I remember a time when genres meant almost nothing, back in ’92-’93 when I really started to mine the ‘dance’ page (yes, I do mean that in terms of singularity in most cases) of British music mags like NME, Melody Maker, Select, etc for releases to try and find. There was a monthly visit to the mall’s conglomerate book store-the only place in mid-Missouri to occasionally bother stocking music periodicals-in the hopes of picking up a new issue of something that clued me in. I scoured the racks of mainstream record stores desperate to find some crumbs of this new sound (to me). Reviews weren’t limited to singular genre stratification but were all-inclusive toward coverage of most anything that either contained a beat or produced primarily on electronic gear. I can still remember reading and re-reading a small section of reviews stretching from 69’s “Lite Music” to something like Pete Namlook’s prolific ambient emissions on the Fax label. The newsprint faded and wrinkled after multiple re-readings, the words unfurling descriptions of futuristic music that had burgeoning stylistic namesakes accompanying them but seemed to fit altogether no matter what affiliation they could be linked to. It was a road marker but hardly a final destination point.
Then as the ‘dance’ journalism morphed into whole glossy mags with page after page of reviews dedicated to singular genres, 12″ reviews were compartmentalized to a granular level. At first it seemed logical as publications like Jockey Slut, Magic Feet and Muzik gained legitimacy by placing educated writers and/or DJs with passion for the music into place, managing the genre specific columns, highlighting top picks, and dismissing disappointing misses as it were. For a time I remember anticipating new issues to peruse at the newstands here in Seattle, attempting to add to the ever expanding record wish-list that is imprinted in any music fanatic’s brain. As if any one critic’s descriptions and opinions could serve as a guiding light, it did occasionally seem to serve as a guide post for directing and shaping tastes, if only for a time. Eventually, the magazines began to drill down genre parameters to a granular level that created silos for releases to inhabit and also narrowly defined what was to be covered.
Fast forward to now and when you look at what Beatport, Juno and the like have attempted to do with their genre categorizing I wonder if we haven’t gone backwards. The genre assignments are so broad in some cases that what gets lumped together has almost no resemblance to the release/artist that its rubbing elbows with. Chymera as best chill out artist? The recent Intrusion “Tswana Dub” under the techno heading? Move D considered minimal? Deadmau5’s “1981” is labelled as deep house but it’s a million miles away from Larry Heard. Los Hermanos is doing progressive house now? I’m not saying artists need to be confined to the style(s) that their oriigns dictate or that we should do away with labelling altogether but is there a better way to assign?
Maybe it’s too subjective a process to ever hope to get right from all perspectives. And maybe there’s far too much music and not enough time for an outlet to be able to fully ascertain what goes where. It’s possible that we all hear something held within each song that others cannot, our own experiences and knowledge of what came before influencing how we interpret what we are hearing. I know that whenever I am downloading new track for the first time I assign new genres as appropriate to my ears, and sometimes I find that I need to go back and re-classify. I just know that I can only rely on what my own history and understanding of music tells me.