All posts by Guest Contributor

[[Sound Off]] Nostalgia Chip: The Appeal of Chiptune

By Michael McKitterick michaelmckitt@gmail.com

Back in September 2016, Square Sounds Tokyo held its annual gathering for musicians from around the world to come and perform ‘chipmusic’ live. This genre, more commonly known as ‘chiptune’ (which is how I’ll be referring to it hereafter) or ‘8-bit’, refers to the creation of electronic music using sound chips commonly found in vintage computers, game consoles and arcade machines. If you need an example, think of the original ‘Super Mario Bros. Theme’. That’s chiptune before ‘chiptune’ even really existed as we know it today.

Chiptune setup
Chiptune tracks are often created on actual GameBoy hardware using special ‘tracker’ software

Upon watching a performance from Irish musician Chipzel (Niamh Houston) at Square Sounds, I began to wonder why so many people, including myself, enjoyed listening to music from this relatively niche genre. It seems odd, as a society, to have made so many technological advancements in music and sound quality over the past few decades and yet still occasionally rely on creating music through this method that existed purely due to technological limitations.

Let it be clear that this is not a ‘new’ genre. It has existed since the early 1980s, ever since equipment such as personal computers and video game consoles became outdated and hence more accessible to creative individuals who wished to use them for sound or art purposes. The reason I think many people see it as a new genre is because it sticks out like a sore thumb now more than ever because of, as I say, advancements in technology, as well as the simplistic nature of the sounds used in chiptune. Most people associate this genre with the soundtracks of video games in the ‘70s and ‘80s, such as Super Mario Bros., Tetris, Sonic the Hedgehog etc. The fact it has made a comeback from the 2000s onwards is bound to confuse many who didn’t think there was a market for ‘video game music’. With the release of consumer software (such as LSDJ, a GameBoy cartridge created specifically for creating chiptune music on the console) from the late 2000s-early 2010s, there has been a sharp rise in the number of people utilising these old-school sounds, including popular mainstream artists.

For enthusiasts, it likely elicits a very strong sense of nostalgia. It takes them back to a time where they were playing video games as children. In this sense, they experience a sense of loss – a longing to return to this simpler, worry-free time, and the consumption of this music genre helps to bridge that gap. It sounds odd that a certain genre could achieve this. Nostalgia is usually specific – associated to a specific artist, song, phrase or lyric – but chiptune is such a distinct and recognisable genre that it can be linked to almost any video game from the ‘70s and ‘80s. Keiji Yamagishi, composer for Ninja Gaiden, chimes in on the appeal of chiptune, and states that “it’s difficult not having any limitations. I feel like I was being tested.” It’s an interesting concept – having technological limitations could actually make you feel less pressured to outdo other artists or create something incredible – it gives you a sense of focus. This familiarity would understandably benefit both composers and listeners.

But technological advancements in music and music production have not been lost on some chiptune artists. While some do create ‘pure’ chiptune tracks, using nothing but these old-school sounds for every instrument, including drums, bass, keys etc., the majority incorporate chiptune sounds into other styles of music. This creates many different subgenres of chiptune, including one that I found particularly interesting – Nintendocore. Yes, you read that right. Take a listen to ‘Four to Six‘ by Math the Band. They have found a way (and they are not, by any means, the only artist to do this) to combine punk rock and chiptune. Two genres that are very different from one another, but they somehow work. Other examples include EDM mixed with chiptune, courtesy of the aforementioned Chipzel (which, as a sidenote, works wonders live) and even orchestral rock (Curious Quail’s Rallying Cry). I’m not sure why any of these work, but they do. I’m the last person to be listening to punk rock, but throw some chiptune in there and I love it. It brings that sense of nostalgia and familiarity to any genre it’s paired with – it’s hard to explain

However, the (potential) problem with chiptune is that it generally doesn’t have lyrics. Much like the video game soundtracks it emulates, chiptune creates its melodies through instrumentation rather than vocal work. This makes it harder to break through into the mainstream, which is why many notable songs that feature chiptune (such as Ke$ha’s ‘Tik Tok’) simply sample it and use it sparingly as a background instrument rather than the main focus. A few artists, however, have created chiptune-centric tracks with vocals, such as the Somerset-based duo You Love Her Coz She’s Dead. These artists, however, very rarely see mainstream attention. Perhaps the most mainstream artist who can be considered ‘chiptune’ would be Crystal Castles, but even then, it seems to take a back seat to EDM in their songs.

Chipzel live
A shot of Chipzel performing live in 2015

This, ultimately, leads to it becoming a very niche genre, and seen by many as ‘hipster’ music because of the fact it is a fairly-recent trend that is outside of the mainstream. And the fact it is so niche is amplified whenever someone claims to have done this technique for the first time. This happened as recently as February 2016 when Killscreen ran a story about a musician who had used a Sega Genesis sound chip to create a remix of some music from Sonic the Hedgehog. He said he believed he was the “only producer within the contemporary music platform that’s using that sound chip.” Needless to say, this pissed people off – so much so that they had to change the article to account for the massive amount of chiptune artists who pointed out the obvious oversight in Killscreen’s reporting (and the man’s ability to perform a quick Google search).


Maybe it’s an acquired taste. I know plenty of people who describe chiptune as simply “noise” and don’t see the appeal, which is fine, I see where they’re coming from to a certain extent. But in the right hands, these simple sounds can be a very powerful tool. Take a listen to the Spotify playlist and see what you think. There’s a wide variety of different chiptune tracks there for you to make up your mind about this relatively unknown genre.

Whether you love it or hate it, just don’t try and claim you invented it.

[[SOUND OFF]] is a series of student-written features on artists/albums/music worth checking out

[[Sound Off]] ROCK IS A PUTRID, ROTTING CORPSE

Or: How the Tediously Hyperbolic Laments About the ‘Death’ of Rock Music from Reactionary Critics Have Poisoned General Discourse Surrounding the Genre

By Jake Kelsey @JakeKelsey94

When discussing genres, music critics love a good death metaphor – and it’s easy to see why – as a general theme around which to centre a review or think piece there’s so much room for witty, clever and entirely non-derivative turns of phrase that seek to illustrate to the reader the sombre truth that we, as a culture, have suffered a tragic loss. A music genre is no longer as popular as it used to be. A moment’s silence please.

A notable victim of music journalism’s psychopathic serial killer streak is Rock music, with scores upon scores of articles being written every year that mournfully state as an unequivocal fact that rock music, if not stone-cold dead, is barely hanging on to life – conjuring images in the reader’s head of a hospitalised middle-aged white man, R. Music, connected to machines by tubes and wires after being involved in a tragic (but totally rad) high-speed crash while thundering his Harley Davidson down Route 66. His leather jacket lies in tatters next to his tin pail of Jack Daniel’s and book of LaVeyan scripture.

The main problem with this ‘rock is dead’ narrative (aside from the obvious factual inaccuracy that we will get on to later) is that so many reviews of contemporary rock artists’ work is viewed through this lens, and not only is the rhetoric dull, tired and repetitive – but it places a severe amount of undue pressure on upcoming bands that presumably just want to play some music and not be tasked with the daunting challenge of striding purposefully into R. Music’s death bed, looking at his chart, and giving him the life-saving treatment he desperately needs in order to get back on his Harley and head out onto the open road.

Royal Blood albumTake, for example, this piece in NME[1] where The Nicest Man in Rock™, Dave Grohl, singles out Bristol-based duo Royal Blood as being a good band – not a particularly sensationalist statement – and there are certainly no insistences that we have finally found the fabled saviour of our resident over-extended metaphor R. Music. This then gets picked up by another website under the considerably more hyperbolic title of ‘Dave Grohl reckons Royal Blood will save rock ‘n’ roll’[2], an article that impressively even links to the original piece where the Foo Fighters frontman explicitly does not say that. Then of course when the album is reviewed – it is seen at least partially through this lens, whether they think the album is good[3] or bad [4]. There have been many bands that this claim has been levelled at over the years, such as The Strokes[5], The White Stripes[6], Gaslight Anthem[7] and many, many more[8] – so many bands, in fact, that one might begin to question whether rock is actually even dead at all!

To be fair to music critics, they are generally not the ones who have written the obituary – they seem to be just part of a climate where it’s essentially regarded as received wisdom that rock music is dead and as such, it’s convenient to proclaim that any fellas with a guitar and some good tracks will be the ones to save the genre. The people we truly have to blame for this questionable received wisdom are, bizarrely, rock musicians themselves.

Roger Daltry[9], Flea[10], Gene Simmons[11], Bob Dylan[12] and Joe Perry[13] have all recently been quoted in articles as saying that rock music has died. What’s particularly irksome about the incessant claims from these musicians, is that after they were all tearfully huddled around R. Music’s bedside during his final moments, they will have left (presumably on Harley Davidsons) to play sell-out stadium tours with their respective bands – disproving their own point and earning millions of dollars collectively by playing rock music.

So that point is obviously not entirely fair, all of the aforementioned musicians are already established (bewilderingly, in the case of Gene Simmons) as rock legends and, as they come from a time before the supposed tragic demise of rock music, they are still able to find huge audiences and rake in the cash. This is where the ambiguity of the term ‘dead’ comes into play – if we’re to assume that a ‘dead genre’ is one that is simply not currently the most popular in the world then sure – forget all the snarky bullshit I’ve spouted over the last seven hundred words; rock music is dead – I’ll do a reading at the funeral. However, if we’re to assume that a ‘dead genre’ is one that is creatively and artistically spent – that there is nobody doing anything interesting within the confines of the generic conventions of rock music then I am delighted to announce that reports of its death have been greatly exaggerated.

The reason I think the distinction between the two different possible meanings of ‘dead’ is an important one is that the popularity of the genre should have no impact on and is of no relevance to the critical discussion surrounding the actual music within the genre, which is why it is infuriating to see articles that proclaim new bands to be the saviour of rock, or to hear old musicians claiming that the genre is dead.

Artistically, rock music has been doing just fine for decades – it may not be the biggest genre in the world any more but that doesn’t matter, there are still great bands doing great things and it’s okay that they’re doing them to moderately smaller audiences. So when a website runs an article with the headline ‘Gene Simmons: “Rock is Dead, It Was Murdered”’ it may as well read ‘BREAKING: Old White Man Thinks Things Have Changed Since His Day and Boy is He Angry About It’.

 

[[SOUND OFF]] is a series of student-written features on artists/albums/music worth checking out

[[Sound Off]] ‘Hipster Black Metal’: A Crisis of Authenticity

By Bradley Bulch @Mnspector_Iorse

When Deafheaven released their sophomore record Sunbather in 2013, not many would have predicted quite how much attention it received. Achieving a rating of 92 on critical aggregate site Metacritic, Sunbather finished the year as it’s most highly regarded album [1]. Which was pretty much unheard of, considering the ‘black metal’ label many critics threw at it.

Deafheaven - Sunbather
The ‘Sunbather’ artwork hardly screams black metal, does it?

Sunbather was unlike anything many outside of the black metal community had heard or seen before. Deafheaven sidestepped the corpse paint and morbid lyrics for a bright pink cover and songs filled with nostalgia, romance and despair. The blast beats and tremolo picked guitar leads still forged ahead, but they were sandwiched between pretty post-rock sections comparable to some of Explosions in the Sky’s most poignant moments.

The guitars blared, but they also twinkled at times. The album bypassed all the stereotypes that most music consumers would affiliate with black metal artists. Deafheaven weren’t Burzum, Varg Vikernes didn’t spearhead their line up with tracks about ethnic cleansing and an all too real history of church burning and murder [2]. They didn’t parade themselves around forests in music videos carrying medieval flame torches [3]. They wore shirts and derby shoes, sported Hitler Youth haircuts and played music that appealed to Pitchfork readers more associated with indie rock and synth pop than extreme metal.

Sunbather didn’t mark a shift in the black metal landscape, the musical amalgamation present within it had already been explored in 2005 with Alcest’s ‘Le Secret’ EP. However, Alcest have slipped past the waves criticism from the die-hard black metal community that has been levelled at Deafheaven and their fans. Alcest have for many years been producing records that combine shoegaze and black metal that is both ferocious and beautiful. The one element missing from their music was the widespread critical acclaim and commercial success. Unlike Sunbather, ‘Le Secret’ didn’t find it’s cover gracing the new Apple iPhone advertisements [4].

Deafheaven and Gorgorth
Deafheaven’s George Clarke and Kerry McCoy (Left), and Norwegian black metal band Gorgorth (Right).

Criticism has been just as fierce toward Liturgy, another band carrying with them the ‘black metal’ tag without acceptance from it’s respective community. Perhaps this is more to do with frontman Hunter Hunt-Hendrix’s boastful claims of composing ‘Transcendental Black Metal’, complimented by his outlandish manifesto that tries so hard, yet misses the mark by such a distance it’s almost embarrassing [5]. Liturgy’s new album The Ark Work contained many elements which in theory fit the black metal bill; layered tremolo picked guitars and intense blast beats shape the most consuming moments of the album.

Liturgy - The Ark Work
Were Liturgy ‘trolling’ us with ‘The Ark Work’?

Throughout The Ark Work however are some interesting stylistic shifts; droned, glitching vocals, extensive midi trumpet sections and bagpipes galore. Hendrix is incessant in his attempt to ‘reinvent’ black metal, as evident by the unusual, yet enticing union of ideas within The Ark Work. It remains no surprise critics were perplexed by the release, to the point that one accused Liturgy of ‘trolling’ their fans [6]. While another rightfully questioned whether it was even black metal [7].

Battles for authenticity between those that consider themselves the cultural elite, and less concerned fans have been waged time and time again. During the 90s when artists such as Green Day and The Offspring broke the mainstream, accusations were made of them ‘selling out’ [8]. This backlash from punk rock purists didn’t prevent the success of either band, and neither will they stop Deafheaven’s apparent march to success.

Ghostbath’s ‘Moonlover’
Ghostbath’s ‘Moonlover’ album cover.

This case however is different in that there is so little commercial appeal here that any accusations of Deafheaven lacking authenticity is laughable. While they may have found a market for a genre of metal that is emotional, beautiful and brutish. The screamed vocals and harsh sonic landscapes littered throughout their releases aren’t exactly accessible. This music is still extreme, whatever genre you call it.

Try telling that to Ghostbath, a North Dakota based band whose latest album Moonlover received minor attention for bearing a stark sonic resemblance to Sunbather. This led to some disappointed comments from Deafheaven guitarist Kerry McCoy, as he accused Ghostbath of ripping them off [9].

A channel appropriately called Hipster Black Metal has been lurking in the depths of YouTube over the past few years [10]. The aim of this channel appears to be calling out bands for appropriating a genre of music they have no business operating within. It’s content is filled with lengthy videos criticising bands such as Deafheaven, Liturgy, Wolves in the Throne Room, Ghostbath and Panopticon. Bands all given the black metal label by critics, without being welcomed by the black metal community. The videos make audible comparisons between ‘real’ black metal bands and the aforementioned ‘hipster’ variations [11]. These comparisons are convincing in making their case for the mislabelling of certain bands, though one major flaw remains in their argument.

Comments such as this are commonplace in videos and articles associated with Deafheaven or Liturgy.

The use of homophobic and derogatory slurs such as ‘faggot’ and ‘retard’ is a staple throughout this channel and of many black metal elitists in comments sections regarding these bands throughout the internet. Behaviour like this makes black metal purists appear foolish in their attempts to assert authority, it’s akin to children having a temper tantrum, preventing their argument from holding weight in a serious discussion. Sure, such bands may suit the ‘screamo’ tag more, but this is irrelevant to those enjoying their music, who aren’t going to be turned onto ‘true’ black metal because someone on the internet called them a ‘poser’.

It is undeniable that ‘blackgaze’ bands such as Deafheaven, Alcest and Ghostbath are far removed from the early Norwegian black metal outfits such as Darkthrone, Mayhem and Gorgoroth. The latter artists, who propelled the genre forward in the late 80s to early 90s, featured more abrasive production and a sharper guitar sound, while bathing in an air of pure malevolency that is impossible to find in the former groups. These modern US iterations with their cleaner production appear more emotionally frail, and open to experimentation with less affiliated genres. They tap into auras of despair, romance and hope, often within the same song.

Instead of perpetuating division, black metal fans should be wearily accepting of ‘blackgaze’ bands entering the relative mainstream. It’s not about the genre these bands operate in, it’s about what they offer to the musical repertoire of those who listen to them. Bands such as Deafheaven offer an easily digestible glimpse of black metal that may entice fans to delve deeper into the genre; one that is thoroughly rewarding when explored in full depth.

[[SOUND OFF]] is a series of student-written features on artists/albums/music worth checking out

[[Sound Off]] Welcome to the Trap House

By Darryl Smith Jnr

It’s safe to say that hip-hop, specifically rap music, is here to stay.

After over 40 years of existence hip-hop has made its way into becoming, according to Spotify’s analysis, “the most listened to genre in the world”, proving that rap music has come far from its beginnings in the low income housing projects of America, to being a force to be reckoned with, within music. Naturally with a progression of a genre, you begin to see new forms of that genre beginning to place. In rock you have Heavy metal and Glam rock, or in R&B you had the New Jack Swing scene as well as the Neo-Soul scene. These new forms of old genres are often referred to as sub-genres and will usually last for a few years and eventually fade out due to various reasons.

Sometimes, one may look at rap music and believe it all to be the same, however just like with Rock and R&B music, this is not the case. Rap music has its sub-genres that range from socially conscious rap to gangster rap. Two total opposite styles of performing rap music that may or may not deliver totally opposing messages, depending on the artists you choose to listen to. Now here’s where you’re not-so-everyday rap fan may get confused. When it comes to the sub-genres of rap music, those sub-genres can have a sub-genre; this is the case with gangster rap.

When it comes to the sub-genre gangster rap you have another sub-genre, known as trap music. Trap music encompasses all of the basic forms of gangster rap music from telling the stories of the harsh realities of the urban life in America, to challenging social authority in a way that members of all urban communities can relate to. But what makes Trap music different from Gangster rap is deeper than just words. First and foremost the word and the culture originates in the southern part of America. Mainly Atlanta is given credit for the creation of the music and the word “Trap”, which speaks to a house in urban America that is usually occupied by individuals who take part in the selling of, as well as making, illegal drugs; mostly crack-cocaine. Therefore trap music speaks directly to those individuals who spend majority of their time in what’s known as a “Trap House”. Big Boi of the duo Outkast has a line in their song “SpottieOttieDopaliscious” from their 1998 album Aquemini that speaks directly to what the trap house is, what it does to an individual, and why one might choose that as their occupation. Big Boi states, “…the people at the post office Didn’t call you back because you got cloudy piss/ So now you back in the trap/ just that, trapped”. The line signifies the trap house as being exactly what it is, a trap for individuals who may have made the wrong choice earlier in life and now they have walked themselves into a risky situation.

Nevertheless, regardless of the risk that comes with being in the trap house, the music that has grown out of this culture is just as addictive and informative as its daddy sub-genre, gangster rap. However, artists who are of the trap culture rarely speak of it in a negative light and often times glorify the life they live inside of the trap, along with the things that come with that life, such as; death, violence, drug addicts, and even prison. One of the most famous trap rappers is a man who goes by the name Gucci Mane, known for his hit songs that detail life in the trap house like; “My Kitchen”, “Trap House”, and “Kick A Door”. In fact, Gucci Mane lives for the trap so much that he has been given the nickname of “Trap God”. As the “Trap God” Gucci has taken the culture to new heights inspiring other trap rappers like Future, Chief Keef, and even Fetty Wap whose hit single “Trap Queen” dominated just about every party and urban radio station this past summer.

However, there’s more to it than just the music coming out of the trap house. One can argue based on what I given you so far that trap music has been around since the 90s, maybe even before, with groups like the Wu-Tang Clan who talk about houses in which drugs would be sold out of, going to jail and committing various crimes. However, I would argue that Trap music doesn’t come around till about 2004. What makes Trap music different from what was being done in the 90s is the actual sound of it. This is why artists like Gucci Mane and Young Jeezy are often noted as the beginning of trap music, as they produced lyrics over these beats that were edgy, hard hitting, and quite frankly gave you the feeling of being just as gangster as Gucci Mane & Young Jeezy.

The production of trap music is basically the sound of the brass, triangle, triplet hi hats, loud kicks, snappy snares and low-end 808 bass samples. This all work around a rapper’s voice, whose lyrics usually lack depth and just cut straight to the point. An example of this is Gucci Mane’s song “Trap House”. Where the beat is a basic 4/4 time signature with a heavy bass, consistent snare kick, and very energetic melodic synths to work around Gucci’s simple lyrics. Some example lyrics from the song “trap house” are, “Choppa on the floor, pistol on the coach/ Hood rich so I never had a bank account/ Junkies goin’ in, junkies goin’ out/ Made a hundred thou’ in my trap house”. The lyrics are straight to the point as Gucci Mane describes the basic lifestyle that comes with the trap house as well as the reward. However, the lyrics are only 50% of the song, what’s most captivating is the beat which has a bounce to it that both hypnotic and addictive when listening.

As stated earlier, trap music is a sub-genre of a sub-genre. It is another form of gangster rap, however, it differs when it comes to sound and subject matter as trap music often times glorifies the things that someone would see as evil or just plain stupid. For example the lyrics above where Gucci Mane actually brags about not having a bank account, something that can be looked as being financially irresponsible. However, what matters most to regular artists doesn’t really matter to a trap rapper as they come from a world that is dog eat dog, survival of the fittest, and most young men don’t live to see the age of 18. The sound that comes with this often times is so hypnotizing that an individual can completely ignore the words and be swept up in the bouncy beat and hard hitting bass, feeling like the sound of a champion rather than a drug dealer. Trap music invites all listeners into the trap house and completely ignores all of the opinions one may have of their lifestyle as the music creates both revenue and an outlet for an artists to tell a more gruesome side of the “ghetto American story”.

Works Cited

  • Mane, Gucci. Trap House. Gucci Mane. Big Cat Records, 2005. MP3.
  • Spottieottiedopaliscious. LaFace, 1998. CD.
  • The Independent. Independent Digital News and Media, n.d. Web. 11 Dec. 2015.
  • “What Is Trap Music? Trap Music Explained | Run The Trap.” Trap Music Blog Run The Trap The Best Hip Hop EDM Club. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Dec. 2015.

[[SOUND OFF]] is a series of student-written features on artists/albums/music worth checking out

[[Sound off]] Electronic Catastrophe: The Questionable Misuse of EDM and IDM

By Liam Swan

With the terms EDM (Electronic Dance Music) and IDM (Intelligent Dance Music) so liberally used in contemporary music journalism to segregate electronic music further than ever before, one inherently important question comes to mind; are the terms EDM and IDM legitimately defined and are they required?

Even in the early formations of progressive rock, Jim Morrison of The Doors undertook a very bold speculation on the future of music in the 1960s, claiming that eventually there would be ‘one person with a lot of machines’  to produce popular music. Ironically, the dawn of electronic music started ever so soon with the birth of artists and bands such as Neu! and Kraftwerk in the late 1960s and early 1970s, hailing their use of synthesisers to produce melancholically progressive tracks such as “Autobahn” to what could perhaps be perceived as colder, more robotic sounding tracks like “Numbers.”

With such artists eventually circuiting Europe and beyond, a popularisation of producing music through a heavy use of electronic equipment emerged quite rapidly leading up to the 1990s. Take “Love Will Tear Us Apart” by Joy Division for example. Although defined by post-punk aesthetics of rock, the song essentially owes itself to its heavy use of synth to maintain its melodic rhythm throughout the song. Stephen Morris, the drummer of Joy Division, even went as far as stating that “if I ever start a band, I’d like them to sound like this” in reference to his first listening of the Krautrock band, Neu!

Following this circulation of what has been formally labelled as Krautrock & electronically infused artists from Germany, the production of music through an electronic means, to me, seems like a fusion of differentiating, or even similar genres to form new styles of sound through electronic instruments; the likes of which can be seen in bands experimenting with genre, much like Joy Division throughout the post-punk period of rock. However, although this defining structure of genre may hold true, for example, with rock being a fusion of country and blues music, the popular use of the terms ‘EDM’ and ‘IDM’ as genres promotes a certain ignorance of genre classification the music industry has never seen before.

When I say ignorance however, I don’t necessarily mean to undermine the intelligence of certain electronic music journalists, but instead to promote a certain awareness to the origins of artists placed under these umbrella genre definitions. As an example, FACT published a list relative to the usage of the ‘IDM’ term with what they claim to be the best ‘IDM’ tracks to have emerged from the music industry since the genre’s supposed conception.  One of the many artists thrown into this pile, known as Apex Twin, made it abundantly clear that he finds such a term to be “really nasty to everyone else’s music” and that “it’s basically saying ‘this is intelligent and everything else is stupid.’”

To an extent I believe Aphex Twin is correct. Labelling one kind of music as ‘intelligent’ and another outside the genre creates a certain snobbishness surrounding what could be seen as a ‘higher’ form of music with a much more acquired taste. That’s not to say the genre was born with no reason. I can understand why the music journalism world required such a term when artists such as Aphex Twin emerged with tracks like “Come To Daddy”  and even Squarepusher with “Come On My Selector.”

Tracks which, although produced through electronic means, do not conform specifically to genres such as ‘Detroit Techno’ or Chicago House’ which were becoming popularised around Europe during this period. Genre terms such as ‘Drill n’ Bass’ have been used to an extent in relation to such tracks, but when referring back to such artists, the term IDM is unrightfully so used as an umbrella genre term. With the term being so liberally used in music journalism today however, a certain skepticism surrounding such a dumbing down of genre classification comes to mind.

It is this, I propose, which is stifling musical growth inside and outside of the mainstream music industry. Think of it through the eyes of a massively popular artist like Aphex Twin; if you were a musician of such a calibre, would you like to be thrown into a pile of other musicians, whose music may not even remotely sound like your own? Or be labelled as ‘intelligent’ compared to other musicians who you may enjoy listening to?

When EDM as a genre term is considered, it fall under the same problems which IDM suffers in terms of classification alone; why is EDM labelled as ‘electronic’ dance music rather than just dance music? If this is such a concerning feat, why aren’t most popular forms of rock considered just dance music rather than rock? I alone have been to countless live rock gigs such as Echo and The Bunnymen this year and there were countless people dancing. Although I’m understanding (to an extent) of the genre classification of dance, it serves as an injustice to, once again, label certain artists under an umbrella genre when they may not sound remotely similar.

Artists such as Emancipator are more often than not labelled under the EDM genre term, when their sound is much more ambient and atmospheric than the kind which you’d want to get up and dance to. Seeing them in 2013 in Leeds, everyone around me demanded an encore of “Soon It Will Be Cold Enough To Build Fires,” which may seem strange based on the fact they don’t project a ‘dance’ sound through their tracks, but this is essentially why these people came to see them; to become lost in their music. Drug culture played an inevitable role in this through the smell of weed lingering in the air near the stage, but this aspect alone rejects the notion of the all-encumbering EDM classification through a relaxed vibe in the crowd. There was even a rejection of what is often seen as a mindless set through a willingness to be physical with their instruments; one playing an electric violin, and the other furiously hammering buttons to produce ambient drones.

In my personal opinion, as totalising terms ‘EDM’ and ‘IDM’ seem counter-intuitive to what they set out to achieve. Music journalists who use such terms should be ashamed of their own lack of respect and knowledge of the genres of music which they classify as these terms rather than what they’re actually influenced by. It’s a massive shame to see artists like Aphex Twin and Emancipator be viewed through a lens which distorts what their music is about, to what it’s not.

Links
[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iS3dIyHpAgc
[2] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x-G28iyPtz0
[3] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4vhNRl9N9R4
[4] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zuuObGsB0No
[5] http://thequietus.com/articles/05413-joy-division-new-order-stephen-morris-interview-favourite-records?page=4
[6] http://www.factmag.com/2014/09/22/the-100-greatest-idm-tracks-100-51/
[7] http://www.residentadvisor.net/dj/aphextwin/biography
[8] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h-9UvrLyj3k
[9] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z_SkJb7LPYE
[10] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QRgPIbSX1mg

[[SOUND OFF]] is a series of student-written features on artists/albums/music worth checking out