The curse of the micro-genre

I’ve been listening to dance music in its various forms since the last days of disco, but have never been a fully paid up scenester. Always a bit of a naif in attitude, I like what I like ’cause I like it, and I’ve no particular interest in what it’s defined as, or what particular scene it emerges from. The nearest I came to being immersed in any one genre was in the mid nineties when I caught the jungle bug big style, and went through a period hoovering up Moving Shadow twelves as well as other stuff by the likes of Source Direct, Photek and the various Reprazent chaps.

Even back then, things kept splintering into ever more confusing sub-genres. Artcore, darkcore, and then the two step thing which was as much garage as it was drum and bass. Debates would rage about which way the scene was moving, this way or that. It all began to smack of elitism and crass one-upmanship.

I would argue that electronic / dance music is now healthier than it has been at any time since the nineties, with loads of interesting and original tunes emerging. But again, the curse of the micro-genre is here to confuse anyone who doesn’t spend half their waking hours glued to underground radio or in the most happening clubs. Simon Reynolds, bless his socks, is one of our finest music writers, but some of his latest missives on the subjects of funky, wonky and donk just make me want to shout STOP! This is getting silly. OK, Reynolds is just reporting what is there, but just how many sub-genres can you carve out of the basic garage block? This is Balkanisation gone mad.

What’s struck me over the last year or so is that many of the very best broadly electronic albums that I’ve got to hear have been completely oblivious to or even contemptuous of musical boundaries. The recent Harmonic 313 effort, for example, gleefully leaps from scene to scene, appropriating whatever feels, well, appropriate. The result is a collage of ideas that determinedly pokes out its tongue at the style police.

For me, this is how you take music forward. Take old ideas, blend them in a way that’s original and, perhaps, stick a cherry on top in the form of something brand new. Micro-genres are too hidebound by rules – the tighter the definition of what is or isn’t to be classified in a particular box, the less room for manoeuvre there is to make something truly new. I guess that could be said about any field of the arts.

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