Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Tag wars or where minimal comes from


I kindly sugest reading the last Sherburne's column at Pitchfork. It's a retrospective analysis of the term minimal techno - where does it comes from, what it means etc. This urged me to eloborate on this topic a bit.

He is absolutely right that today the word "minimal" is used so widely and intensively that it looses it basic meaning. Most of the music called minimal is not minimal in the classic sense at all. There are some elements of minimalism, but in fact in tracks of artists and labels like A.Smoke, D.Eulberg, A.Under, Ware, Areal, Circus Company there are so much things going on, this music is changing and mutating all the time. It has almost nothing to do with classic and pure minimalism as used to be produced by R.Hood, D.Bell, M.Vainio (check the last Mika Vainio's release - it is still so minimal). However, there are still released some music which follows the initial idea of how minimal techno should sound. For instance, M_nus releases are still quite minimal in this sense. That's right again - Kompakt people avoid call their music minimal any more, for example, when I interviewed Tobias Thomas, he described it vaguely as the new bass music that incorporates some popmusic aesthetics.

But if we look back we see that it happened to many music genre signifiers. Once one kind of music becomes trendy, becomes relatively demanded and recognised, the term itself gets largely marketed, and after some time it gets too blur, too aproximate, even confusing. To some extent it happened to Detroit techno, then more obviously to electroclash and electro in general. At one point electro was almost synonym to electronic music, although technically this music didn't have the typical electro beat.

Let's go one step further - I suppose this tagging and evolution of music genre terminology has more to do with emotions than strictly logical classifications. If simplified there is some dualistic evolution based on binary opositions going on. Imagine - the house music was born out of disco as an opposition to the first. Chicago house was an underground answer to the mainstream disco. Already in this century house music is too big, too mainstream, too everywhere, and some people started to call one kind of house music tech-house thus coupling it with techno and sort of distancing this music from the term "house music". Intelligent drum'n'bass/artcore was born in response to jungle. The same way trip-hop came out of hip-hop, and something similiar happened to techno as well. People started to call some of it "minimal" or "electro" thus segregating the new sound from some rather boring, too standard techno of mid-late 90's and hard monotracks (known as Schrantz).

Another point, which was interesting is the discussed column, was that most of the tags were quite unadaquate and even funny if we think of them. Just think of the term "Intelligent dance music" and use of it. Or "experimental" (well, nowadays it's already a bit out-of-date), or "progressive". Ain't it funny? What will be the next one?

1 comment:

neon b. said...

btw, here is some more discussion on this topic:

http://ilx.p3r.net/thread.php?msgid=7028162#7045842