The unsolvable enigma of music genres and how you can change your listening habits.

Music genres pervade the whole of our lives, with specific genres suited to specific environments such as radio-friendly pop music in shopping centres and bars, ambient music in restaurants, EDM in gyms and leisure centres and rock music at extreme sporting events. We also define ourselves using our favorite music genres, with self-confessed lovers of metal labelling themselves ‘metalheads’ and maybe even going as far as to dress a certain way, endorse certain ideologies while dismissing other social norms and take part in certain rituals and behaviors. Streaming sites such as Spotify and Apple Music have varying functionalities to allow you to find certain artists, albums and songs in the catalog of genres that they each provide. My point being – music genres help us out a lot in life, they change our mood, change the atmosphere of a particular situation and perhaps most importantly, they define us as people. But the question remains – are they actually useful for music lovers to define themselves by, to sort their music by and to discover new music with? 

The hugely beneficial thing about genres that most people don’t talk about very often or consider is that they help us to discover new artists that relate to the artist we already know and love. Recently I have become quite a fan of modern Progressive metal, however this definitely would not have occurred had I not discovered those first few bands that led me to consciously acknowledge the genre and all its colourful facets. The initial fondness of these bands prompted me to do a little bit of research which then led me to discover the unifying feature of Prog metal. Now the next step seemed obvious, just research the genre further and discover more. It is amazing how many fail to acknowledge this (somewhat obvious) trait of genre-orientated music classification, given it is probably the most widely utilised method of discovering new music and expanding your musical horizons.

You might be wondering at this point why I even bothered to write the last paragraph if it is already so clear to us, but genres are a double-edged sword and it is easier to see why if we initially state the obvious. Not only do they help us to expand our musical tastes in varying directions, but they also have the unfortunate consequence of trapping us within our given genre and possibly making us narrow-minded in the process. This is because while we may have the sensation of becoming more daring and experimental as we trudge through a genre, the way in which we decide to explore a particular artist in that genre may simply be through similarity to all the other artists we have listened to. Now it is possible to see the strange paradox lurking beneath the surface of the genre and why it proves so problematic for music fans.

This is part of a whole pantheon of problems that emerges when dealing with genres. Another thing that genres inevitably conjure up because they have this often sacred link with certain groups of people among society is stereotypes. Someone might be a fierce defender of Jazz music but may also unfairly reject Hip Hop music because the only time they happened to let it scrape their ears it was a song exclusively about money and hoes. Maybe there would be Hip Hop music out there for them that could form a bridge for them, but because they had this isolated experience of the genre they do anything within their power to stop it entering their lives. Having recently discovered the lyrical genius of Kendrick Lamar, I can say that Rap and Hip Hop music is definitely not all about the hedonistic life.

This has irritatingly impacted all genres with most extreme metal being associated with Satan and death, classic rock with pot-bellied old men and electronic music with computer nerds. A recent genre to undergo this burden is Djent. Djent is above all a guitar technique, it is the pummelling, heavily palm-muted and digitised chugging guitar tone that has been used by mainly progressive metal acts since the late 80’s and early 90’s. Now you may be asking at this point why I am calling Djent a genre at all if it is just a guitar technique. Well, the reason is that I’d rather not join the frenzy of questioning the sub-genre’s viability and just accept it as one in order to prove my point.

The thing with Djent is that it has acquired some distasteful stereotypes through the years ever since it was popularised by Swedish-borne Meshuggah. These include being mocked for supposedly needing little skill to be a Djent musician, and bringing up images of the lone guitarist sitting in his/her bedroom with a down-tuned 8-string guitar and endlessly replicating the same chug using audio software. This in turn has had it deemed the ‘Dubstep of metal’. All of these stereotypes persist and more.

The problem with this is that when bands incorporate this style they quite often receive much less support from listeners even though the listeners are often the ones who bestow the label on to these bands. The bands go on making music as normal only to have it downplayed as ‘Djent bullshit’, even though all the bands want is for their music to be appreciated AS MUSIC. Tosin Abasi, the guitarist in the band Animals As Leaders once said that he and his band do not strive to make music that simply fits in the nice, comfortable cardboard box of a single genre, rather they explore what intrigues them no matter what niche it happens to be slotted into. Sadly though, they are dismissed as just another silky tendon in the Djent web.

The grand, unifying point of this article is to motivate people to investigate the music that grabs their attention without the prejudices of genres involved. In fact, don’t just investigate the music that grabs your attention, but check out the music that often makes you squirm on hearing it, it can only make you appreciate what you originally thought was alien. However it is clear we still need genres, we’re not ready to ditch the shackles just yet and be enlightened music lovers. Like I said in the initial paragraphs of this article, genres aren’t just negative labels and they can help us in many ways, but stay too loyal to them and you can find yourself becoming a close-minded bigot.



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