“There are so many sub–genres and fashions, two–tone, acid rock, alternative dance, alternative metal, alternative rock, art punk, art rock, avant garde metal, black metal, Christian metal, heavy metal, funk metal, bland metal, medieval metal, indie metal, melodic death metal, melodic black metal, metal core…psychedelic rock, punk rock, hip hop, rap rock, rap metal, Nintendo core [he goes on for quite a while]… Just add neo– and post– to everything I said, and mention them all again. Yeah, and rock & roll.”
Wise words uttered by Bruce Springsteen during his keynote speech at the 2012 South-by-Southwest Music Festival. Words which raise the question of what affect this abundance of sub-genres is having on music. The answer is that this wide range of genres is in fact destroying music, or rather, destroying musical creativity.
Allow me to explain: if an artist subconsciously knows that they’re part of a particular genre then they’re less likely to try and be creative and raise the bar musically. They will be content with just mucking about in whatever genre they’ve been placed into and won’t try to experiment with a new sound. Why would you want to leave your comfort zone and trek into unknown and quite possibly dangerous waters? Sub-genres extend this problem even further by breaking the large, all-encompassing genres into even smaller groups and then shoving artists into these tiny little boxes.
Now you may be reading this and thinking, “But Craig, aren’t genres necessary in order to distinguish between different sounds?” Well, yes and no. I say yes when it comes to major genres like rock, pop, rap, EDM and so forth. I also support the usage of the major sub-genres that stem from all these genres such as metal, punk, pop rock, hip hop, house, dubstep and so forth. I can even support the sub-genres of those particular sub-genres with special regard to the metal scene and the various sub-genres beneath the umbrella of rock music. For instance, the likes of hardcore, post-hardcore, metalcore, death metal, pop punk, deathcore and so forth are all legitimate genres in my eyes, although they have blurred lines. My problem comes in when people invent the most obscure-as-possible sub-genres. For instance: post-metal (or any of the post- genres with perhaps the exception of post-hardcore and post-rock). Firstly, the suffix post means “after” which means the bands within this genre should be any band that came after the original metal genre. That is pretty much every single modern metal band. Apparently Bring Me the Horizon is now a post-metal band with the release of Sempiternal. So as soon you put a massive electronic sound into your music, you become post-metal? Yet bands like Neurosis are also described as post-metal due to their “atmospheric” sound. Last time I checked, music isn’t made up of a mixture of various gases. The list of obscure genres can go on and on and metal is especially to blame for this. The list within the metal scene is ridiculous: doom metal, acid metal, sludge metal, orchestral metal, nintendocore, math metal, indie metal, pagan metal and so on. Nearly all these genres only have one or two bands that have a legitimate sound while the rest are just copy-cats.
Many of these genres then tend to get mashed together with 25 other genres to form some new genres that just get palmed off as being “progressive metal” which means you have Animals As Leaders sharing the same space as some band who combined 8-bit noises with heavily distorted guitars, dubstep drops, growled vocals, trance synth lines and lyrics about how much their life sucks. Maybe your life sucks because you thought you’d look so cool if you mashed together a bunch of genres to create some obnoxious sound that you couldn’t find a name before and the decided to create one yourself. Hey, maybe you threw in an orchestra, a noise flute and some gases just so that you could call yourself electronic-orchestral-neo-post-metalcore. (If you could read that without cringing then you have a high tolerance towards pretentious hipsters.)
On the note of hipsters, this brings me straight to another point as to why genres ruin music. Ironically, hipsters don’t actually ruin music. They just abuse the word ‘indie’ in ways that aggravate me. The division that genres create results in conflict among music lovers. Once again I’m going to give my beloved metal scene the evil eye. Stroll over to any major metal band’s YouTube videos – usually these bands are metal-core bands, and you will nearly always find comments saying that fans of these bands are “faggots”, “pussys” and that they sound go listen to “real metal”. Obviously, I have altered the spelling slightly as it seems the esteemed metal elite traded basic language skills for a higher understanding of “real metal”. The difference between hipsters and metal elitists is that hipsters just won’t talk to you if you don’t know about the new orchestral post-rock anti-folk indie band. Metal elitists will crucify you if you make a passing reference to Asking Alexandria – or maybe they’ll just sacrifice you to the gods. I don’t know. I don’t feel inclined to pass commentary on their religious habits, or lack thereof.
The point that I’m trying to drive home is that sub-genres do more harm than good. Great, you’ve managed to find a way to label what an artist sounds like. You’ve also found a way to muzzle them and chain them to an oppressive system that criticises them for playing in their genre and then also for changing their sound and playing outside of the genre. You’ve created a means for lines to be blurred where a band can be labelled as five different genres, yet be none of them at the same time. Sub-genres create an unnecessary division within a genre that already has a tough time gaining recognition. Who is going to want to associate themselves with a genre that fights over whether a band is blackened sludge metal or avant-grade doom metal? I plead with all of you to make use of the adjectives that high school taught you and start describing music by what it sounds and feels like – and not by what it is.