Everything you ever wanted to know about pop (but were too old to ask)
Were you baffled by press descriptions of the Mercury-winning Klaxons? Don't you know your Nu-rave from your Grindcore? You need Jonathan Brown's guide to music's proliferating genres
Thursday 06 September 2007
Acid-rave-sci-fi punk-funk: A brain-spinning sub-sub-genre much mentioned in yesterday's papers in connection with British pop's latest poster boys, the Klaxons, this was specially devised by New Musical Express to describe the Mercury-winners. (See also Nu-rave, which used to be considered an adequate pigeonhole for them.)
Aggrotech: The Goth revival has breathed new life into this depressing techno-inspired early Nineties German techno outcrop. Modern practitioners, such as Norway's Combichrist (right), have inherited the mantle of pioneers such as Kevorkian Death Cycle.
Black Ambient: Nothing to do with mid-Eighties crooner Lionel Ritchie but rather a sinister anti-commercial variant of Black Metal overlaid with synthesisers. Middlesbrough-based Axis of Perdition draw on the inspiration of H P Lovecraft to explore such uplifting themes as mental illness and urban squalor.
Chemical Breaks: Epitomised by Fatboy Slim, factotum of goodtime geezerdom, who made the effortless transition from puny northern popster to spin some of the fattest tunes in clubland –via the advert-friendly Freak Power. His singalong anthems continue to make him a presence on the dance floor.
Darkwave: The early 1980s saw a crop of synth-based bands with floppy fringes and moody lyrics pick up where punk left off: think Depeche Mode and Tubeway Army (before Gary Numan went all Noel Edmonds). Today's exponents include Bangladeshi-born Shikee's Android Lust and tunesome duo Roger Fracé and Summer Bowman's Machine in the Garden. Got it?
Electroclash: Developed out of the hedonistic gay nights of the early millennium. High concept, some might say pretentious, adherents wax lyrical about the style's "hyper-sexual, post-feminist, post 9/11 stance". Opponents (and there are many) call it retro dance music for transvestites. The genre's biggest acts include Los Angeles's controversially named Dirty Sanchez.
Emo: Aficionados of emo now consider bands such as Dashboard Confessional and the now defunct Further Seems Forever to be part of the third generation of the so-called emotional music movement – a genre which first took root in Washington DC in the early Eighties. Since then we've had – naturally – emocore and its mid-period offshoot, screamo.
Folk Metal, Folktronica, etc: There was a time when a man with a guitar, a beard and a chunky jumper was all you needed to know about folk. Today there is Folk Metal, Freak Folk, Folktronica and even plain old Folk. Amid these sub-delights, south London's neo-medievalists Circulus and Southend balladeer Get Cape, Wear Cape, Fly are some of the more colourful characters in the new folk revival.
Grindcore: see Hardcore.
Gypsy Punk: If Garage and Goth have become too mainstream (and Grindcore a bit 2005), why not try a dose of Gypsy Punk? Leading exponents are Gogol Bordello (formed by Eugene Hutz, a survivor of the Chernobyl disaster): the band take traditional Ukrainian string sounds and plug them into the mains.
Hardbag: Loved-up clubbers who liked to put their hands in the air as part of the life-affirming Handbag scene of the early 1990s were forced to step up the pace when Rollo and Sister Bliss blended the genre with Hardcore (see below) to bring a new grittiness to the dancefloor
Hardcore: Comes in a variety of densities – everything from Melodic to Happy to Christian. Also lends its name to practically every other style – punk, techno, hip-hop, house, bop even jazz – as well as spawning a bastard litter of suffix-influenced styles from Speedcore to Horrorcore. Grindcore, a genre invented in a true Spinal Tap moment by the drummer in Birmingham's very own Napalm Death, has itself split into a dizzying maze of sub divisions, among them Crustgrind, Cybergrind, Deathgrind, Noisegrind and even Pornogrind.
Indie: This benevolent umbrella covers a vast expanse of musical terrain – anything from the Smiths to Dirty Pretty Things. Originally referred to groups signed on minor labels but has become a discrete musical genre associated with a penchant for thrift shop clothes and an obsession with guitars. All too often, leading exponents horrify the idealists by hitching their stars to the majors as soon as possible.
Janglepop: More than 40 years after the Byrds sought to bridge the gap between the Beatles and Bob Dylan, the jangly guitar sound they spawned continues to influence bands – from the early REM to student stalwarts 10,000 Maniacs.
Krautrock: Who said the Germans have no sense of humour? What started as a term of abuse among mid-Seventies, mid-Atlantic rockers, has become a postmodern compliment in a country once thought of as the land that pop music forgot. Krautrock bands from the 1970s such as Tangerine Dream, Faust and Can gave way to Dusseldorf's mighty Kraftwerk who influenced a generation of British groups from post punk to dance.
Lovers' Rock: A term originally used to describe British homegrown reggae, it took its name from Dennis Lascelles Harris's New Cross record label. A lighter, more tuneful, less angry, apolitical sound than that bubbling up in other parts of the country such as Steel Pulse's Handsworth, the genre spawned a number of major acts including Aswad and Maxi Priest.
Mathrock: Mathrock fans are still celebrating the news that New York indie rock band Chavez had reformed. They are inheritors of a musical tradition that can trace its origins back to some of the more outlandish experiments with the 4/4 timing carried out by Captain Beefheart aka Don Van Vliet.
Musique Concrete: Invented by the French composer Pierre Schaeffer in the late 1940s, Frank Zappa flirted with this technological sound during one of his more inaccessible periods – witness The Apostolic Blurch Injector. The Beatles, buoyed by the success of the Concrete loop on "Being For The Benefit of Mr Kite", experimented with it on their most unlistenable track, "Revolution 9". It is enjoying an unlikely revival through the work of British DJ Squarepusher better known as Tom Jenkinson.
Nu-rave, Nu-prog, Nu-skool, etc: The addition of the word New – or more trendily Nu – has done for music exactly what it did for that tired old brand the British Labour Party. Klaxons, who scooped last night's Nationwide Mercury prize, are at the forefront of Nu-rave (the non-Nu version having gone out of fashion around the same time as Smilee T-shirts and Vicks Vaporub were a must have addition to a Saturday night out). Then there are Nu-prog, Nu-disco, Nu-folk and Nu-funk. Not to mention Nu-skool (once known as Old-skool), Nu-jazz, Nu Metal and Nu-nu-rave.
Obscuro: Music without a clear definitive genre. The United States of America and classic singer Lee Hazlewood are among the artists falling into this abyss.
Outsider Music: Places the Daniel Johnston's and sadly deceased Syd Barrett in a Camus-esque musical zone. Put it another way – it's music for loners.
Porn Rock: Find it on the top shelf of your local HMV (not), it tries to bridge the gap between sexuality and music. Bands use their lyrics, the way they behave onstage and their choice of (or lack of) dress to get their point across. Leading practitioners the Genitorturers have built something of an obsessive live following in their native US, Japan and Europe.
Power Pop: For something a little more sedate, Power Pop evokes an more genteel era when bands could get away with miming to a soundtrack on Top of the Pops. Brighton girl group the Pipettes keep the genre fresh with their singing-into-a-hairbrush harmonies and big choruses.
Queercore: Forget disco, boystown or any of those other euphemisms from the dark old closet days of the 1970s. Queercore preaches a homosexual punk doctrine of misunderstood sexual and gender identity. It exists outside the mainstream, self-promoting by e-zines and fanzines operating away from both gay and straight scenes.
Riot Grrl: Technically this should be Neo-Riot Grrl but let's not split hairs. This is music for politically grown up Spice Girls' fans. Gossip are the new icons of the genre along with Le Tigre and Beth Ditto. Their philosophy is 'make yourself who you want to be'. Punk for feminists.
Shoegaze: Shoegaze was a phrase coined to describe the kind of band where the lead singer looks uncomfortably down at their shoes rather than desperately gazing into the audience hoping to feel the love. Yet, the music is far from boring, with fuzzy guitars and a wall of sound making the vocal sound tiny in comparison. The newly reformed Jesus and Mary Chain are past masters at the game.
Twee Pop: Dreamy, sickly-sweet melodies, jingley-jangley guitars and lead singers dressed to the nines in tweed, Twee Pop will have you reaching for your literary classics and buying new albums on vinyl. Listening to Belle and Sebastian, Camera Obscura or The Decemberists is bound to make your cheeks hurt from smiling ridiculously wide, while darning your socks.
Urban Jazz: The kind of thing 50 Cent might listen to on a Sunday morning before walking the pitbull. This is cool jazz with rap thrown in.
Vocal House: Big beefy bass lines, massive vocals by powerhouses such as Loleatta Holloway will make you dance, sing and hug strangers and tell them you love them. Basement Jaxx (left) are the ruling chart masters.
Video Gaming: Others are turning to the multibillion-pound Video Gaming Music market to make their fortune. Here bleeps and blips against drum machines mixed with pumping synth bass lines keep the kids clicking away on the consoles. Watch out for trendy newcomers Crystal Castles: they will be huge when this goes mainstream.
World Fusion: For those who find world music a little bit too Peter Gabriel, World Fusion blends sounds from across the globe which wouldn't – and some say shouldn't – be put together. Sri Lankan-born Briton M.I.A.'s latest offering, Kala, offers a good introduction.
Xoomii: Asian yodelling popularised for a Western audience by Bjork with her "challenging" 2004 vocal album Medulla. The sound is like nothing you've heard before, mixing heavy breathing and the swirling of phlegm to make something which some may find akin to the sound of fingernails on a blackboard.
Yo-pop: Yo-pop: Catch it at Womad, this sound is huge in Lagos. Its biggest star is Segan Adewale.
Zombi Hip-Hop: Damon Albarn's virtual group Gorillaz invented Zombie Hip-Hop as a phrase to describe themselves. It infuses elements of New York rap over slow burn grooves and electronics to create a dark, brooding sound which will release the flesh-eating monster within.
Additional reporting by Martin Broadley.
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