There is almost no questioning the idea that music is, or should be art; somehow beyond its simpler entertainment value; and unfortunately, just like visual art, performing art and other forms, it does at time get beyond the understanding of the spectator, or listener in this case.
Just like with other forms of art, critics, journalists, or even more questionable know-it-alls have spent a huge amount of time and words trying to classify EVERYTHING, so that people can do without listening and thinking for themselves, taking a liking to the box rather than to whatever’s in it.
You can’t make a track, an album or anything else without it falling into one box or another, or well, you can, but hoping that will reach a significant number of ears if you’re not already a big name with a big crowd of followers get even slimmer if you don’t put it into a box.
People with a liking for that box will listen to it, and probably like it even if it is a boring compilation of ultra-compressed genre oriented samples with really no energy of its own.
More interestingly, or worriyngly, music has had an important cultural role in the last decades; people culturally identify with music, the various human sub cultures have their music of choice, and often also a strong hatred of anything different from it, especially if it is different but not-so-different.
In the ’90s I used to play keyboards in a symphonic power metal band, and in those years it seemed the rift between power metal and black metal was incredibly deep; wouldn’t say they hated each other, but they were usually talking shit one about the other, considering the other genre dull, boring, repetitive or worse, while to the ears of any non-metalhead, the difference was at times barely noticeable.
In the modern electronic scene, you see the same thing or worse; the various sub-genres of EDM are so similar, yet so distant. It seems like it is a fashionable statement to say “I fucking hate dubstep”, with no understanding that the definition of the genre itself doesn’t have such sharp borders; yes, there are of course the dreaded subgenres, and someone would even claim there is something like a post-dubstep, and some other people with a similar love for beatslicers, lasers and dinosaurs would call their own music glitch, probably just to feel cool enough to say “yeah, I fucking hate dubstep, I only make glitch”.
Some people listen, for some people music is art, energy, emotion, but they’re unfortunately a small minority, for so many people music is a piece of their cultural identity; less than a year ago, I met a darkpsy fan, who claimed he had an open mentality, and could really listen to anything; I had him listen to some of my music, which I introduced as some sort of techno; he didn’t like it, he had lots of complaints about my superficial sound design, obvious transitions, lack of emotion and he went to quite some lengths to make his harsh critique. Just a couple of days later, I had him listen to the very same track, which, for purely experimental purposes I introduced as “Zenonesque”… guess what, he liked it, he thought it was original and interesting, much better than the one I had him listen 2 days before.
The problem is that somehow, when some new sounds reach the ears of a listener today, he or she isn’t usually that focused on listening, if they don’t know it, the big question bouncing around their head is “should I like it?” “is it culturally acceptable for me to like it?”
The acronym EDM, which I believe was born originally to be a sort of a macro container “electronic dance music” embracing every sort of danceable beats made with electronic means, from Donna Summer and Giorgio Moroder to big names of today, passing through Chicago, Detroit, Berlin, Goa, Milan, Melbourne and countless other countries and styles, ended up horribly failing; just doing some internet research you’ll find different and conflicting definitions, and in some EDM groups you might find people, or even DJs say things such as “fuck EDM. Some might say they don’t like the macro container, because they like the idea of segregated boxes with their own trademark characteristics, but I believe many more really don’t understand what they’re writing.
It seems history keeps repeating itself; what was originated as progressive rock, an attempt to blend the instruments and sounds of rock with other ideas and things, ended up becoming a container for music made by people wanting to show off their technique in furious fast scales, unexpected changes, odd tempo signatures and the like, becoming a series of boring copies of itself; and the word “progressive” went so overused that today means absolutely nothing.
Even worse was the downfall of fusion, looking at the same artists; Chick Corea for example made wonderful and colorful things in the 70s with Return to Forever, and at the end of the decade an album which I consider his masterpiece, “my spanish heart”, just to gift us in the 80s with a picture of himself in a tracksuit with red trainers and a keytar… oh, and albums which were basically collections of technical exercises.
(no, I won’t make any music example of “chick corea elektric band”, I felt guilty enough of buying a CD at full price almost 2 decades ago, I’m not giving that one youtube hit more…. besides, have you seen the fucking picture?)
The same happened to the word “crossover” being born as a non-container for contaminated music, and quickly becoming a genre with a well defined set of allowed contaminations, becoming sort of a genre of its own, or splitting into rap-metal, Nu-metal, post rock and more fantasy names.
There is something good about classifying music in genres; if you, and reasonably so have your own preferences, and want to look for something not so much unlike something you like, these labels really help you out; art directors and labels have an easier time making sense of what they do, but somehow, it terribly shrinks the creative space for musicians, who apparently seem stuck between being session men, playing in cover bands or begging attention from labels, producers, who struggle to make tracks that make sense in a box, and dismiss good ideas just because they sound a bit different, and DJs too as some interesting transitions end up being sort of forbidden for fear of upsetting the crowd.
How should it be then?
Well, I have no idea, genres are a desperate attempt to describe with words things meant to be listened directly, which is sort of calling for a Babel of misunderstandings and inappropriate definitions; but I think there is something every single person, listener, musician, dj, art director or producer can do: LISTENING TO THE FUCKING MUSIC.
we can’t change the way others perceive music, but we can enrich our own experience by keeping our mind open; some might say nothing new ever happens, but it does; contamination, new technologies, or just simple good ideas happen from time to time; the only way you’re going to find your new favourite thing is being a music omnivore.