Nov 5, 2013
We have all curated preferences as to what music we spend our time getting to know intimately, ultimately constructing our unique tastes in musical genres. While some gravitate towards the legends of recent past such as Pink Floyd and Bob Dylan, others find solace in jazz or swing music that have consumed audiences as early as the 1930s.
Music categorization begins with the notion of the “genre,” a hulk term that generalizes and classifies defining musical elements to describe a sound. We are all familiar with genres like Pop, R&B, and Rock and Roll, which have dominated the industry for decades. A recent rising genre that has taken Montreal and much of North America by storm is Electronic Dance Music (EDM). With now big-name artists such as Flume and Cyril Hahn performing at venues across the city, EDM concerts have been selling out weekend after weekend without any sign of losing their popularity.
EDM, like other genres, are susceptible to offspring—otherwise known as “sub-genres.” This tendency of classifying music types like sub-genres is especially apparent on music blogs, which allows for EDM to remain static as an overarching genre, while new sub-genres frequently emerge from its roots.
EDM as an umbrella term has found substantial popularity, but as a descriptor, the notion lends itself to a slew of implications and generalizations within the music community. As a solution, we find hundreds—if not thousands—of sub-genres that narrow in on particular sounds and styles. From “drum and bass” to “progressive house,” sub-genres within EDM have been multiplying as a constant display of innovative sounds, catching the attention of European, Australian, and North American audiences alike. Electronic artists experiment with their art forms, giving birth to new strains which, inevitably, must be named. Naming new sub-genres has allowed for even more creativity in musical production across the board.
Electronic music as a whole is a moving target. According to a recent McGill BA and Berklee College of Music graduate who goes by the artist name Wolfey, EDM as a term applies to “a vast range of sub-genres including dance, experimental, and ambient.” He described the genre in this sense as “extraterrestrial,” fusing the use of synthesizers, samplers and sequencers to form a bedrock of possibilities for musicians to take inspiration from and for music journalists and fans to identify with.
Like many other producers, Wolfey strives to create an innovative electronic sound that takes inspiration from the past and the present, creating a mixture of ambient electronica, future garage, and post-dubstep. With this resourceful nature, electronic music production helps to expand what constitutes as EDM, resulting in the classification of various sub-genres.
Artists like Disclosure and Rusko practice this categorization frequently. Disclosure has curated a musical identity combining deep house and UK garage with a disco influence, while Rusko birthed a sub-genre of his own: “brostep.” The concept behind brostep is to feature middle register sounds rather than the sub-bass that original dubstep artists such as Skream and Benga usually highlight.
Electronic artists like Disclosure and Rusko speak volumes on how EDM as an existing genre can’t properly describe a newly innovative sound without over-generalizing. Technically, both artists belong under EDM’s umbrella, but labelling each producer simply as EDM does nothing more than orient the listener. Every emerging sound deserves a more specific description, and this is where sub-genres must attach themselves to specific musical combinations in order to solve the problem of broad generalization.
Limiting an artist’s sound solely to an overarching genre pools together thousands of its own sub-genres that in reality deserve distinctions, especially on a reputable music blog. Appropriating proper sub-genres through music-oriented online platforms allows readers to know exactly what strains of EDM they like: perhaps minimal electronica or Intelligent Dance Music (IDM)—other sub-genres of electronic music—or what they dislike: maybe techno or brostep. Sub-genres increase the necessary precision so desperately needed in EDM’s extensive musical diversity.
Music publications such as Pretty Much Amazing and Indie Shuffle are entities that professionally typify music with the use of sub-genres for searching and listening purposes. Jason Grishkoff, the founder of Indie Shuffle, deals with categorization constantly, and welcomes new sub-genres.
“With hundreds of thousands of songs being released every year, you’re going to start to see new ways of describing these emergent sub-genres,” Grishkoff said. Indie Shuffle, along with other music blogs, categorizes each song, remix, cover, LP, or EP they review to whatever sub-genres the writer sees fit, attempting to avoid over-generalization.
But what happens when one person’s categorization is seen by others as miscategorization? As an artist, Benny Morgentaler of Toronto-based DJ duo No Big Deal pointed
out that even the grossly misinformed have an online voice.
“Some people know what they’re talking about and have a deep love of music, while others start a music blog for something to do,” he said.
In that same vein, Wolfey argued that “The best journalists are connoisseurs.” He noted that the problem of miscategorization seems to be a combination of both laziness and a lack of knowledge of proper sub-genres. This is what drives ‘electronic’ to be the most generalized term in music classification.
This division between sub-genres offered by music blogs, iTunes, and streaming sites like Soundcloud, Bandcamp and NPR, leads to healthy discussion within the online music community, just as opposing political communities foster. Well-formulated opinions about genre classifications help to nail down the thousands of EDM strains, which are often determined by the presence of elements such as synthesizers or varying beats per minute (bpm). Whatever Indie Shuffle labels an artist, Pitchfork might see otherwise; that difference in opinion is usually seen as perfectly valid as long as it is coming from another knowledgeable source.
Ben Ryder-Smith, the co-founding publicist of Native PR Group in London, UK attempts to catch publications’ attention with the artists he represents. As a public relations specialist, how an artist’s sound is presented to fans, journalists, and industry professionals is essential to artist development and recognition of genre.
“Everyone is entitled to their own opinion on what bracket a track or band falls under,” Ryder-Smith argued, adding that as long as people are talking about his artists, he’s happy. Still, he reminded us that there are more reputable voices than others. Those voices often belong to industry professionals who have the knowledge and means to articulate their opinions.
This open-minded attitude towards musical classification and discussion is what all music fans and professionals should strive to adopt. Genres continue to evolve, but not beyond recognition. The amplification of emerging musical styles which constitute sub-genres, empower fans, musicians, and journalists alike to explore music without boundaries in order to welcome fusion and collaboration. The coining of strains of electronic music is essential, allowing for specificity to be attributed to defining musical elements. EDM as a genre exists solely as a father figure to its ever-expanding offspring of sub-genres.
The ever-growing realms of music might seem expansive or difficult to grapple with, but there really is something out there that’s known as “industrial breakbeat orchestral electronica.” It’s our job as listeners to find it.
Full disclosure: Brontë Martin is a contributing staff writer at Indie Shuffle.