Wednesday, November 30, 2011


Transferred from Low Earth Orbit, originally posted 2011.02.14 19:58.

I linked to it in the previous post, but I’ve just put my music genre name generator through a round of lexical and algorithmic improvements, so I recommend a look at it. As also mentioned in the previous post, I warn you that it can be quite addictive.

In addition, if you find one genre at a time is not enough, you can get a listing of a hundred of them at a time. (Update 2018: Not working currently. Single-genre generator is still online though, and it's been revamped to work purely client-side.)

Some of my favorites since I’ve been working on it today — I’ve been obliged to load the hundred-genres page each time I tweaked it, in order to check for mess-ups, and I copied the best results into a txt file — have been

  • pubstep
  • roboclash thrash
  • witch wonky
  • gore grunge-gogo
  • polka-punk proto-breaks
  • hyperbilly ghettobop
  • sadgamelan
  • lovers thrash
  • doom bop
  • hypnagogic hyper-punk
  • basement psychopsych
  • tropical gangsta ambient
  • dadcore
  • trance-trance rave-trance
  • classic ballroom industrial
  • post-minimal paleo-ragtime anti-dancehall
  • post-rave noise-polka
  • conceptual K-punk
  • beachwave
  • arena gamelan
  • album-oriented blues-blues blues concrète
  • crust-funk

I’m pretty sure there are quadrillions of possible combinations, and it’s those alliterative, cognitively dissonant, and roll-off-the-tongue-in-a-special-way ones that keep me coming back.

genre fun

Transferred from Low Earth Orbit, originally posted 2011.02.08 14:01. I've hardly listened to what I below call liquid beat, liquid pop, color pop, or techwave for quite a while, but I still like the terms pretty well — except for "techwave," which I still think seems more like a synonym for electropop in general than the dark music I intend as its target. "Garage fusion" still works for some things too, but "bass music" seems to have gained the largest acceptance among the artists in that realm, so as a more general descriptor (for bass-led, dubstep-descended dance music that doesn't necessarily have garagey rhythm) that's fine with me. Still really like the term "dub garage." Carrier by Sully and Routes by LV and Josh Idehen, released since I originally posted this, contain great examples of dub garage.

Most exploratory musicians, at least of those I’ve read interviews of, seem to shy away from labeling their work within a narrowly defined subgenre, in order to avoid pigeonholing themselves. This is, I think, the correct attitude to take, and I probably will want the same for myself if I get around to releasing music. Despite this, I find labeling songs/albums into subgenres a perhaps inordinately pleasing pursuit. The funnest part of this, for me, is inventing new genre names (see here*) with which I try to encapsulate the spirit of the tune or album more exactly than existing labels can. This sometimes helps me draw new, intriguing connections between works that I otherwise might not consider together. The most satisfying names are fairly broad, so that an artist’s whole oeuvre could sit within one of these genres and still be rewardingly varied. Here are a few examples that you’re welcome to adopt if you’re so inclined:

  • Perhaps the most useful one I’ve come up with, for my own conceptions of electronic music, is liquid beat. This encompasses the Dilla/Flying Lotus/Brainfeeder/Glasgow spectrum of psychedelic, enveloping music that is usually rhythmically grounded in hip hop. I like it because “liquid” seems to me the best term to describe the timbral qualities of such music, while “beat” refers to its somewhat commonplace label of “beat music” and carefully avoids narrowing it into a specified type of rhythm or tempo — since this can vary from a slow hip-hop/dubstep pace to a faster, housey 4x4 pulse. Such variation is heard in Flying Lotus’s meisterwerk Cosmogramma and on Newworldaquarium’s depressingly-named The Dead Bears. Liquid beat overlaps with other genres, of course: hip-hop itself, synth-funk, the “wonky” and “purple” varieties of UK bass music, and chillwave, which I prefer to call:
  • Liquid pop. Chillwave tends to have a similar sort of amniotic sense as liquid beat, but with a more pop/rock-based structure, often including vocals and guitar as main elements (not that liquid beat excludes either of those), hence “liquid pop.” To me “chillwave” isn’t really evocative of the actual sound of the music in the way that “liquid pop” is, although the two parts of the word do evoke the beach fixation that crested in 2009, so content-wise it works all right. I prefer “hypnagogic pop,” yet that seems too close to “dream pop” in connotation, and I think of dream pop as more airy in texture, whereas liquid pop is more watery (duh). (And “glo-fi” makes me think of lo-fi rave-inspired music, like Pictureplane, which doesn’t work for most chillwave.) The term “liquid pop” can also veer outside of what’s labeled as chillwave; the best example here that I know of is Caribou’s Swim, an album that Dan Snaith has explicitly described as being inspired by swimming and as an attempt to create a kind of aqueous dance music. Whereas a lot of liquid pop (the chillwave side of it) is relatively lo-fi, Swim is anything but. (Edit: Actually, now that I think about it, since Swim is the danciest record Caribou has made [I think], maybe liquid beat is a somewhat more apt descriptor for it.)
  • Color pop is another broad term that can also easily overlap with liquid pop. It refers to pop/rock-based music that contains a wide variety of usually warm instrument timbres and is often somewhat experimental while keeping within an easily listenable pop framework. I think that Vampy Weeks’s Contra, Yeasayer’s Odd Blood, and MGMT’s Oracular Spectacular are all good examples of this. I came up with the term because labels like “indie pop” and “psych pop” didn’t really capture what I felt was a common spirit among these albums. There’s a lot of 70s/80s pop/rock that could probably fall under the spectrum (ha) of “color pop” too, and such music has provided quite a bit of inspiration to contemporary color-pop bands.
  • I think I might have come across the term post-funk in some writing about ESG, but I forget. I’m pretty sure I read it somewhere, at any rate, as opposed to having invented it out of thin air like the above names. Anyway, because it combines “funk” and “post-punk,” it seems the perfect term to describe bands that dwell in the intersection of those genres. ESG, Liquid Liquid, A Certain Ratio, 23 Skidoo, and some of the no-wave groups like James Chance and the Contortions are a few of the OGs of post-funk, while !!! is a suitable fin-de-siècle example. Definitely one of my favorite genres of all time. (Of all time!)
  • The Knife’s Silent Shout and Fever Ray have given me hell in my attempts to figure out a genre name for them (a sign of musical genius, I would contend). Their timbres are definitely techno-based, but Fever Ray is sometimes percussionless, so they’re not straight techno, but they’re not ambient either because there is a lot of percussion in Silent Shout … and Karin Dreijer Andersson’s voice is fundamental to both, of course, and not in the fragmented way that vocals tend to be used in dance music, but in a more narrative way, pulling it in a more pop direction … but it’s definitely not pop, it’s way too spectral … maybe Gothic something? My current candidate is techwave, a conflation of “techno” and things like “darkwave” and “coldwave,” but I’m still not entirely satisfied with it, because it could easily also refer to techno + new wave, i.e. modern synthpop/electropop, without the haunted character that is so prevalent in Silent Shout and Fever Ray. The albums have atmospheric similarities with the very contemporary wave of gothic music like “witch house” and Demdike Stare, but with a much more technoid sound palette, I think. Witch tech? Sure, whatever.
  • The term “dubstep” is a conflation of “dub” + “2-step garage,” and in this capacity it more readily describes its very first apparitions — dubby, darker versions of 2-step garage tracks, or original tunes with the same kind of sound (shuffly-skippy garage rhythms married to welling sub-bass etc) — than the halfstep that emerged via FWD» and DMZ as dubstep’s mainline rhythm. But now that dubstep’s meaning has morphed quite a bit — though I think most open-minded steppaz still place both halfstep and the old garagey tunes, as well as a lot of other kinds of music these days, under the dubstep umbrella — I find a separate term for garagey dubstep useful. I call it dub garage. This is basically of the same provenance as “dubstep” itself but leaving the “2-step” and keeping the “garage.” El-B’s pioneering dub tracks and the old Horsepower Productions LPs (Quest for the Sonic Bounty is more halfstep) fall into this category, and with the resurgence of interest in garage rhythms in the last few years, a lot of “future garage” can also be considered dub garage, as it often retains the depth and darkness of dubstep.
  • Meanwhile, staying inside the hardcore continuum, in the last few years there’s been a lot of mixing of rhythmic ideas from dubstep, garage, grime, house, techno, jungle, dancehall, etc. Some of the artists exemplifying this (and this is only a small fraction of those worth mentioning) are Ramadanman, Untold, Martyn, Pangaea, and Cosmin TRG, and labels such as Hessle Audio, Hemlock Recordings, and Night Slugs are in the middle of this melting pot. Understandably, there’s not really been an attempt to give such music its own genre. Sometimes dubstep is stretched further and further to try to accommodate it all, sometimes it’s lumped in with basically the whole ‘nuum as “UK bass music,” but because of certain commonalities within this interzone, I think it’s possible to give it its own name. For this I have settled rather happily upon garage fusion. By this I intend to mean that such music is a fusion of garage, genres descended from garage (grime, dubstep, bassline, funky), genres related to garage (house, and, further on, jungle and techno) and/or unrelated kinds of music, so that it has room for the enormous variation that has already been produced as well as for endless as-yet unexplored directions. (Of course with a definition this wide, latter-day dub garage easily falls under the garage fusion umbrella.) Garage fusion is the most exciting music out there for me at the moment because, just as has been the case at other confusing times of mutation in and around the hardcore continuum, its possibilities seem infinite. To allude to my opening point about the avoidance of pigeonholing, I know that giving a vein of music so vital and nebulous a label at all is of dubious merit, even understandable as dangerous or restricting — as one of the commentators on the abovelinked Blackdown post remarked, “as soon as it’s gotta name it’s over,” and I agree with that in spirit. However, and let’s hope I’m right about this, I sincerely doubt that this tiny blog’s semantic maneuvers pose much of a threat to the continued health of these kinds of music!

* just click on the page to keep refreshing it; warning: can be rather addictive

how far

Here we go! Transferred from Low Earth Orbit, originally posted 2011.02.01 20:58. This one still accords with my current thinking and is interesting to reread for the first time in a long while. I haven't had the problem of musical oversaturation that it discusses basically since I wrote it, happily. My love of the nuum is as strong as ever.

We all know that the amount of recorded music that exists today is practically infinite in terms of how much of it one individual can take in, and that online channels (even just the legal ones) make a still-practically-infinite portion of this total available to anyone with net access. This is so even within fairly circumscribed subgenres. As a result, a truly complete exposure to almost any genre of music except a nascent one is, I expect, either mathematically impossible for one person, or nearly so. And of course I’ve only mentioned recorded music, since it’s relatively quantifiable — as opposed to live performances etc. Yet when I’m in a phase of deep interest in a particular genre, I have the understandable desire to hear a whole lot of it, and sometimes this desire approaches a gluttonous wish to hear every bit of output available within that genre and to know things about every artist working in it. I’m pretty sure that such compulsions are much stronger still in many music lovers, that my desire for encyclopedic knowledge and consumption is perhaps only middling (well, probably upper-middling) within the overall population. How far down into the genre I actually end up digging depends, naturally, on the intensity and duration of my interest in it. The question I started pondering last night is: how deep should one dig into a genre? How close to total should you try to make your understanding of it? How far in is just scratching the surface and how far is too much?

I think the obvious broad answer to such a subjective question is that it depends: on you, your personality, what you get out of the genre; on the works and artists that constitute the genre and their place in its history, and on the quality of their music itself; on the things you’re supposed to be doing rather than listening to and learning about music; etc etc. In other words, there’s clearly no real answer. But this is unsatisfying, and I’m going to try to be a little more precise.

Usually when I first become enthusiastic about a genre that I haven’t much listened to before, my appetite for knowledge about it is voracious. I think sometimes the desire to read about music I’m interested in even outpaces my desire to hear new works within the genre. I’ll find a few albums (or even just one to start, or indeed a single tune) that catch my ear, acquire them (legally) and read up on the artists and those connected to them. As I learn about more artists, I check out their music in turn. The listening and reading feed into each other. (As I describe this process, it seems it must obviously be the normal way of things for a music enthusiast and that it therefore hardly bears mentioning — how can you learn more about the sonic space of a tune or album that strikes your fancy other than by researching it? Pandora, I suppose, or other such passive means. Oh, or by actually talking to fellow fans in real life. Right.)

The degree of obsessiveness of these inquiries naturally affects how soon I become saturated in the genre, how soon I begin to tire of it. This usually does happen to some degree, but to date I don’t think I’ve gone so far overboard that I permanently lose interest in the music. (Although admittedly there is plenty of music in my library that I haven’t listened to in years, so maybe I’m actually quite wrong about that; only time will tell.) Often it will happen before I’ve really acquired a lot of music in the genre, particularly if the albums that I have bought I’ve listened to a whole lot.

That time of saturation may be when the question of how deep one “should” get into the genre is most likely to rise into conscious consideration. Even though I’m starting to tire of this kind of music, are there more works out there that are truly essential to my understanding of it, so that I’m doing a disservice to the genre if I don’t listen to them before moving on? Should I just let go and revisit such works when my interest in the genre comes back around? Reviews of albums one hasn’t yet listened to at this point saying that e.g. “you cannot be a true connoisseur of (insert genre here) if you don’t have this album” are not helpful here, as the option I’ve come to think is more sound is the latter: let it go. Unless you’re a professional music critic and it’s your actual job to listen to a work in order to review it or to get context for other music, or, let’s say, you’re a student in a music class and have been assigned to listen to it, or you’re a DJ and are considering playing it out, it is unlikely that you Really Must Hear It right now. More likely, you have been seeking out music in this genre for your own enjoyment, and so, once that enjoyment wanes, there’s no point in forcing yourself to listen to it. You won’t appreciate it as much as you would have during your initial passion for the genre, so in my view it’s actually more respectful to the music and its creator(s) not to listen to it at that point, and to wait until you’re once again able to appreciate it. It’s all right not to have encyclopedic knowledge of a genre by the time your love for it wanes; no one will be harmed by such a lack; no one who is really worth chilling with should be affronted by it. On the contrary, they ought to be thankful that you’re not super-obsessive. (Or maybe you are anyway. It’s all a matter of degree, after all.) Maybe some tunes at the edge of the genre lead you into different ones that you find more fulfilling; that’s great. Maybe you take a break from listening to much music at all for a while. That might be even better.

I have a similar attitude toward dessert: if you’re really full after dinner, you won’t appreciate dessert as much as if you have it when you’re actually hungry. So basically what I’ve been leading up to this whole time is that you should eat ice cream for breakfast. Enjoy.

— – —

This essay has really been for my own benefit, fundamentally. I fear that I may be currently approaching saturation in the sphere of the “hardcore continuum” (garage, jungle, dubstep, grime, funky, bassline, etc) even though it continues to be the kind of music I want to make myself, and even though I feel woefully underexposed to certain parts of it, such as grime and funky, relative to where I want to be. This is more of a saturation in actual listening rather than in learning: my appetite for reading material about the ‘nuum and its latest transformations is just as insatiable as it was six months ago when I really jumped into it deep for the first time, and I expect that many of my subsequent posts will concern the ‘nuum — but recently I’ve started to feel overwhelmed by all the exciting new ‘nuum music revealed to me seemingly every day (by Resident Advisor, Boomkat, etc) and by its enormous (practically infinite), enormously varied backlog, and that’s what has spawned these more general thoughts on music consumption. I hope that having hashed out the foregoing line of argument will help me keep perspective at such times as this. But if your relationship to music is similar to mine, maybe you’ll have some use for it as well.


All right, here's my sixth blog (at least: 1 2 3 4 5) starting up. This may well be foolhardy, given that I only update one of the other ones with any frequency. I hold out some hope though that this one will have some continuing vitality, because the intended subject is music, listening to it and making it; this is almost certainly my greatest passion these days.

Now, at the start of 2011 I began using my Tumblr as a music blog, it having had a previous half-year's life as a place to post interesting Google Maps satellite images. In this capacity it has lain fallow for ten months (which would seem to bode ill for this blog, but just humor me for the moment). A few minutes ago I found another satellite image that I really want to share, and that has pushed me to restore the Tumblr to its original purpose, which seems to fit much more naturally with the nature of Tumblr as basically a microblogging, often image-sharing platform. Blogspot, meanwhile, is the platform for my favorite music blogs and the best-established site for long-winded text posts.

So, to start I think I will transfer the music posts from Low Earth Orbit. These will show snapshots of my thinking on music that may have obsolesced to some degree over the ensuing weird year 2011, but which are still of some value precisely because of that obsolescence.