When is a Genre Not a Genre?
If you’re a metal-head, look away now. Iconic British metallers, Iron Maiden, may well have won the Silver Clef for outstanding contribution to music, but in a recent BBC article they were described as – gasp – a rock group.
Yep. The band that helped define metal, to the point that their name is pretty much synonymous with the genre, was ranked as rockers. Cue much screaming, head shaking and foot stomping – and that’s before the music’s even started!
But is it a fair assessment, a malicious lie, or just a lazy typo from an intern who’s only ever listened to One Direction?
Well, consulting that altar of gospel truth, known as Wikipedia, you’ll discover that heavy metal is listed as a sub-genre of rock music. And even Maiden have pretty strong ties to rock: they’ve played at tons of rock events, and even won Album of the Year in 2006 at the Classic Rock Roll of Honour Awards.
But has the metal genre gone beyond its roots? R’n’B has transcended its 1940s rhythm and blues origins, to the point where it’s nearly unrecognisable in comparison; that is, it’s taken on its own character, its own conventions, and in doing so, has become its own genre.
Of course, sub-genres aren’t exactly new. The Americana genre is a fusion of folk, country, and bluegrass. And what do you get when you pop soul, funk, hip-hop, disco and funk into a musical blender? Acid jazz!
In fact, the whole pool of music feeds off of each other – it’s a creative art-form, and just like every other art-form, from literature to movies to video games, it builds upon the success of past endeavours. So you get acts like the electronic group Freestylers sampling Cameo’s funk hit ‘Word Up’ in ‘Push Up Word Up’. Without blues, skiffle, pop and even psychedelia and reggae, there would be no Beatles, but you wouldn’t consider The Beatles anything other than a rock band.
A couple of years back, a sound engineer called Glenn McDonald attempted to create a ‘music intelligence platform’ that understands musical genres. A pretty ambitious task for such a nuanced topic. Anyway, through a series of calculations, the program would be able to figure out the question ‘What is rock music?’ and produce a list of relevant artists.
And who was top of that list? Rihanna – that giant of rock music. This was followed by Daft Punk, Justin Timberlake, Bruno Mars and Pink. And technically, they all use rock in some form or another in their music, but you wouldn’t consider them rockers. Pop seems a closer fit.
If you were going to name a big rock artist or band, you’ll probably have a preconceived notion as to what that entails. At a basic level, we’d probably expect to hear guitars, drums, wicked-cool bass, a front-man who can really sing. Essentially The Rolling Stones, then. And yet Iron Maiden have all of these too…
So makes a genre? A whole lot of imprecise factors, since music constantly evolving. Theme is one factor. Pop music is usually unbearably happy, fluffy, and almost psychotically obsessed with love in all its forms. Tempo would be another attribute in defining a genre, as well as rhythm. We can all imagine what a reggae track would sound like, with its slower tempo and accented beats.
And then there’s the sound itself. A harsher sound might point us to rock; an even harsher sound might push us into metal territory. So is Iron Maiden a rock group? …Yes. And no. Is metal its own genre? Well, it’s certainly distinctive, and with each metal band that occupies that zone they bring new ideas, new sounds, which helps define the genre in and of itself.
A lot of people may rebel against the concept of genres. ‘They’re just labels, man. If you label me, you negate me.’ But that’s not to say using genres is wrong; they’re handy shorthand for selling your music, or recommending a band.
If you know your audience, and the genres that give them the biggest kick, it makes starting a session in a recording studio in London or anywhere else in the world an absolute breeze. You know the sounds you want to produce, and professional technicians and engineers like us can help make it happen. Want to know more? Contact us on 020 7193 4467 and we’ll be delighted to help.