I managed a retail record store a long, long time ago, back in the vinyl age. Back then, the lines between different genres of music were pretty clear cut:
Country, Folk, Easy Listening, Soul, Blues, Classical, Rock. And rock was rock and that was that. If you played loud music that questioned authority and ticked off yer ma, you were a rock musician. Elton John, Black Sabbath, Pink Floyd and the Sex Pistols were all lumped together in the genre known as “Rock”.
But then at some point in the eighties, people started grouping rock music into sub-genres. If the band playing it used synthesizers and wore skinny ties, it was labeled “new wave.” If it was really fast and impolite, it was called “punk.” If the guitar players used Marshall amplifiers with all the knobs turned up to 11, it was “heavy metal.” If the band got into their mothers’ lipstick and eye liner before the gig, it was “glam”. Even jazz musicians started playing the label game; if you played jazz with an electric instrument, it was “jazz fusion”. If it sounded happy and didn’t make you think too much, it was “light jazz”. If there was a lot of dissonance and bizzarro time signature changes it was labeled “modern jazz”.
Soon enough, owing to the anal-retentive efficiency of our label-happy society, defining the specific genre of music a band played became an extremely intricate process, as every musician strove to claim a catchy and descriptive handle for their particular style of music, one which they could wear as proudly as a name badge at a New Music Pioneers’ Convention (HELLO! My name is: Grunge pop).
The musical landscape was changing, so of course we needed new names for stuff. Rock was no longer just rock; it was thrash, hardcore, psychedelic, grunge, goth, emo, pop, metal. And, soon enough, metal was no longer just metal; it was speed metal, heavy metal, thrash metal, death metal, noise metal, symphonic metal, gothic metal, black metal. There was even big-hair metal. Then came the “a-billys”; rock-a-billy, punk-a-billy, surf-a-billy, thrash-a-billy. (What? No goth-a-billy? No jazz-a-billy? No classical-a-billy?).
And as the race to create nothing particularly new and slap a label on it continued, the sub-genres began to cross-pollinate, and the mode of musical expression that was once just known as Rock morphed and mutated even further into countless sub-sub-genres: power pop, rapcore, metalcore, thrashcore, steampunk, cow punk, surf punk, surf rock, acid rock, country rock, blues-rock, jazz-rock, folk-rock, funk-rock, art-rock, roots-rock, rap-rock. Who knows where this will all end? Will it ever end? What will the next evolutionary step be in this boundless micro-classification of what was once such a basic and powerful art form? A surf-rap-grunge-glamcore band? A hardcore symphonic psychedelic roots band? Country-core, goth-rap, emo-funk? Metal-a-billy? Thrashfolk? Deathjazz? Big Hair Blues? Who knows? Frankly, I don’t even try to keep up. It’s still all Rock to me.
by Joe Moody