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The Blurred Lines Of Genre Definition: Do Sub-Genres Still Exist?

Callum attempts to help solve the problem of sub-genre classification, and whether they still exist.

AmstelLight_SavorComplexityRockMusic12Genres, in the most simple of terms, are categories that we, as fans of music, place bands and artists into in order to help us define what we listen to. We do this for one reason and one reason alone; in order to feel like we belong. It may be easier just to class everything as ‘music’, but we don’t, we define bands and different types of music in order to help define who we are and to help make us feel like we fit in to some sort of group. The problem arises, however when you move into the discussion of sub-genres. You have the basics, Rap, Pop, Rock, Electronic, but then you have their sub-genres. Rock can be described as probably the biggest culprit for imposing sub-genres. Within rock itself, we have within it metal, punk, indie, etc, but then you can even go deeper, pop-punk, hardcore, thrash metal, and so on. Everyone has their preference, but do these very definitive lines still exist? What sub-genre does a band really fit into? And what happens when they don’t? Are sub-genres doing a lot more damage than is really necessary?

With help from some other HTF writers we’re going to attempt to see, as best we can, how genres have changed over the years and see what it means for the music community in general. Genres are helpful in one respect; they help to point out the differences between two bands, and help define who they are and the sound that they’re going for.

Jenna Young helps touch on this in her two pence on the subject.

JennaRock and metal are two things so often lumped together, yet to those who actually listen to the genres they are very different things. But even then there is still debate among the fans. There are people who only like to apply the word metal to old school bands like Metallica and AC/DC, others who would include modern bands like Bullet For My Valentine and Halestorm. Which are heavy enough to be metal and which are just rock? I doubt anyone will fully settle on an answer, but when I tell people I listen to rock music, I mean a very wide spectrum, covering even metal and pop punk, but when people hear the word ‘rock’ their mind often travels to Marilyn Manson-esque darkness and assumed devil worship. In my mind, rock is a broad genre and things such as metal and pop-punk and most of the other guitar bands you listen to falls under, from blink-182 to Slipknot, but everything now needs sub-defining, and that is where there is confusion, should Black Veil Brides be allowed in a category with Anthrax? They are both heavy rock bands, but many devoted metal-heads wouldn’t class BVB as such because they aren’t taken as seriously and, let’s face it, have a fanbase made largely of teenage girls who fancy the vocalist. Maybe we should just all adhere to iTunes classifications by law to avoid the confusion (in which case Black Veil Brides are metal and blink-182 aren’t pop-punk, but alternative). ‘

What she quite rightly points out is that even though rock is a genre in itself over the years rock has very much changed. Originality has helped create divergences within the genre. Now you have some very different sounding bands still under the umbrella of rock music. Kasabian sound absolutely nothing like Bring Me The Horizon, yet they are both, at their very roots, rock bands. Sub-genres are a necessity here in order to help differentiate their difference in sound. It helps to define the individuality of the fans as well, yet this can also create tension between these individuals. Classification can cause rifts between people, due to the feeling of what one band is and what another band isn’t. Which begs the question, what intrinsically defines one band as an opposing sub-genre to another? We all have our own classifications and that’s alright, you can classify them yourself, but the problem comes when classifications of the same genre clash. A band that one person may define in one way may be defined completely differently from another.

Jamie Hampshire begs the question as to why we need sub-genres to begin with. 10264734_10154200036015495_2109413721_a

‘I’d put my lunch money on metal/rock being the musical areas with the most constituent sub-genres. Sure there are plenty of types of rap, dance and the like, but you’ll never have the same number of snobbish fans arguing about whether something is ‘blackened post-sludge metal’ or ‘nu-thrashcore’. Why the need to put everything in a nice, neat, sub-genre defined box, when part of the force behind the music and its subcultures is to break out of and rebel against definition and restriction? Who knows? Although genre helps you to decide if a band will be up your street, if you’re someone who hates thrash and a band is, rightly or wrongly, labelled as such it’ll put you off and prevent you finding out about a kickass new sound. We’re reaching some kind of critical mass of sub-genre, where everything has to have at least some kind of identifiable suffix or prefix, and it must be incredibly frustrated for a band to have a label they aren’t comfortable with or did not encourage forced on them.’

Jamie rightly makes the point that the sheer amount of sub-genres is becoming ridiculous. The numbers of sub-genres are growing each and every year, and with it, it’s becoming harder and harder to classify bands. But why do we need to classify bands so fundamentally? At the source it is quite simply a band’s attempts to be individual, to make them stand out, when everyone around them are starting to sound too similar. This isn’t entirely a bad thing though. Being creative and attempting to create a new sound is what makes rock music exciting, the sheer vast amount of different bands out there means that you can spend hours at a time listening to different ones and you will never get bored. Issues arise, however, when even sub-genres start to overlap, and one sound starts bleeding into another. The lines that separate bands are starting to blur, and genres are starting to become less and less relevant again. In the past you had a very distinct unwritten rule book that bands seemed to run with in order to become a ‘true’ punk band or a ‘true’ metal band, but now these rules are being manipulated on an increasingly greater scale. Bands are starting to take their inspiration from everywhere. You have the likes of Crossfaith, who quite clearly merge influences from both metal and electronic. You even have Rage Against The Machine combine both rock music and rap music. You also have the likes of Alestorm who fuse together both metal sounds and classic pirate like tunes. Is it really possible to place these bands in a specific sub-genre? Due to how unique they can be it is becoming very difficult to place them in specific boundaries. Bands such as these prove that genres are starting to become less and less of a necessity and that bands are starting to cross over into new and exciting areas. You still have the ability to find like-sounding bands, don’t get me wrong, but soon the defining features will be down to influences of the band, as opposed to just the overarching genre.

James Paul Matthews, another one of my esteemed colleagues has helped shed some light on how sub-genres may be more destructive than they’re worth:

JamesGenres have come far and wide over the decades, and to be quite frank the sub-genre categories have exploded since the 1980s due to rapid cultural shift. Sub-genres are kind of frowned upon in some certain aspects as well, purely because it is seen as competition (which isn’t a bad thing), but everyone wants to do one better than everyone else. But when the whole sub-genre fad goes as far to the point of trying to implement literally as many things as you can possibly garner from one core genre, as well as a couple others (say rock / punk mixed with electronica, mixed with metal, and throw in some folk music, maybe a nose flute for good measure), it borders on the point of pretentiousness. In some cases with such sub-genres like crabcore *shudder*, beatdown, hardline, or even those stupid wallies who classify it as ‘supremacist / nazi punk’, no. Just no. You are trying too hard to separate yourselves from the very core foundation you come from. By all means do something creative and fruitful which actually gains you critical merit. But when it comes to implementing extreme political beliefs, multi-genre over-saturation (Design The Skyline, I’m looking at you here), and even advocating hate in songs (nazi punks, fuck off), it borders on the point of idiocy and stupidity. All I gotta say is just don’t forget your roots. But right now, there is far too much sub-genres to even credit any form of music as ‘original’ these days. It is becoming increasingly hard to really get in to, or enjoy something new and fresh. The creative envelopes need to be pushed, not the buttons of other people by ripping off what they have done and throwing in a few other bits for the ‘cool factor’.

James blames the bands more than anything for trying to become too different, whereas I believe that we as fans are just as much to blame. People are attempting to place these bands in different categories in order to feel different within themselves, we are missing out on the primary point of genres to begin with: to help fans feel like we belong. People are far too obsessed with attempting to feel different that there’s the risk of alienating themselves from others at the same time. Overall, the need to classify yourself as something different is starting to become increasingly absurd, and only serves to limit your fan base even further.

The question we posed at the beginning was, do sub-genres still exist? Yes they do, but only because we create them, and only because bands are sounding more and more varied each and every year. I think a better question we need to pose is: are sub-genres really necessary, and should we really be placing these bands into arbitrary catagories? The answer to that question is quite simply – no, at least not to the extent that we are placing bands in these days. Each and every band has their own sound, they have their own personality, and that is fantastic for the music industry and a testament to the creativity that we have as a species. But classification and sub-genres ultimately, and unintentionally, serve to create tension between people, as to where a certain band MUST be placed, or even as a dislike of that genre in its entirety. Placing a band in a certain genre means that people will eventually disregard them before even attempting to listen to them, we’re all a culprit of this at some point or another, but it just might stop you from finding your next favourite band. We can’t stop the creation of sub-genres but what we can start doing is taking each band on their own individual merit instead of completely disregarding them due to some arbitrary classification system that we, as fans of music, have created.

What do you think? Leave your comments here.

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