The Lost Identity of Music Genres

March 4, 2010

I’m lucky enough to work in Soho, London: a buzzing little area of narrow cobbled streets. It’s full of everything you could want, and sometimes feels like a tiny (in London terms) cultural oasis surrounded by the tourist throngs of Oxford Street, Regent Street, Leicester Square and Covent Garent.

It is also home to myriad boutique fashion stores, record stores, and other attractions for the modern hipster. Each morning, I’ll pass at least one young, fashionable waif wearing a sequinned Metallica T-shirt (I kid you not) or a “vintage” (sic? sick?) Led Zeppelin or ‘Rage’ (as they’ve now been abbreviated to) T-shirt.

And it bothers me.

I know that fashion changes, and that the cyclical retro thing has always happened. But it’s more than fashion. It’s about losing the identity and support of a community.

The first record my mum bought for me, aged 13 (me, not my mum) was Iron Maiden’s incredible 1988 album Seventh Son of a Seventh Son. And then there was Megadeth. And Metallica (I liked them both; a big no-no in those days). And Slayer. And so on.

Yes, I was a ‘metaler’. As, mostly, were my friends. Many of us weren’t the popular ones at school. We were largely the outcasts, either because of our grades (normally higher than average), social backgrounds, physical appearance, or whatever. I guess the growing the hair long and the faded/patched denim is a reaction to that: if you’re going to be ostracised, you might as well go whole hog and show that you know that you’re not ‘the same’. It’s almost like stating that YOU decided to be the outsider.

Plus, of course, those physical things – the denim, hair, metal band t-shirts – identified other members of your clan. You were safe with others. For anyone who has ever been to a metal gig, you probably know that the fans are some of the warmest, nicest, and – yes – gentlest people you’ll meet (as long as you stay out of the mosh pit). And they’ll bloody-well stick up for each other too, when push comes to shove.

Now, of course, metal is fashionable. Like punk before it, and rock-and-roll before that (ad infinitum), the underground scene becomes increasingly mainstream as the masses vie for credibility.

Now EVERYTHING seems popular. The internet has – wonderfully – opened up every music-scene under the sun to anyone with a computer. It’s cool to like anything these days. You can ironically like X-Factor. You can like French electro. You can like a crackly YouTube video of a teenager playing a home-made ukelele. You can like Jewish Metal (and who wouldn’t?).

But alongside all this wonderful mass-acceptance and diversity of audiences, maybe we’ve lost these support mechanisms; the outcast credentials that once made us easily connect, empathise, and protect with loyalty.

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