AND OPEN UP YOUR MIND.
© 2019 Anton Sanatov