Undefinable Bands

Genre Definition April 13th, 2010

Of course, despite all of the work I’ve done, there are still many bands who refuse to play nicely and sit in any one particular genre.  Here are a number of examples of bands that seem to have a unique sound all to themselves.

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EBM

Genre Definition March 19th, 2010

Well, here’s a contentious term as if we ever had one.  EBM stands for ‘electronic body music’ and that’s about as far as anyone can agree.  The style was developed in the early 1980s, combining the robotic beats of Kraftwerk, the discordant experimental streak of early industrial and the aggression of the so-called ‘synthpunk‘ collective (the quotes exist because the term was a retroactive contrivance).  Or to put it another way, it all started with Front 242.  They had no shortage of contemporaries – all you needed were some simple drums machines, a synth or two, a few unconventional sound sources and the right attitude.  Or a pair of sunglasses.  Many of the early EBM bands lasted only an album or two, but a few had an enduring influence.  The German act Die Krupps played EBM for most of the 80s with the aid of their solid-steel ‘stahlophone’, while the English act Nitzer Ebb earned themselves a cult following with their hard dance beats, militant aesthetic and distinctive brand image.

The style influenced a host of offshoots.  Plenty of bands were willing to take the EBM formula and try different rhythm patters, song structures or vocal styles.  Canada’s Skinny Puppy are probably the best known project in the ill-defined ‘electro-industrial‘ genre.  ‘The Klinik’ from Belgium developed a minimal version of the style that would ultimately lead to power noise, whilst the 1990s saw a vast number of bands practice a hybrid that played a tribute to the repetitive beats of EBM and the sampler-based experimental bent of electro-industrial.  Other bands (especially Ministry) added guitars to the style, taking us to industrial rock and metal.  Style originators Front 242, Die Krupps and Nitzer Ebb would all pick up guitars themselves during the 90s before all going on creative hiatus. Read The Rest… »

No Wave

Genre Definition March 19th, 2010

Whilst there have been many different post-punk movements, only those with any real staying power earn a definition of their own here.  Except for this one.  No Wave was a short-lived, New York-based counter-cultural movement.  In additional to various film and performance art projects, there were a small collective of bands practising an abrasive, atonal and nihilistic form of rock music, which was either an attempt at alienating audiences or an attempt to prove that punk rock hadn’t really been all that inventive musically after all.  Whilst few no wave bands used any new or innovative instruments, their methods of playing the instruments they did have were unconventional to say the least. Read The Rest… »

Mittelalter Rock

Genre Definition March 18th, 2010

This one probably won’t make sense until you’ve been to a German music festival.  Only then will you appreciate exactly how big this style is over there, and why it’s so underground just about everywhere else.  The style originated from a number of mittelalter outfits who all decided that modern instruments weren’t that bad after all and promptly picked up their guitars and developed mittelalter rock.

Some mittelalter rock groups began with a more traditional acoustic sound before ‘going electric’ (In Extremo, Salatio Mortis), whilst others formed as side-project of other groups (Tanzwut being a Corvus Corax offshoot).  The style of rock played varies, but generally hovers beetwen a folk-rock sound that you wouldn’t mine playing to your parents (well, mine seem to like it) to a hard-edged Neue Deutsche Härte sound.  Suffice to say that no Grufti-friendly festival in the Bundesrepublik would be complete without a few of these bands on the bill.  Make a habit of attending such events and you’ll see the whole lot within three years. Read The Rest… »

Harsh Noise

Genre Definition March 18th, 2010

Have you ever tried to tune in your radio and decided that the hiss you got in between the stations was better than the actual music?   Do you hate the way that most modern musicians pin themselves down to a ‘structure’ rather than taking their compositions off in whatever direction they damn well please?  This is where harsh noise comes into play.  There are a lot of genres that utilise atonal noise, some dealt with here (power noise, power electronics) others beyond the scope of this site (the whole noise rock pantheon).  But harsh noise is the variant which is almost completely comprised of layers of atonal, unstructured noise.  It isn’t using noise to provide variance to another style, it IS noise.

Oddly enough, many of the style’s practitioners are Japanese, which gives the rather nifty regional-genre definition ‘Japanoise’, though this generally includes all of the Japanese noise-rock and other stylistic variants.  The most famous of these is Merzbow, project of Masami Akita, mainly due to his prolific output.  The number of albums he’s released is in the hundreds, including a 50CD box-set ‘Merzbox’, which only goes to prove how ludicrously extreme this style can get.

Key Bands

  • Japanoise: Aube, C.C.C.C., Government Alpha, Guilty Connector, Incapacitants, KK Null, Masonna, Merzbow
  • Harsh Noise From Somewhere Other Than Japan: I’m kinda stuck on this one.  Until I find something, why not take a trip over to power electronics.  Only a real music geek could tell the difference anyway.

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Darkambient

Genre Definition March 18th, 2010

There is an ambient version of just about every music genre known to us.  But there’s more to it that stripping out the drums and working through your collection of synth pad presets.  And there’s more to dark ambient (the ‘gothic’ version of ambient) than playing those pads in a minor key (though it’s certainly a good starting place).  Neither is it the ‘bits between the songs’ on concept albums, though I’ve heard some bands passing such filler material off as the style.  Darkambient music needs to be unsettling, almost scary in some regards,

The prolific American musicians Steve Roach and Robert Rich are two of the most highly regarded purveyors of exceptionally ‘dark’ ambient music, both having produced several recordings that fulfil the above definition.  A number of the projects associated with the Projekt label have also produced works bordering between dark ambient and ethereal wave.  A number of musicians associated with industrial music have also produced darkambient of a kind (:zoviet*france:, Lustmord and several others), though the more abrasive forms can also be termed as industrial ambient.

It’s also worth remembering that more mainstream ‘ambient’ musicians have produced exceptionally dark works, and I’ve provided a couple of examples below.  There are a lot of ambient subgenres out there and there’s no way I’m covering them all.

Key Bands

  • Alio Die, Atrium Carceri, Controlled Bleeding, Coil, Desiderii Marginis, Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson, Lustmord, Raison d’être, Robert Rich, Shinjuku Thief, Steve Roach, VidnaObmana,

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Aggrotech

Genre Definition March 18th, 2010

The electro-industrial genre gets very bloated with all these angry men (yes, they usually are men) with their synthesiser and vocal effects.  So a number of spin-off genres are necessary.  This one dates back to the mid-to-late 90s when two acts from different sides of the Atlantic independently arrived at the same combination.  Mexico’s Hocico and Belgium’s Suicide Commando both combined EBM rhythms with cold, ominous melodics and vocal distorted to the brink of intelligibility (trust me, you don’t want to hear what they’re singing about most of the time), and duly showed a succession of EBM/electro-industrial hybrids the way forward.

The style began to get traction in scene clubs, and with more and more bands adopting the style, it soon began to displace futurepop from many DJ playlists sometime in the mid 00s.  The arrival of the second Combichrist album (‘Everybody Hates You’) won aggrotech the playlist battle for good.  This album did see a move from extreme vocal distortion to a more ‘shouted’ style, which seemed to help it’s acceptance to a wider audience.  Some projects didn’t bother with vocals at all – the martially-influenced Feindflug is probably the best-known and longest-established example, whilst bands such as Soman, Xotox and KiEw produced vocally-sparse variants on the style that bordered on power noise at times (the oft-forgotten first Combichrist album also fits in here somewhere). Read The Rest… »

Coldwave (France)

Genre Definition March 18th, 2010

I only put this genre in because I wanted to include the American Coldwave.  On closer examination, I then realised that this particular form of Coldwave might actually fit in after all.  It was, after all, the French version of the New Wave.  Presumably it was called Coldwave due to the icy, minimal compositions many of it’s practitioners created.  I actually wanted to call it ‘Frogwave’ as an analogy to ‘krautrock’, but apparently That Would Be A Bad Idea.

The French had their punk bands like every other modern industrial nation did back in the late 70s.  And as in the UK, USA and Germany, some of those punks thought ‘what can we do to make this more interesting?’.  And it just so happens that France actually has a bit of a history when it comes to electronic music.  Some of the styles innovators originate from the country after all.

And so there was a wave (yeah, wave) of new bands who realised the cold synth textures allowed by the technologies of the time could actually be made to work with the French language, and the results are given below.

Key Bands

  • French Punk: Métal Urbain, Stinky Toys
  • The Cold Wave: Clair Obscur, End Of Data, KaS Product, Marquis De Sade, Martin Dupont, Opera Multi Steel, Trisome 21, Twilight Ritual

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Post-Punk

Genre Definition March 18th, 2010

Whilst punk rock was revolutionary in terms of it’s socio-political statement, it wasn’t actually all that innovative musically.  Three chords, three-minute songs and freedom to say what the fuck you want isn’t actually that advanced a musicological concept.  Luckily, there were plenty of artists who really wanted to be artists and not just some kind of shock factor.  And it was two of punk rocks leading lights, John Lydon (The Sex Pistols) and Howard Devoto (The Buzzcocks) who went on to form Public Image Ltd. and Magazine respectively, two projects that would both prove to be considerably more advanced in a musical sense than anything they’d written before.

The Manchester based punk band Warsaw became Joy Division, developed unique styles of bass guitar, vocal performance and drum recording and thus became the short-lived musical legends that everyone now knows they became.  They plus Siouxsie and the Banshees, Bauhaus and Killing Joke laid down between them the foundations for gothic rock, the sulky daughter of punk. Read The Rest… »

Gothic Metal

Genre Definition March 18th, 2010

You might expect gothic metal and gothic rock to be in some way related.  And you’d be wrong.  The style is rooted in heavy metal, originating as it did from a trio of doom/death metal bands from Northern England (My Dying Bride, Anathema and Paradise Lost).  It’s was probably the fault of Paradise Lost – their second album was called ‘Gothic’ and began to include female vocals and keyboard (unthinkable at the time to some metal purists).  As the careers of these bands progressed, they began to drop much of their death metal influence, introducing more keyboard-based melodies and textures and also shifting from ‘death grunt’ vocals to a cleaner rock/metal style.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the pond, Type O Negative began working on their own derivative of ‘gothic’ doom metal, all green clothes and black humour.  Whilst early Type O Recordings clearly indicate frontman Peter Steele’s thrash past, their 1993 album ‘Bloody Kisses’ was recognised as a seminal gothic metal recording, running through all the goth clichés and poking fun at the lot of them on the way.  In Sweden, meanwhile, another extreme metal band (Tiamat) were busy slowing down their riffs, weaving atmospheric synths into their compositions and penning increasingly esoteric lyrical concepts.  Their 1994 album ‘Wildhoney’ was a concept album of sorts, and one of the most highly regarded in the genre.  The Portugeuse band Moonspell made a similar shift a year later. Read The Rest… »