As I mentioned above, this week is a bumper week for new (new, but not necessarily new new) music, and I’ve been thinking a lot about genres. As I finally get towards the end of the great Rickey Vincent book on funk (I’m enjoying it, but I’m reading more slowly than usual, and it’s long), I keep coming back to the idea of what a genre is, and what it means. In the book, Vincent is pretty scathing about disco. His belief is that disco is just the appropriation and subsequent commercialisation of funk and soul. His argument is pretty convincing, but what I thought was most interesting was the idea that certain music could be classified and declassified as disco. According to Vincent, for example, certain Earth, Wind, and Fire tracks are undoubtedly funk, but on the songs where there’s any sense of repetition or a drum machine, then they’re disco (and therefore sell-outs). I don’t think I agree, but I like that it started me thinking about what makes (and who classifies music in) genres.
This thought has helped picked a lot of music out this week that’s quite genre-bending, and took me back to that idea I discussed in Letter 36 from the book Hit Makers on the importance of familiarity and surprise; we’re most susceptible to new ideas when they come in familiar packages. So Emma-Jean Thackray’s blindingly good new album (Ley Lines) fits the mould as it bridges the worlds of jazz and instrumental hip-hop – in fact Thackray’s inspiration for Ley Lines was growing up with Madlib’s music playing alongside Fela, and Miles. Then there’s the new Joy Orbison collaboration with avant garde jazz artist Ben Vince (if you find a copy of this on record, please buy it for me!). The new DJ Koze album is (as you’d expect) wonderful and almost impossible to pigeonhole into a single genre. There’s a new track from Anderson .Paak that feels like techno. A Jonwayne track that unexpectedly samples a Radiohead classic, and techno producer Szare borrows liberally from gabber and Hudson Mohawke’s TNGHT project. This level of genre-bleed is so exciting. It keeps music moving, and interesting. And it’s obviously not new. Even when we go way back we see this happening – the best example probably being the Parliament / Funkadelic explosion of the 70s (I stupidly hadn’t realised that they were basically the same band, just on different labels)
What unites the music I’ve mentioned above and most of what I’ve chosen to include this week is that along with a lot of genre-blurring, there’s a sense of being ‘locked in’ to a groove. If you listen to the Motor City Drum Ensemble’s track ‘Prayer’, you’ll notice it uses a simply drum pattern, a looped soul sample, but then plays with different brass instruments over the top. Listening to it, you get locked in to the rhythm, and then 64 bars in over the top comes this rush of new (unexpected) sounds. I found it exhilarating. It’s been on repeat. The Szare track is similar, but flipped – the bass rumbles along, but the asymmetry of the rhythm section really played around with my expectations.
This all became more pertinent this week, as I started to pull out records for the impending visit of my dad. It’s a ritual pull out new things he might not have heard (a tough task), but my record collection has become a mess. About a year ago I tried to catalogue most of my records with a simple system of; genre, tempo, phase (Mancuso’s bardos), and key instruments. This was fine a year ago, but as I’ve carried on learning more about music (and buying a lot, with a lot more variation), I’ve realised a lot for the genres are wrong. I’ve also realised that I was thinking about matching records based on pretty arbitrary principles – instead of really listening to them, and understanding how they make me feel. I can’t deny that I think that’s happened a bit with Love Will Save the Daymixtapes too. I think (up until this week) I’d become increasingly focused on grouping tracks in the same genre together. It’s happened totally unconsciously, but when I look back at early letters it’s a right old mess of genres. However, those early mixtapes have more feeling and less structure. I think it shows, too.
So, more listening, less notes.
Which bought me right back to Rickey Vincent, and a quote that felt really pertinent; “Once again the corporate mentality had overtaken racial consciousness to the point where music was product rather than culture.”
The second we become obsessed with categorising something, it becomes a ‘product’. It loses it’s true value, and feels like a commodity. That’s not to say that products can’t have cultural value, but there’s a difference between someone trying to sell a ‘product’ back to a culture (EDM) and an organic product that’s part of a culture (grime). I think a lot of that comes down to intentions – and if you start by thinking about you can build / create something of value to culture, that’s a great start.
As always, if you’ve read to here, thanks for indulging me ♥️.
See you on the dance floor.
Love Will Save the Day