The easiest way to judge whether you will get on with someone is by their music and fashion tastes, and there have always been defining characteristics in people’s style and bearing that will usually let you distinguish what genre of music they must like.
A few years ago, when it was slightly less distinct in my young mind, people who dressed in black liked My Chemical Romance, a punk wore a lot of badges, hipsters didn’t even exist and people with beards liked country music. Now, of course, I have come to realise that there are more exceptions to these generalisations than proofs and that labelling people solely by fashion or music is in fact meaningless. But in spite of this, there does still seem to be many negative connotations that come with associating yourself with a specific genre. But why are there still divisions and judgements between genre fans, when music is more mixed and indistinguishable than it has ever been?
Take festivals for example, they depend on having a huge mix of genres involved, and there is never any distinct majority of a particular ‘scene’ at any major festival. There are genre specific festivals of course, such as Cambridge Folk Festival for folk, Download for rock, T4 On The Beach for pop etc., but these are made in order to bring fans of the certain types of music together, not separate them from everyone else.
…playing a show that broke free from its genre…
Major festivals like Glastonbury and Reading & Leeds are so popular because they do not favour genres, but instead have literally something for everyone. In 2008 there were major disagreements about whether Jay-Z should headline Glastonbury because, according to main critic Noel Gallagher, hip-hop is just ‘wrong’ for a mainstream, previously guitar-band led festival. Jay – Z went on to prove them all wrong, playing a show that broke free from its genre and had people enjoying it because it was quite simply good music. It’s not about liking music because it fills all of your criteria, it’s about liking music because it gets you dancing, or singing, or enjoying yourself.
With this in mind, it’s probably worth noting that if Glastonbury is a guitar-rock festival as Gallagher believes, then that description is still casting the net incredibly wide. Genre labels are very difficult to pin down today because they are so all-encompassing, and not least of all for rock and pop music. Because music technology and availability is so good now, bands can afford to have far more musical influence in their lives, meaning that bands like Of Monsters and Men, for example, can pass as a rock band to those who like their big guitar sound, a pop band for those who like their bouncy, happy feel and a folk band for those who like accordions and songs about nature. Equally, older bands like Take That have their soulful ballads, they have their feel-good pop, they have their jangling, almost country, tune Up All Night, and so have a huge audience for their music. I’m not ashamed to say I enjoy them every now and again, because it’s hard not to when they cover such a wide market.
…it comes from them exploring different avenues of their own interest…
It’s important to remember that genre labels often come from the public, rather than the band. It’s not that bands create music to deliberately cross genres, it comes from them exploring different avenues of their own interest and creating music that they like, regardless of what they think their fans want.
Two very good examples of this are The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, two of the most successful bands in history. The Beatles went through just about every style of music that they could, from folk to pop to rock to ballads to Indian classical music, and The Rolling Stones went from basement rock ‘n’ roll to piano ditty led-pop seamlessly. To define the genres of these two bands you would first have to ask which stage of their careers you were talking about. The important thing is that these guys played the music they wanted to, because that’s the music they liked. To stick yourself to a certain genre is to miss out on an incomprehensible amount of good music, and to judge people by their music or fashion taste and pin them down to one specific style is just admitting how unaware you are of the massive world of collaborative music.