Genre proliferation: the disease of the modern era


Simon Reynolds, perhaps the only person to really manage an overview of the contemporary music scene, has just written his review of the noughties where, amongst other things, he explores the idea of “landfill indie”. Landfill indie notwithstanding, Reynolds cites around twenty-five different genres or variants in recent popular music. The Horrors, for example, are “mashing up Goth, shoegaze, post-punk, late-80s neo-psych in the Loop/Spacemen 3, etc”. Here they are, as if to remind us that haircuts still matter despite any purported micro-genre explosion:

Reynolds adds a thumbs up for “Mica Levi, who bridges the considerable gap between riot grrrl and grime, between Woodentops-style indie-bop and Herbert’s blippy, micro-syncopated glitchtronica.” While I am sure there was always a whole heap of vernacular musics to mix, match and enjoy, the fissile, recombinant “meme-like” nature of contemporary music – or rather contemporary music reporting – in part reflects the recent social obsession with genetic futurism.

It is as if popular music criticism is now a laboratory which dissects the genetic codes of the tunes in order to guide packs of hungry consumers. I think it would be fair to say this linguistic move comes in part from the alienated world of electronic dance music. While the folk-related traditions of popular music were always about enhancing the “feel” of the music and combing those traditions was about getting something “cooking”, this style of analysis is more about dissection, mutation and calculated recombination: playing with DNA rather then merely shaking it. The model for the modern musician and his or her critic therefore becomes Gregor Mendel, who of course was both a scientist and a priest.

Ironically, all this freeplay with musical memes not only makes genre lifespans shorter, but it also makes inheritance a more important concept than ever. Tradition isn’t age old now, it’s recent. That said, I am beginning to feel out of the Futurist loop, and that from a plain old denim-and-jeans (not genes) rock perspective, all this genre proliferation feels like fannish elitism, the endless assertion of cultural capital whose references are lost on any hapless outsider who might happen to catch about the pedigree of a recent tune.