When I first heard the term ‘Alternative’ applied to rock music many years back, I remember wondering ‘Oh! Alternative to what?’ because to me it was rock music; just that. Since then genreality has regularly bared its teeth and delighted in taking chunks off my naivete. I’ve gotten old but that ravening wolf is still going at the blistering pace of grindcore; or do I mean mincecore?!?
(Just so you know, mincecore is essentially grindcore with socio-political themes. I got that from a Wikiality bite, so do take it with a pinch of salt – Himalayan pink rock salt, unrefined if you please – with a dash of Kafir lime juice to go with that mince.)
I understand our need to classify things, to organise, and slot so it becomes easy for us to explain succinctly to our fellow beings what these are without a long-winded monologue. Post-rock, for example. Short, easy and utterly befuddling, especially when bands in that cage have long names that go ‘As We Lay Comatose On The Thorium-Enriched Beach Of A Post-Nuclear Wreck Gazing At A Luminescent Mauve Skylessness’. Add a ‘!’ or a ‘?’ and you have 100-carat post-rock! In fact, ‘Post-’ is the new ‘Alternative’. If you want to differentiate your music from the rest of that ‘meh’ stuff (you think), all you do is bung in a ‘post-’ prefix. That should fix it; there, you have your ‘post-lullaby’ to put your post-truth newborn to sleep…and possibly off music forever. And if you want to give your music that edge, that intensity, slap on a ‘core’ suffix. Nothing more hardcore and redneck than ‘Countrycore’.
It’s all so easy to describe music to other people with these very sharp genre names; straight-up, nothing cagey at all. They in turn go ‘Aha!’ in sage comprehension and react with a sneer or a smile in well-judged dismissal or acceptance of something that they haven’t heard and experienced. How far do you go with it? There used to be Heavy Metal (which was itself a heavy – oh, you got that, did you? – form of rock music) but over time that has been pushed down to just one of the 666 divisions that the beast called metal music has been chopped up into. So fine that it is hardly a surprise to find mince at the core of it. And it is no wonder that the metal community, known for its fierce loyalty, is among the most divided lot in the world of music. I’m sure that at least one of those ever-growing sub-sub-sub-genres of the form has just the members of that one band playing it and its solitary fan as its followers.
But tracking back to when the music landscape was not pockmarked by as many pits to fall into as it is now, the one genre name that always got me riled up was – it still does – ‘Soul’; as if a certain kind of music owns exclusive rights over that never-seen-but-always-felt nebulous quality that we humans love to wax eloquent about. How obnoxious is that! All music has soul. Pop has soul, perhaps less so when it is sold out. Metal has soul – a tortured, screaming one at its very core. Heck! Even EDM does – it’s that thing that escapes in a sigh of 0’s and 1’s the moment that button is hit.
I could go on taking genreal potshots but my point is that all this excessive caging of music has made us way more judgemental than we were and it holds us back from experiencing a lot of music. That’s tragic. Still, I hear hope in the number of artists breaking the confines of genre name-calling and refusing to be defined. One of my favourites this year has been a band that is known for its constantly shifting metal music, Between The Buried And Me. Even for a bunch of artists that are expected to throw surprises, BTBAM still managed to astonish with its album “Automata II” (released this year just months after “Automata I”). You’ll get a sense of what I mean when you listen to “Voice of Trespass” from that album with its unlikely blend of jazz and metal. Quite post-insane.
By the way, there are quite a few who’ve wondered why BTBAM is not a genre in itself.