Music has always been in a constant state of evolution, and this has left the basis of a genre-labelling system quite ambiguous. Music evolves in an perpetual cycle that oftentimes overlaps sounds and thematic elements, and this is especially true in the dance music realm, where tracks are continuously remixed or re-layered. For that reason, defining an artist or song’s genre may be challenging. For us to properly utilize genres in today's ever-growing scene, it is crucial to consider how sounds are perceived and identified, how genres change, and how we can make use of these changes.
It is quite common for artists to tap into multiple genres throughout their career, whether it be in the studio or on stage. A DJ is never limited to a single genre or style, as it is their job to provide a brilliant variety of unique mixing skills and an unanticipated series of songs. With an immense music library of diverse selections, the DJ is an inventor of style, or a tastemaker. Many may argue that genres aren't necessary because of music’s unrestrained and instinctual ability to overlap, but this flexibility in creating a work of art requires a label system to recognize their abstract qualities. An artist is not confined to a single technique, and every individual composition is uniquely crafted and dependent on the producer’s mood and audience's knowledge of sounds for diversification.
Promoting their genre-free principals, DJ duo GTA are recognized for their open-mindedness in the electronic music scene. Influenced by their Miami roots where they were exposed to urban, electronic, rock, and latin music, the duo is unified by the mission statement “death to genres.” Their releases are an ideal anti-genre movement, proving that “dance music is best defined as whatever makes you move.” Experimenting outside genre boundaries is important because it takes the listener on a journey through heterogenous sounds, but the cohesion of genres still depends on the recognition of a new sound being born.
Techno pioneer Jeff Mills, who has seen the growth of electronic music from its infancy, has openly discussed his opinion on dance music’s legitimacy: “If you’re confident in what you’re doing and you think it’s right, then it should be produced and the world should hear it. I think [EDM] serves a purpose. This is not the first scapegoat of electronic music. Many years ago it was trance music, and before then it was something else. It all serves a purpose, and I think that we’re moving along in a very healthy way all together. I think once you [restrict things], then it’s really the beginning of the end.”
Although genrelization can feel like putting walls around water, musical categories are necessary when discussing the rapid development of electronic music. Genres establish a common ground between like-minded people. Furthermore, genres are a tool that represent a generation, societal influences, and a youth-culture movement; we've seen it with the the Acid House explosion in the UK, the funk and disco era influenced by electro and hip-hop, the birth of Detroit Techno, Chicago’s house music arrival, the hardcore sounds of UK Garage and Dubstep, and even America’s rave phenomenon with the evolution of trap and moombahton - dance music’s past and future has revolved around a genre system that sustains itself throughout global culture.
Pete Tong recently discussed the future of dance music in America to the Wall Street Journal: “I think after five years of any genre, audiences get fidgety and start to look for something new. I just think I latch on to good stuff at a time when there’s already a natural grounds well behind it. It’s a bit like surfing and catching the right wave. You have to find the right record, but at a time when people are ready for it. Hopefully there is chunk of people who fall in love with the music and want to continue to explore.”
New genres and subgenres are continuously emerging as dance music redevelops. Stemmed from the depth of house music, the rise of G-house is one of several newly establishing genres, characterized by the layering of hip-hop vocals over a groovy 4-on-the-floor bassline. The unique features, instruments, and sounds in a piece of work are the elements that sort a song into a particular genre or sub genre’s definition.
Genre classification also serves a practical and useful purpose in search engines. Beatport’s enormous database is arranged into a genre-based platform, allowing users to search top tracks by a recognizable label for their favorite sounds. Other platforms like SoundCloud permit songs to be tagged by genre. Searching by genres serves an empirical function, since information about music is of increasing concern as each multimedia platform grows. With the arrival of digital music, other search methods have developed, but technology’s influence on taste still relies on arranging music by genres. To some, music engagement is technologically dependent, with features such as shuffle and the playlist function. Popular music that is promoted digitally increases a culture of eclecticism, where people are not tied to specific genres when defining their taste.
Listeners are influenced by personal tastes, attitudes and moods, and different systems meet different user's needs. Genres are vital to the survival of of EDM, but it will only work once the current generation is educated about the history of dance music, the different sounds that it encompasses, and the social influence of each genre has it pertains to EDM culture.
Disclaimer: The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of EDM.com.
Cover photo: Digital DJ Tips