With the boundaries of sound constantly being pushed as artists and producers search for new ways to express their creativity, the boundaries of genre are splintering into innumerable sub-sets. While offshoots of the rock genre, such as alt-rock or hard-rock are widely familiar, a dive into the world of genre reveals just how deep this can go, as Amber Frost discovers.
When asked to describe your taste in music, a simple response of pop or classical rarely suffices. Oftentimes we are left trying to describe these genres in more detail in order to actually paint an effective image of the music we listen to. Even the most common of genres are vastly split into multiple sub-genres of the music, and this number has been ever-growing. Perhaps there was a time when artists could fit neatly into the category of rock, but now, the term has grown to mean several different things – essentially every genre is open to interpretation. With the invention of the internet, music sites and forums have allowed fans to be connected in more ways. Discussions on which artist belongs where have littered forum sites such as Reddit and Music Banter. Some 5,071 genres of music have since come to have been coined and are accessible on sites like Spotify and Every Noise at Once.
Each musical genre can be split up more than one hundred ways. Jazz, for example, houses sub-genres such as cool jazz, bebop, acid jazz, and many more. Most of these genres seem to make sense in some regards; descriptive language that alludes to where the artists are from or how the styles developed throughout time. Jazz is a perfect example to demonstrate why these sub-genres are actually needed, rather than a superfluous exercise in arbitrary pigeonholing. Artists such as Ella Fitzgerald and Sun Ra differ tremendously, yet they are both seen as jazz musicians. Many novice jazz listeners will tell you that whilst both are jazz musicians, they belong to their own category within jazz. Artists such as Miles Davis and John Coltrane are pioneers within the genre of jazz and so they jump between bebop, free-jazz, and jazz-fusion. Many African-American musicians within jazz also tried to reclaim the genre and so this explains why there is a shift in the genre in the latter half of the twentieth century.
‘Diverse genres can have their own smaller sub-divisions amongst classifications which creates an almost eternal abyss of music.’
On the other hand, artists such as Yoko Ono and Bjork become a bit trickier to label, as their music is more performance art and avant-garde in some instances. Penning them into the genre of ‘alternative’ therefore seems a little naïve. As a result, genres may even come to be influenced by aspects beyond the sound of the music itself. For example, when the sound of midwest-emo emerged, though its style has since reached further across the globe, the subgenre was named after where key players grew up. Bands such as American Football, Braid, and The Get Up Kids, for example, formed in Illinois and Missouri.
Some genres and subgenres, however, appear to create a little more complexity. Browsing through Every Noise at Once, an ongoing attempt at an algorithmically-generated, scatter-plot of the musical genre-space, picks such as ‘suomisaundi’ and ‘scarabs’ stand-out. Without any prior knowledge of what you could hear, the titles give near-enough nothing away. As listeners, we aren’t able to say that Scarabs and Suomisaundi are going to sound something like house and dance music based on their names, and that is perhaps the fun of it. Extremely diverse sub-genres can have their own smaller subdivisions amongst classifications which creates an almost eternal abyss of music. Nonetheless, there are definitely some fun and interesting genres out there. Here are a few rather particularly obscure genres, as well as some that I wish I’d knew existed before:
Nova MPB – A genre inspired by ‘national’ Brazilian music, Nova MPB draws upon traditional styles such as bossa nova and samba, as well as types of non-electric music that emerged following the beginning, rise, and evolution of bossa nova. According to Every Noise at Once, the genre falls beneath the indie umbrella, but its rich vibrant timbre sets it apart from much else in the scene. (See Só sei dançar com você by Tulipa Ruiz)
Dreamgaze – A dazzling combination of shoegaze and dream-pop – which are both already examples of sub-genre themselves. The sound of dreamgaze is not too dissimilar to that of shoegaze but leans towards a stronger focus on lyrics, instead of the guitar-driven effect. Where shoegaze typically brings in a sense of slow contemplation, dream-pop is typically more uplifting, which results in a more relaxed, shimmering sonic landscape when the two join forces. (See Love Sports by Pia Fraus)
Voidgrind – Voidgrind is a genre, similar to ‘grindcore’, born out of both hardcore punk and thrash metal. The vocals are as deep as Hell is low, and the deep, dirge-heavy, and monstrous style is incredibly evocative. The genre differs from grindcore, however, in that it is based on maths and sequences in terms of the playing style, akin to patterns characterized in math rock. Certainly one for the enraged or escapism-seeking among us. (See Undergang by Menneskeæder)
Directly inspired by the rap era of 90’s Memphis, phonk fuses hip-hop and trap in toe-tapping style. The genre is categorized by nostalgic funk samples that are often accompanied by vocals from old Southern rap tapes. It’s a more instrumental hip-hop but includes those percussive sounds that are characteristic of trap music. Oftentimes, the music is relatively laid-back in tempo but is peppered with dark, incendiary lyricism. (See Need a Hit by Soudiere)
Bubblegrunge – When listening to the dulcet lulls of bubblegrunge, it’s near impossible not to hear the joyous marriage between bubblegum-pop and alternative grunge – an undeniably effective combo. The softer vocal timbre is fused with a grungier instrumental accompaniment to create a distinctly authentic sound perfect for morning studying or crisp night-time drives. (See Fate Is… by Wednesday)
Written by: Amber Frost
Edited by: Louise Dugan