In issue 31 of his newsletter, Ringo Dreams of Lawn Care, Michael Donaldson takes on people loving to hate new musical genre names.
Instead of feeling intimidated, I say embrace the genre and all its fancifully named layers. Genre is an identifier, important in pointing the way and gluing together scenes. There was a time that you could walk into an indie record store, look at the clientele, and guess what genres they listened to by how they looked. It’s harder now that genres are less-defined and blur together — which I’ll argue is a good thing. But it’s also why genres are reaching beyond sonic vibes and sounds, increasingly representative of technological innovation, communities, and desired lifestyles.
He points out the utility of categorizing new music in a way that will bring the listener in. Not only does it engage the listener, but it helps the musician to identify their output as their own piece of a larger movement.
Consider the genre as an elevator pitch. It’s a chance to claim a plot of land and plant a flag.
If you’ve ever wondered where we get genre names like blue grass, free jazz (that one I actually knew), reggae, techno, industrial, or new wave (that one has to do with CBGB’s), Donaldson has you covered with some musical trivia facts. He even goes on to address some of the controversy surrounding the naming of the “world music” genre. This is a highly enjoyable stroll through the fragmented state of music this days. We don’t have to lament the many new branches of this sonic tree. We can learn to love the different fruits that can be plucked from them.