There was a time when the musical lines were firmly drawn, everyone knew where they stood. We wore our tribal affiliations proudly even if it meant ridicule or even personal danger. Walk down the street and you could tell the rocker from the Goth, the punk from the indie kid, the raver from the Emo, life was simpler then. But was it really? Well, maybe yes if you were only into one type of music, some sort of genre fanatic, but life was trickier for people like me. Could I tell my gothic mates that I was off to see Marillion at the weekend, or my hard rocking drinking buddies that I thought that the latest Cocteau Twins album was the greatest thing since spice racks? Best not.
Looking back it was an odd state of affairs, after all you don’t see Dickens fans chasing people down the street because they are carrying a Dan Brown novel or Dadaists pointing at Constable fans and ridiculing them for being “dinosaurs man!” But music has always been a more charged affair, or so it seemed. As the 20th century slipped into a new millennium things began to change. Musicians seemed no longer bothered by generic boundaries, we now see pop artists working with left-field indie types, chart cheese being embraced by rock bands and singer songwriters forcing hip-hop beats behind their music against its will.
But also the fans are different, that kid in the mall-bought Ramones t-shirt
with tickets to Ed Sheeran in her back pocket and Kendrick Lamar CD in her
shopping bag is all you need to know about a world where music is sold a track
at a time and music fashion is now dictated by TV rather than audio means.
I thought that this was the world I had been waiting for, one where music could be all things to everyone but I was wrong. I grew up in a house where TV was dominant and the radio and the record collection were the mediums of rebellion. Through them I understood the disenfranchised nature of punk and hip-hop, the escapism of the Blitz Kids as they evolved into New Romanticism, the search for new pop and the need to keep the rock flame alive and all the conflicting attitudes towards sexual identity, drugs and violence that us kids didn’t share with our elders.
But the post-genre world has delivered hipsterism and homogeny, everything coming together at the expense of originality into one diluted form, one beige middle ground. The culture we now have is one where the more people we know, the fewer we know really well. Similarly with music, the more genres we’re exposed to (in original or mashed-up form), the smaller or shorter-lived are their associated tribes. But not only have they become transient they have become open to all. It’s got to the point where adults are now more likely to share the musical tastes of their teenage children than at any other time.
Generation X has been replaced by Generation X-Box; new media now means it is handsets instead of hippies, PlayStations instead of punk, TV talent shows dressed up as musical opportunities and I want to go back home. I may not have known which tribe I belonged to but at least I felt part of something.