Music Genres Are A Joke That You're Not In On
From Witch House to PC Music, pretty much every post-internet genre has been a troll
Much has been said about London's latest scene-du-jour PC Music. By this point, you've probably already heard "Hey QT", you've perhaps seen SOPHIE's Boiler Room set, wondered what the hell a GFOTY was (hint: not a porn category) and your dad may just have glanced briefly at a broadsheet thinkpiece about the label before turning the page with a world-weary sigh.
It's already become something of an inside joke that every article about PC Music, post-ringtone music, or whatever you want to call it, must include the word "divisive" (and, thus, this article too follows suit). "Inspiring and truly refreshing," some deem it. "Sounds like the sort of music the smackheads across the road might keep me awake with by playing all night at earth-shaking volume", less favourable Guardian comment dwellers have put it. The truth is a bit of both: intoxicatingly catchy and at the same time utterly infuriating.
Such uncertainty over the aims, intent and indeed sincerity of PC Music's output, however, has opened it up for both derision and scepticism. Even its most ardent of supporters can't concretely prove whether it's being serious or not. Understandable really, as it's hard to tell in this post-ironic age we live in, where fashion movements are started as a joke and sincerity is the very antithesis of cool. Trolling itself is a thoroughly modern infliction. If The Emperor's New Clothes was written today, it would probably be about purposely dressing like a dick at Fashion Week and getting papped by loads of bloggers.
Of course, this is no new phenomenon. No wave began as an avant-garde joke, a retort to the sleakness and popularity of new wave by responding with atonality and abrasion and, likewise, perhaps PC Music can be seen as a wry smile to the poe-faced, and often excessively macho, electronic music scene, or a satire of pop music's industrial pace and capitalist current.
Either way, we decided to take a look at the recent history of music genres that trolled the masses - from new rave to vaporwave and beyond.
Witch house was goth for the popular kids, who used to beat on goths at school, but were now belatedly coming to terms with the darkness in their own world. Also called drag, haunted house, or "rape gaze" (as it was briefly and shamefully known, well done to whoever coined that one), the genre - a combination of shoegaze, industrial music and trippy hip-hop - had its origins sowed by Pictureplane's Travis Egedy. In 2009 Egedy started making "occult-based house music" with a friend as a "half-assed conceptual joke" that quickly "turned into something real".
"Different people started posting about it on blogs, and it sort of became an internet meme," Egedy told the AV Club. "People [began] treating it like this actual genre". Fred Durst - aging, long irrelevant and increasing starting to resemble George Galloway - recently posted a video of himself listening to SALEM three years too late. You know that it's still tricking people.
The worst thing to come out of the entire affair, however, is Alt-J, who named themselves after the Mac keyboard shortcut for a triangle. Had all Witch House acts not called themselves △△††△△ or some shit, then maybe we'd never have had to hear "Tessellate" on every car advert from now until the end of time. We can dream, can't we?
Genres are rarely conjured by the artists involved in them (who would want to surrender any semblance of originality and admit they're part of a scene?) but by journalists, who realise they've used the word "eclectic" too much and decide to just make shit up.
Music magazines basically invented new rave during the mid-2000s. It wasn't just a scene plucked out of nowhere: the dance-punk movement had been picking up in the States and the 20-year rule of revivalism, which states that nothing in culture goes away for more than two decades, meant that acid house and rave culture was due a re-heave. But this was different to how it was in the US - nobody in America started to dress like a technicolor droog all because they heard a song by The Rapture. New Rave was basically the UK version of EDM, but less people died.
But what started as a music journalism joke soon became a joke on music journalism. The appetite for new rave was huge, as an antithesis to the normcore Brit indie that had gone before. NME started putting on Shockwaves sponsored rave tours. A whole magazine, SuperSuper, and its cover stars - people like Niyi, and Namalee - seemed to only exist within its ironic walls.
What started as a piss-take became way too real. "The whole idea of New Rave was to take the piss out of the media by making them talk about something that didn't exist," Klaxons said in an interview during the twilight days of the genre, around the same time they practically committed heresy and banned glowsticks from their gigs.
Basically, something Jamie Reynolds and a bunch of Vice writers said at a party once ended up with an album that features the DJ presets on a child's Yamaha keyboard winning the Mercury prize. If that's not trolling we don't know what is.
A lot of genres start as an in-joke on Tumblr, but chillwave sounds more like it was invented to soundtrack the exhale of a graphic design student uploading a photo to Instagram. You'll get a sense of its sound by the phrases and cliches bandied about in almost every review or blog post about one of its alumni. "Soundscapes", "dreamy", "lush", "glowing", "sun-kissed". This was nostalgia presented by those who weren't even alive during the era they were meant to be harking back to. Music made almost exclusively by white men messing around with their laptops in their feng shui'd bedrooms.
Chillwave was invented and then perpetuated by Hipster Runoff, a website whose purpose was to troll everyone in music without a brain. Chillwave's greatest moment is not the fact that it's a trick; it's that it's creators made it's fans believe it was a way of life. Old dudes from places like Luxembourg catfished the world into thinking they were the future of music and lonely Romanians started stalking their heroes online. Beautiful.
If you had to make a list of everything punks dislike, the sea would probably come near the top. Have you ever seen a punk at the beach? No, you haven't. How would they sew Bad Religion badges onto a tiny pair of Speedos? This is why seapunk was such a bewildering trend in the halycon days of 2012; crusties decided to dye their hair blue, green, turquoise because water. Common fashion choices included yin-yangs, smiley faces and various mish-mashed religious iconography.
The New York Times called seapunk a "web-joke with music" - which is pretty accurate as Unicorn Kid is pretty much the sole musical export from the entire scene, and even he's packed it in now. That's not to say seapunk didn't penetrate the music consciousness though: Rihanna hijacked the look for a SNL performance and post-212 Azealia Banks tried to jump on the bandwagon for a bit too.
Vaporwave is perhaps one of the only sub-genres in this list that came with something close to a cohesive message. Born on Tumblr, 4Chan and Bandcamp, it aimed to parody yuppie culture, New Age aethestics and 80s retro-futurism. Imagine lounge music, elevator muzak and the kind of tunes you'd hear through a tinny phone receiver when put on hold by your bastard bank, all rendered for the digital age. A "soundtrack to austerity", if you will.
Vaporwave took its name from the software industry, a play on "vaporware" - the name for a product that was announced but never actually released. The genre also attempted to satirise Cold War-era ideas of capitalism - a promise that too is often never delivered. Pioneered by the likes of James Ferraro, Chuck Person and Macintosh Plus, the music involved had an eerie and dystopian undertone, emphasising the loneliness of the modern world.
Vaporwave was an opportunity for satiritic greatness; in the end it was just rich kids in the 2010s pretending to be rich kids in the 1980s.
Bloggers love genres; there's even a t-shirt for them to wear to show how many they cover.
Aquacrunk came to pass after a Glaswegian promoter put it on a flyer, as a tongue-in-cheek way of describing nothing at all really. Soon after the bloggers jumped aboard, thinkpieces and Guardian articles about the "watery" new electronic music craze popped up, throwing Rustie, Zomby and Hudson Mohawke into its' non-existent bubble bath.
Unfortunately, nobody actually called the scene Aquacrunk, instead those involved opted for the term "Wonky", which is frankly a far-worse name and proves that artists shouldn't be in charge of their own pigeonholes.
Flutedrop is the brainchild of Spanish-born producer Edmundo van Osteban III, aka DJ Detweiler. Detweiler, who looks like the kind of guy who would make a pass on your mum after you specifically asked him not to, combines modern dance classics with the bygone art of the recorder to create something wholly original and truly everlasting. He's #flutedropped Miley, he's #flutedropped TNGHT, he's even #flutedropped "Chariots Of Fire".
We only listen to flutedrop now.
Follow Luke on Twitter: @lkmrgnbrttn