From charred death to deep filthstep: the 1,264 genres that make modern music

A ‘data alchemist’ has split music into over 1,000 bewildering microgenres. But what lies out there beyond witch house, and what on Earth does skweee sound like?

Music used to be easy. Some people liked rock. Some people liked pop. Some people liked jazz, blues or classical. And, basically, that was sort of it. However, musicians are a restless bunch and you can only play Smoke on the Water, Always Crashing in the Same Car or Roast Fish and Cornbread so many times before someone is bound to say: “Hang on a minute, what would happen if we played them all at the same time?” And so it is that new genres are born. Now imagine that happening for at least half a century or so – all over the world – and you reach a point at which, according to the engineer and “data alchemist” Glenn McDonald, there are now 1,264 genres of popular music; all you need to do is go directly to his startlingly clever website and look – well, listen – for yourself.

Every Noise at Once is an ongoing attempt to build an algorithmically generated map of the entire musical genre-space, based on data tracked and analysed by Spotify’s music-intelligence division, The Echo Nest. It is also – in truth – one of the greatest time-eating devices ever created. You thought you had some kind of idea of just how much music is out there? You don’t. I don’t. But McDonald does. So he’s covered those genres – such as death metal, techno or hip-hop, which you’ll have heard of. Others, such as electro trash, indietronica or hard glam you may only have the most passing acquaintance with. Then, rather wonderfully, there are the outliers, those genres that you almost certainly didn’t even know existed – much less ever explored – suomi rock, shimmer psych, fourth world – right there at your fingertips any time you please. But the question is: what lives even further out than the outliers? How odd can it all get? Well, here are 10 genres (we could have nominated about 50) that even mouth-breathing indie record-shop blowhards (full disclosure: I used to be a mouth-breathing indie-record shop blowhard) would be hardpressed to help you find …

1. Vaporwave

An offshoot of seapunk and chillwave (obviously!), vaporwave is, according to its Wiki page, a “critique and a parody of consumerist [and 80s yuppie] culture and new age music”, while, of course, being equally fascinated with their nostalgic push-and-pull. That means, at times, it sounds like a 1985 teen-exploitation movie soundtrack made on a Casio wristwatch and, yes, that sounds a bit brilliant because vaporwave, thriving out there somewhere beyond witch house, post-dubstep and future garage, is a bit brilliant.

Check: Food Pyramid

2. Blackgaze

It’s a blend of black metal and shoegaze – with a bit of post-rock, neo-folk and post-metal – that’s developed in the European metal underground over the past five years or so. Think deep-end metaphysics and navel-admiring esoterica rather than blood-soaked, Satan-licking, tomb-destroying blast beats. Naturally, some metal fans deny it even exists – perhaps they’ll congregate in the comments under this article. Anyway, it does, otherwise what is that incredible racket that Vent d’Automne, Lurker Of Chalice and Dordeduh are making?

Check: Alcest

3. Duranguense

Nothing to do with pastel-clad, blow-waved Brummies, duranguense is a Mexican pop genre built on the bones of other Mexican genres, such as banda, norteño and, especially, quebradita. Fundamentally, duranguense – also known as pasito duranguense – is about celebrating and developing the importance of regional Mexican music and dance culture within the US. Expect blaring saxes, parping trombones and a big ol’ bass drum. It might be a little hard to love, but it’s impossible to ignore.

Check: Reencuentro Musical

4. Deep filthstep

Super-heavy, crazy-person EDM freaknology for three-days-without-sleep dummy-chewing ravers who’ve worn out their synapses bashing the Skrillex button. More than about four minutes of the quiet-bit/lunatic-bit sonic tomfoolery of someone like Kronodigger or Bloody Poem’s Six Millions Ways To Die will make anyone over the age of 19 cry their tired old eyes out, but don’t let that put you off, granddad.

Check: Denis Mash

5. Skweee

From Sweden and Finland, via DJs Randy Barracuda, Pavan, Daniel Savio and Mesak, skweee (from “squeezing” as much from cheap equipment as possible) marries simple (trans: brain-melting) synth/chiptune melodies and basslines with heavyweight funk and R&B rhythms. Some, such as Chocolate Penthouse, sound like Kool & the Gang relocated to Mars, while minimalist maestros Easy & Center of the Universe create straight-up mind-melters.

Check: Baba Stiltz

6. Fallen angel

Named by McDonald himself, fallen angel is where calamitously overwrought female-led symphonic rock meets fantastically melodramatic, shred-happy power metal. If that sounds a bit like Bonnie Tyler on both ice and drugs with everything turned up to eleventy-seven then, damn it all, you’re sort of right. Expect twinkly pianos, blankly personal lyrics and window-bending, hair-shaking riff-bombs. Perhaps even a violin here and there. Fallen angel is, literally, the uncoolest music of all time. Which makes it awesomely cool.

Check: Sanctorium

7. Chalga

Described in 2013 by no-lesser an authority than the BBC as, “Bulgaria’s sex-soaked pop-folk music culture”, chalga – a Turkish word that originally described the urban music of the Ottoman empire of the late 19th and early 20th century – blends doof-doof dance beats with Balkan, Gypsy and Middle Eastern rhythms. Think of it as Bulgarian turbofolk, if you like. Its themes of “easy money, aggressive men and promiscuous women” (that’s the BBC again) have made chalga huge all across the Balkans.

Check: Slavena

8. Charred death

Who among us wouldn’t cut off a limb to be the 22-year-old lead guitarist of a super-happening charred death band? A (slightly) more melodic take on extreme black metal, CD bands such as Bliss of Flesh, Grief of Emerald and Abused Majesty are a little like a maniacally focussed – if terminally-croaky – Iron Maiden, lovingly desecrating the hits of Slayer. There are tunes in here, but you’ll have to do the leg work to find them.

Check: Crow Black Sky

9. Laboratorio

Another one corralled into life by McDonald, laboratorio encompasses the whole crystal-toned ultra-world of copper-bottomed, lead-lined oddities reaching from Australian-born composer Shueh-li Ong’s experimental-pop niceness, through Throbbing Gristle’s bone-grinding industrialism and exotica-scented podiatrist and Theremin master Dr Samuel J Hoffman, up to pioneering electronic genius Pauline Oliveros’s free-expression craziness and French hurdy-gurdy overlord Valentin Clastrier.

Check: All of them

10. lowercase

Named and formulated by ambient minimalist Steve Roden, who kicked off the whole lowercase movement, where extremely quiet sounds are amplified by computer, with his 2001 album Forms of Paper, in which Roden manipulated recordings of him handling, well, paper. Imagine the polar opposite of everything Mötley Crüe ever stood for, then stir in the glitch and microsound developments of Kim Cascone, and the author of 2000’s game-changer, The Aesthetics of Failure: “PostDigital” Tendencies in Contemporary Computer Music and that’s some old-skool lowercase shizz.

Check: Tetsu Inoue


Rob Fitzpatrick

The GuardianTramp

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