What’s in a word? When the same band is variously described as alt rock, progressive rock and punk metal by music critics, you’ve got to ask yourself who’s speaking to who. I’ve said it before. By nature of its wide-winged interpretation, pigeonholing genre can be a serious disservice to musicians. But perhaps not to their audiences and potential fans.
Ask people what a truck sounds like. a rare few will say something like, ‘a dinosaur with laryngitis’. Some will shrug their shoulders and maybe try to make the noise for you. And others will just say, “like a truck, haven’t you heard one?” But that’s just the point. If you haven’t heard, and you want an approximate idea of a sound, who’s going to help you? Not the dinosaur with laryngitis.
A velve (er, valve) for exasperation
Here’s an example : I recently heard what a music journalist i respect calls a mix of indie-disco, kwaito-rock and acoustic Drum & Bass. i was intrigued by the description, but not gratified by it. I couldn’t hear the disco. I couldn’t hear the kwaito. I could hear a lot of passion, and perhaps that's what all these words are trying to describe.
Words cannot do music justice. But in some cases, they’re all we’ve got. Words about music need to be music to the ears. It’s an odd interface, language. We’re fluent in it, but it often betrays us. We’ve been using words since we could crawl, but sometimes, eish, they make your skin crawl. And the thing is that music was there first. We hear rhythm and rage before we ever say a word; think of heartbeats. Anguish. Crying. Mumbling. The things babies do. Well, we’re babies when words won’t work. But you try telling someone that a band sounds like another band they haven’t heard. What are they going to do? Rush out and sample it on myspace? (nope, facebook doesn’t do that. yet) No. they’re going to look at you blankly and sample something else. And by the same token, try explaining recent visitors, Evanescence – operatic emo? Gothic clit-pop-rock? Huh? Exacty, ek sê...
In with the old?
Sometimes I think we should go back to the days and ways of yore, when we had fewer genres, maybe keep three or four or five definitive groups names, and then relate that to some quintessentially human experience (preferably sensory, for absolute understanding) like seasons, or colours. It cuts down on adjectives, expletives, and might save us from reaching that critical mass that loses the point entirely. ..- sorry, what was the point again? Well, let’s just say that slimming down the genres might help The Sleepers feel less like their amazing music is creating semantic schizophrenia in the media, and rather a tempered excitement that making hard, melodic sounds with lots of light inspires. But what would we describe them as, then? Well, how about a clever bassist(and fan)'s suggestion of “dark rock”?