Thursday, 12 January 2017

The Death of Genre

 

A little while back, a number of publications prematurely jumped on a bandwagon I couldn’t for the life of me get behind – the so-called ‘death of the guitar in popular music’. It felt short-sighted and false; a piss-poor attempt by unimaginative writers to predict a future based solely on what was hot in the charts that week.

Thankfully, it wasn’t long before these ‘guitar eulogies’ clogging up the blog-o-sphere were rightfully dismantled by smarter writers willing to tell it like it really was. Not only were their arguments spot on, they also unintentionally revealed something exciting about our current musical landscape I hadn’t really given much thought to. In truth, no music genre, whether guitar-based or otherwise, is in the slightest bit of danger. On the contrary, audiences are now more willing than ever to step outside of their genre-based comfort zones to embrace wider selections of music. This is a welcome relief for music nerds like myself, who have for far too long now been negatively judged by our wider-spanning, somewhat schizophrenic musical interests.

A couple of years back, a metal-loving buddy of mine made a rather disparaging comment about the state of my record collection, failing to understand how anyone could possibly have Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Martha Wainwright and Mastodon positioned side-by-side on the same shelf. Flashing forward to the present, things are now very different. This same friend (who shall remain nameless in such a public forum) is no longer averse to mixing things up himself, sometimes taking in a little Joanna Newson between Cannibal Corpse records. Oh, how time distorts things.




So what exactly has changed in the past few years that has led to the evolving attitudes of the music-loving masses? It’s hard not to consider social media playing at least some role in all this. Think about it – we are now subjected to so much content while scrolling through our news feeds that coming across links to tour announcements, reviews, album streams and interviews is damn near unavoidable. With a simple click of a mouse, new music can be discovered in seconds, and soon enough artists that at one time may not have even been on our radars have found their way into our ever-expanding music collections.

This encouraging shift in our listening habits has also been reflected in the line ups offered up by some of our biggest annual music events. While it’s no secret that forward-thinking festivals like St. Jerome’s Laneway Festival have always delivered healthy doses of diversity, this year’s instalment- which included the likes of Caribou, St. Vincent, Perfect Pussy, Dune Rats, FKA Twigs, and Royal Blood, to name but a few – may have been their most compelling yet.

National radio station Triple J is another fine example of how far we’ve come as an audience. Compare, if you will, the annual Hottest 100 Countdown of today to the very same list a decade ago. Back then, it was primarily rock acts such as Wolfmother, Foo Fighters, The White Stripes and End of Fashion filling out the highest positions. While there is nothing innately wrong with these bands (Dave Grohl and Jack White are practically Gods in my eyes), they obviously fall within similar musical genres. Today, however, we are seeing a multitude of styles infiltrating the very same countdown, with artists as diverse as Lorde, Arctic Monkeys, Daft Punk and Vance Joy all making appearances in the top spots.

Based on the albums that have connected with listeners so far this year, it doesn’t seem as though this trend is likely to change anytime soon. The first four months alone has seen artists and bands as varied as Kendrick Lamar, Gang of Youths, Viet Cong, Courtney Barnett, Alabama Shakes, Blur and Father John Misty all releasing albums to huge acclaim. While each is quite different stylistically, they all share one important thing in common: quality tunes that have instantly found their audiences; and in many cases shared audiences.



Once again, what all of this illustrates rather clearly is just how off the mark anyone proclaiming the death of any genre in 2015 actually is. Perhaps those harbouring such negative, backward-thinking viewpoints may find it beneficial to remove their ears from commercial radio stations blasting the same five songs ad nauseam, and instead pay some attention to what is going on beyond that generic-sounding world.

Music-wise, we are more spoilt for choice than we have ever been. As a result, people are listening to music for the right reasons, and not just because – as was the case during my gloomy high school years – a band or artist is ‘cool’ or ‘in’. What matters now is how a certain piece of music connects with you personally, regardless of whether or not it happens to be classed as EDM, hip hop, folk, blues, punk, post punk, new wave, no wave or metal.

Most importantly, my record collection has never looked better. Hell, I think it’s safe to say even my metal-loving buddy would now agree with me there.

 

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