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The Fancy Plans Guide to Music Genres: Part One

July 8, 2010

As you all are very well aware, I’ve subjected you to a weekly Heavy Rotation, spotlighting various bands and musicians of all persuasions. As I’ve rattled along at great length, I have no doubt deployed several musical terms in an attempt to define a sound by obscuring it with meaningless words. 

The following is a guide to the many genres currently polluting our overly defined musical sphere. It is hoped that this information will help you understand what is meant when I (or someone like me, like Pitchfork — especially Pitchfork) uses an insufficiently descriptive term like “minimal” or “slowcore.” 

"I'd like to accept this round of applause on behalf of the many, many more band members who were unable to fit into the panoramic shot..."

Post-Rock
Reserved for all bands who use rock instruments (guitar, bass, drums) but eschew verse-chorus-verse song structures for sprawling, unfocused epics. Vocals are often optional. Could just as easily been called Prog Rock, thus horrifying proponents of these two “disparate” genres. 

Fans: Chin-strokers who have outgrown the need to enjoy music on any level. Any leftover multi-instrumentalists who somehow failed to be invited to the thirty-person collective currently overrunning the stage. Marillion fans who wish to cast themselves as something other than a cheap punchline. 

Punk = no tux. Post-punk = tux.

Post-Punk
Like Post-Rock, but performed by bands who never properly learned to play their instruments. 

Fans: Gainfully-employed former punks. Art school grads. Gainfully employed art school grads. [Ed. Does not exist.] 

Witness the awkward glory that is a full-on tweecore gig.

Tweecore
Oxymoronically aggressively passive form of ultra-lightweight music, relegated to rainbow-colored EPs and Cassingles. Live performances tend to consist of band members huddling in the far corner of the venue and giggling nervously while staring deeply into each others’ eyes. 

While this performance would be graciously called “underwhelming” by normal people, its fans are usually huddled in the opposite corner staring into each others’ eyes while giggling nervously. A tweecore gig is usually breathlessly described (in very hushed tones) as being like that time when they “almost got kissed.” 

Fans: Indeterminate, as lack of spine tends to preclude the forming of any strong opinions or positive declarations. Gentle woodland creatures with anime eyes

Note: this video is running at 30 FPS.

Slowcore 
Hardcore music so glacially paced that band members are often able to work on their side projects (often of another “-core” variety) between downbeats/chord changes. Generally avoided by promoters due to the fact that soundcheck alone can run an entire night. Often described as being like “old people fucking a sloth.” 

Fans: People who find the Melvins’ hectic pacing “a bit much.” Multi-taskers. Quaalude enthusiasts

Take these gentlemen very seriously indeed, for they are well-aware of the score.

Hardcore 
One of the few genres to cross over successfully, covering a harsher, faster brand of both rock and techno. Albums and live performances tend to contain various self-affirming statements such as, “Only for the Hardcore,” “Strictly for the Hardcore,” and “Hardcore, You Know the Score.” 

These pat-yourself-on-the-back statements add a veneer of exclusivity to yet another generic mosh pit/rave, whose attendees like to spend their post-conversion downtime being preached to. 

Fans: People with self-esteem issues. Scorekeepers. Porn fans moving on from the training wheels of Cinemax

Pioneering shoegazers My Bloody Valentine exhibit their pioneering 60-degree head tilt.

Shoegazer 
Named after its proponents’ tendency to avoid eye contact with their fans and gaze on their footwear instead, which everyone thought was delightfully introverted until it was discovered that all the downcast looks were the byproduct of drug-addled guitarists attempting to negotiate their maze of effects pedals. 

With this misconception firmly in their grasp, the shoegaze scene cranked out album after album of delightfully introverted (and misunderstood) music, eventually trademarking the term “ethereal.” Of course, the music was too good (and too introverted) to last, and the scene was soon steamrolled by the heavily forested sounds of grunge, whose proponents weren’t nearly as distracted, thanks to their limited supply of pedals/imagination. 

Fans: Delightfully introverted (and misunderstood) wallflowers. Fans of the word “ethereal.” Other shoegazer bands. This guy

Hawkwind completely encapsulates every aspect of space rock in one unfathomable album cover.

Space Rock 
Like Prog Rock/Post-Rock, only with more heroin. While a prog band might allow its lead guitarist to run off an occasional 12-minute self-indulgent solo, a space rock band* will allow its lead guitarist to run off a 12-minute self-indulgent exploration of a single chord. This, of course, assumes that the guitarist in question is not currently lying in a pool of his own vomit. 

*Unless this band is Hawkwind, in which case everyone is allowed to run off a 12-minute self-indulgent solo, especially the flautist

Fans: Heroin users. Single-chord enthusiasts. Heroin dealers. Acid casualties coming down from a 2001 binge. That guy who was “This guy” in the last section.

Yet another example of uncontained German exuberance.

Krautrock 
Of all the things Germany does well (auto manufacturing, intense nationalistic fervor), “rock” is something it does not. Most of the Western world would define “rock” as the product of a guitar/bass/drum/vox combo, fronted by an immaculately coiffed lead singer. 

The Germans, however, view “rock” as the product of immaculately coiffed and emotionless mannequins playing outdated electronics in front of a beige backdrop. And, while most rock tracks have a distinct beginning, middle and end, Krautrock tracks tend to consist entirely of “middle,” often for 10+ minutes at a time. 

Fans: Metronome enthusiasts (see also: Minimal). Germans. Bands looking for unverifiable “influences.”

That wraps up Part 1. Stay tuned for Part 2, which deals with Goth, World Music, Minimal Techno and various other redundant terminology.

-CLT

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22 comments

  1. The sky is the limit here CLT, I cant wait for more!

    Not only was this installment highly educational, but included the fantastically vivid imagery of “old people fucking a sloth.” Hmmmm…..

    I also appreciated you noting tendencies for “12-minute self-indulgent exploration of a single chord”,although such ‘musical moments’ make me want to run out and put my ear up against the drone of an electricity sub station and be done with it

    I went to an old record shop here in Sydney the other day, they call themselves ‘Kings of the back catalogue’, and requested the sell me a ‘must have folk album’, they must have misheard me because I came home with this 70s psychedelic early electronic folk sounding thing, and it was just weird. Now if you take requests, that is a genre I would like to see explored here….


    • Ruby –

      Yes, horrific imagery is one of the “pluses” of visiting this blog. That and the overuse of phrases like “self-indulgent” or “ethereal.”

      Space rock isn’t for everybody, much like it’s spiritual ancestor, prog rock. Too much fucking about and getting nowhere to ever join its shorter and sweeter brethren atop the charts.

      I do take requests! Consider it done. Look for a good old fashioned bashing of “folk” and perhaps, “psychedelic rock” in the next installment.


  2. A highly entertaining and enlightening article, CLT.

    I’m always amazed, however, that the influence of alternative music from the 1930s to the early 1950s tends to get overlooked when examining current trends. I think it’s fair to say that without the early “Death Barbershop” scene of the late 30s, bands like Napalm Death would never have been formed and yet they never receive any acknowledgement or recognition.

    I was heavily involved in the Death Barbershop scene back in the day and can tell you first hand that bands like “The Sweet Harmonies of Vivisection” “Boaters, Bow Ties and War Pigs” and the very good “Four Lads of Masticating Suicide” set the stage for the big name metal acts of today.

    It’s also regrettable that we never hear mention of the early “Big Band Goth” scene, “Boogie-woogie House Dub” or “Glam Jitterbug”. While I wasn’t an enthusiast, they all produced some rock-solid hits. Perhaps they’ll receive some mention in your Part 2.

    All the best CLT and thanks for the modern history lesson,

    Don


    • Don!

      To tell you the truth, I’m not very well-versed in the music that existed before I was born. Sure, I’m somewhat aware of it, much like I’m somewhat aware that people lived back then, but my narcissistic “bloggervision” renders me unable to comprehend the something about whatever it was that you were talking about.

      I’m willing to do a little research for the next volume (or at least willing to burden the interns futher) and perhaps include some of these fascinating musical byproducts in the next edition. The “Death Barbershop” intrigues me, seeing as I’m a fan of both dark music styles and heavenly four-part harmonies. “Big Band Goth” is also a possibility as it conjures up images of a New Orleans funeral procession made up entirely of Hot Topic shoppers.

      Thanks very much for the incredible comment, Don. You’re like the Encyclopedia Canatica come to life.


  3. Beautiful stuff.
    With the help of this very insightful post, I think I can finally happily place Katrina And The Waves in their rightful place after 20 years of puzzlement.

    One category which may surface in a few years, Video-core perhaps. Bands whose members are from the Rock Band/Guitar Hero generation, who were weened on faux plastic instruments and a video guide to playing Eye of the Tiger on their Xbox. Thus introduced to the world of musicianship by their game platform, they bring their own brand of artistry to the stage, video monitors included.


    • Thanks, AUM.

      I like your Video-core idea. I’m sure we’ll see this surface within the next decade, thanks to millions of people who believe that pressing buttons rhythmically is exactly the same as playing a guitar. Of course, without images they’re nothing, much like every pop star ever.

      Video-core also brings to mind several bands that only exist in video form. I mean, they’ve released albums and everything but no one would care if MTV hadn’t played the shit out of them when they still were in the music-TV business. This would also sum up Aerosmith’s entire post-“Toys in the Attic” career.


  4. I’m going to find new and inventive ways to work “that sounds like an old person fucking a sloth” into every conversation I can, even conversations with old people. Scratch that, especially conversations with old people.

    I’ve always been perplexed with regard to Swervedriver. I’ve heard them described, at least twice, as shoegaze, but they seem to rock a tad too hard to properly be considered of that subgenre. This Guy (meaning that guy), what do you think?


    • Ulysses –

      Thanks for championing this phrase. It’s sure to become the new “black,” or at least the new “fuck me gently with a sloth.” Feel free to use it everywhere.

      Swervedriver did always get tossed into the “shoegaze” bin, but they were a little too straightforward. I think it’s the fact that their guitar attack would occasionally go “swirling,” which is another trademarked term of the shoegazer industry. Much like Curve, whom don’t really sound “shoegazery” but “swirl” too much to escape the label.


  5. “As I’ve rattled along at great length, I have no doubt deployed several musical terms in an attempt to define a sound by obscuring it with meaningless words.” This sentence is incredibly profound CLT. What we always do as humans is try to use words to label anything and every thing that we can perceive so that they fit into a neat little cubby hole and they don’t make our brains (explode) expand. Sorry, maybe I’ve meditated too long. Or maybe I’ve taken too much LSD when I was younger. In any case, nice sentence!

    Thank you for this informative post. I have learned a lot. As you know, I don’t really know shit about music (or farming) except if I think it sounds pretty or makes me dancy. And every time that I tried to do research for myself, and typed ‘hardcore’ into google, very, very bad things would happen, and I’d have to use my control/alt/delete escape hatch.

    At some point, and if you’re up to it, I wouldn’t mind hearing about the very beginnings of music. Seriously, like from the cave man days.


    • Scott –

      That sentence is the problem with writing about music. If X doesn’t sound like Y band, then you’ve got to come up with words to describe it, most of which have been overused or don’t exist. Not for nothing did someone say, “Writing about music is like dancing about architecture.”

      But take heart, with the wealth of information contained in these posts, you soon won’t know nearly twice as much about music (or farming) as you know now.

      And careful with those searches. Some bands I’ve wanted to hear more from (Peepholes, Young Boys) have led me down some very incriminating rabbit holes.

      I’m also taking your History of Music suggestion under advisement. I know I kind of half-assed my way through it earlier, but I figure a more in-depth look could only increase the amount of misinformation out there.


  6. With a score of 1-0, yet another rule is proven by the existence of an exception.

    Good luck out there in the real world, art school grads! Remember, we can always use more waiters!


  7. “Some bands I’ve wanted to hear more from (Peepholes, Young Boys) have led me down some very incriminating rabbit holes.”

    Capitalist Lion Tamer – Blogging from the prison library since 2008.


    • Now that I’ve been outed, I’m sure my privileges will be revoked and I will be remanded to the shower for some further extracurricular activities.


  8. […] Plans… and Pants to Match Yet another reason to stay indoors. « The Fancy Plans Guide to Music Genres: Part One The Fancy Plans Guide to Music Genres: Part Two July 9, 2010 In our previous guide we […]


  9. […] F Lion Tamer: The Fancy Plans Guide to Music Genres: Part One and The Fancy Plans Guide to Music Genres: […]


  10. I have heard these genres bandied about, but had no idea what it all meant (still have no idea, but I’m edging closer to a rudimentary grasp…remember, I’m just auditing this class). “Shoegaze” reminded me of a Paulo Nutini performance on the Jay Leno show years ago (Last Request) where he sang with his eyes closed throughout the entire performance (while looking like he was pleasuring himself)…not sure how to describe it, but you may have with the oxymoronic “aggressively passive” and I may have with “sexy as hell.” I ‘fess up to having no real intellectual understanding of music…I’m more of a ‘sensor’…but can still appreciate the breakdown and compartmentalization of genres, which is sounding more and more like a singularity having infinite density. As music is math, you (CLT) have mastered calculus and I am struggling with algebra.


    • The more you read about music, the more you’ll hear these terms bandied about. Most are essentially meaningless as rock critics and their pale blogger imitations seek to genus/class/etc. all the musical flora and fauna.

      Really, we could just boil it down to subjective roots and say this music is either good or it sucks. But being that it’s subjective, each person will need addtional reference points in order to talk them into listening to this particular track/band and deciding for themselves whether or not said track/band sucks.

      Don’t sweat the music math, Elizabeth. I know I speak for me (and Pitchfork — especially Pitchfork) when I say that 90% of this label-making is bullshit. Just listen to stuff you like and try not to spend too much time listening to stuff you don’t. All else is psuedo-intellectual cock measuring.


    • For the most part, all these inane sub-genres all boil down to the participants’ overwhelming desire to feel special and become members of a close knit community of fellow losers seeking to find meaning where there is none. (aka their lives)


  11. […] you’re just joining us, be sure and check out Volume One and Volume Two, wherein other music genres such as goth, world music and post-punk were ridiculed […]


  12. Outside of some Industrial/(Electro-Industrial music, I basically ignored all things remotely techno/electronic since the largely pathetic genre first started. Most techno is bland, repetitive, marshmallow, stuff. So, it’s rather a surprise to me that “Hardcore” is part-techno.

    To me this is what I think of when I hear the word Hardcore.



    I looked Hardcore Electronic/Digital Hardcore music up and the only two bands I was moderately familiar with were The Lords of Acid and Atari Teenage Riot, who rather appeal to me. I got to admit, this is a pretty fucking hardcore concert.

    As I check this Digital Hardcore stuff out, it’s beginning to appeal to me. Maybe because I’m just so hardcore, don’t you know? Us hardcore folks know the score.


    • Sedate Me –

      Although I have Burn Berlin Burn in my album collection, I never was what could be considered a hardcore fan of Hardcore. It’s rather nice as a brutal change of pace but I can’t see myself listening to it day in and day out.

      I would have trouble classifying the Lords of Acid as hardcore. They were more techno that appealed to industrial fans, but I’ve been wrong before…

      That last clip is kill. ATR live at an actual riot.

      Note to those who bash outsize bashing: look at the sort of discussions/discovery it provokes. I’ve found it pretty enjoyable to read reactions to this series. I’ve bashed a lot of stuff I can’t stand (DnB, Folk, Rap Metal) and lots more that I like (Goth, Industrial, Shoegaze, Space Rock, Krautrock), but music being the subjective beast it is, everyone has their own angle.

      (I’m also what one would consider a techno fan…)


    • I never was what could be considered a hardcore fan of Hardcore. It’s rather nice as a brutal change of pace but I can’t see myself listening to it day in and day out.

      Yeah, one must remember to use such potent drugs in moderation. Seizures and even death may result from over-dosing.



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