high bias

in a recent discussion on the idm list, a certain publication was criticized for its bias towards a certain type of indie rock and against electronic music.

of course, any publication has a right to some kind of editorial focus. however, in several cases, this focus is not clearly stated, and can only be inferred through repeated perusals of their content. furthermore, as some publications (whether online or printed) get bigger, that unstated focus gets blurred, as they may praise both kraftwerk and the white stripes. however, this type of thing is the exception rather than the rule. and as far as kraftwerk goes, they are a hip band to namecheck right now.

this starts to create the impression that the publication is basically about music (or even say, independent music) rather than simply indie rock, while they still clearly give more weight and column space to stories about the brand of indie rock that had its roots in the mid-80's and rose to some kind of prominence and cohesion by the 90's. let me make it clear i'm not knocking this music or the people who love it. i love the pixies and many of their descendants (as well as the descendents), but there are other things out there.

on the other hand, electronic-based publications have their share of bias as well. i often see the same shutout that rock-focused zines show for the darker side of electronic music, such as industrial, dark ambient, power electronics, and breakcore, with a few exceptions. merzbow and kid 606 come to mind, but again, these are artists at the top of their fields.

in fact, it can be argued that simply by having the focus of one genre (electronic OR rock OR experimental OR hip-hop), any number of publications automatically turn their "focus" into bias. because good music is not often made in a complete vacuum, artists may be influenced by sounds outside their genre (or subgenre in some cases). those same artists can be unjustly lauded or ignored for their efforts. either the narrowminded publication dislikes the"impure" influences shown by the mostly status-quo music, or the artist is raised to the level of genius simply by looking outside their own backyard.

the hyper-fragmentation of music in the media has made it somewhat easier for artists fitting into one small niche to get some level of attention. each style has its own labels, club circuits, publications, charts, internet mailing lists and message boards; therefore niche artists have the chance to rise to the top of a very small game. at that point, they may have the opportunity to break out of the ghetto of their own making; they can be hyped as the best of their kind. that is, unless the tastemakers at larger, broader-focused publications have predetermined that said kind is not worthy of coverage. or worse, worthy of ridicule, simply because of guilt by association with a genre they don't understand.

this is both the blessing and the curse of genre- and scene-based music. there are two tiers of acceptance to fight through. before even getting to the top of a genre, you have to be clearly in one. not only does this hinder artists who don't think in terms of genre when they create, it also stifles creative growth in artists once they have landed in a genre. the prejudice against certain types of music is so strong that some artists avoid any association with their past once making the transition from one style to another. the examples that come to my mind are ministry (who went from new wave dance to thrash metal), and mikael stavostrand (who was in darkambient/industrial acts archon satani and innana before putting out minimal glitchy tech-house under his own name).

even this is simply another kind of trap: trading one narrow style for another. the music of these artists could be that much richer if they let their past or other outside influences in. but should they stray from a hermetically-sealed musical environment, they risk a loss of support from the genre-based publications essential in helping build an audience raised on this kind of fragmentation. thus they're left to deal with more mainstream, supposedly less-biased publications, who are just as used to the neat little genre boxes created for them, and give more time to more established artists, or those already with a buzz. and some potentially great music gets passed over or shot down.

i dont think genres are the culprit here - it's helpful to have signposts on the musical map to point listeners in a general direction. but after each musical explosion, when everything becomes a free-for all in a short period of time, the music world tends to readjust and recompartmentalize. the gates are closed off between cultures and influences. and we wait for the next explosion to set everything free again. i don't think music makers, listeners, or publications need to wait; we need to make it happen.

the title of this post is a kind of audio tape.