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Byte Me Vol. 2: To Nazi or Not To Nazi

In the second edition of Byte Me, Ambika Muttoo talks genres of electronic music that seem like they’ve been deliberately invented to confuse her.

6 Mar, 2013

Ambika Muttoo


Will someone please tell me what the hell ‘romantic techno’ is? Is it techno I’m supposed to be listening to while lounging in front of a fireplace dressed in satin pyjamas? Is it supposed to be spun by a modern, Byron-type figure who DJs with a soulful, but faraway look in his eyes while dressed in a black t-shirt with a plunging V-neck? I’m looking at you, Europe. Easy on the chesty necklines, please.

I do not know what this genre is supposed to be. I’d never heard of it until I clicked open the mailing list email I received from the site. The Beatport link tells me that Trentmoller is included in this definition. Which means something is wrong with how I function, because when I’m listening to Trentmoller, my response is most definitely not, “What a perfect romantic techno track this is.” While we’re on the subject, I do not know what a lot of genres are because there seems to be a new one cropping up every day. Have a look at the Wikipedia section about electronic music genres here. It gives me hives. What is diva house? I may not know what “makina” and Ragga-jungle are, but they sound like they could be fun. And what is witch house with that all-important slash that segregates “drag” from it? RuPaul is drag, in my clearly limited opinion. The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert is drag.

Beatport also continually confounds me with its “genres on the rise” updates. Chip tune, progno, yacht house… where did they come from? I only just got hip to trap and now I’ve got all this other homework to finish? I have a feeling I’m sounding a bit churlish, but I’m really trying not to be. I’m just confounded because, and lets see some hands up in the air in agreement, how did dance music become a maze of genres? Granted this makes me sound like the village idiot, but my electronic world comprised of the fab five, growing up: techno, house, ambient, Asian Underground and psychedelic. And I turned out fine, didn’t I? Don’t answer that. When people like me were drawn towards EDM, the blanket term “electronica” was thrown at us and it sufficed till our ears became more tuned. Then, when things had to go the, I suppose, vintage hipster route, we’d broaden our vocabulary with terms like “IDM” and “leftfield.” Progressive was gradually introduced onto my iPod, legitimately associated with house, as was funky, or disco house, because the sound was so identifiable and iconic. Then drum and bass, dubstep and so on and so forth. I say iPod because I don’t remember not having it, but I’m certain that most of my listening happened in friends’ studios, because we’re talking turn of the century and a couple of years into it.


A screenshot of Beatport’s On The Rise genres. Click to enlarge.

There were heaps of other genres happening globally, but I took my time exploring these broad, particular soundscapes. I still am. I see how Chicago house is different from Detroit house, because they grew out of cohesive movements. I can tell a tribal track now because of its percussive elements. And then, I found this page on a techno website that really helped with all the various definitions of the masses of sub-genres that were unearthed. I want to send flowers to the selfless soul who created it, but I still don’t get the difference between, say, Eurodance and Eurobeat.

Having said all of this, I’m definitely not against progress. I think that dance music has turned into a sort of juggernaut and I’m rather pleased that this music, this way of life, is enveloping more and more people into its fold, as it did me. And with more people creating new forms of music, names will be associated with those new styles so they can be identified. My question is – how much is too much? Have we gone a little too strident about packaging what we listen to? And, consequently, is that how genre nazis get their fuel? Does a hairs breath between two synth lines warrant a whole new genre to be created? Is that sort of segregation really necessary? It’s a genuine question because the counterpoint could be that it’s identifying with a sound that keeps people hooked onto electronic music and how like-minded folks band together to form communities. Ravers will go to raves. Techno-heads will go to DEMF, Sonar or Awakenings. House, gabba, Dirty Dutch and trance fiends go to Tomorrowland. The techno, and tech-house lovers know that amidst the masses of music at T’land, day three with stages dedicated to Josh Wink’s Ovum label and Richie Hawtin’s M-nus imprint is where they need to be, if they find themselves at the festival. But is that the case with the masses of sub-genres as well? Is there really a yacht house community out there?

As a writer and listener, I’m grateful for a certain, orderly classification of genres. I can only imagine what my reviews, profiles and conversations would sound like otherwise. “There was a whoosh followed by that untz-untz noise, with wind chimes in the background which culminated into something that sounded like two whales mating.” But sometimes, when I’m sitting in a friend’s studio, as I have done all these years, or at a festival dancing my feet off, I hear something that makes me smile, and I’ll say, “What an awesome track this is.” And that simple, succinct sentence hits the spot.

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