Genre Gap

by Jonathan Dickau

Have you ever had the impression that the music establishment is just a little bit behind the times? Do you wonder why, when you finally do pick up that hot new album, your favorite songs are the ones they don't play on the radio? Do you sometimes feel as if you just keep hearing more of the same from the radio, and on music videos, even though there is good music going off in bold new directions all the time? Musicians don't usually stand still stylistically, but the music industry has to take a stand on various styles of music, and preserve certain standards within a particular genre, in order to do its business. What we often end up with, however, is something I call genre gap.

By maintaining a distinction between the various radio formats, and between the aisles and sections in the record stores, the industry provides for us a means of sorting through the myriad choices to find music we like. We get what amounts to a guided tour to choose what we want, but our ease comes at a price. The industry is so slow to act that some of the best fruit of various musicians' efforts is dying on the vine. The evolution of musical styles doesn't follow anybody's schedule or timetable, nor will it always happen where you are looking for it. Neither is it true that certain styles of music are only accessible to a particular ethnic group. New music happens of its own accord, whenever and wherever it wants to, and it has a magic all its own.

A recent issue of 'Billboard' magazine featured an article about a style called Eclectro, which has become popular on the London scene. It's an outgrowth of House music and Acid Jazz, fueled by the eclectic nature of some of the groups which have come out of the melting-pot of racial diversity in that part of England, over the last five years, or so. The American music establishment has not known what to do with this new musical style, or genre, and it has therefore done almost nothing. Unfortunately, there are negative consequences to this situation. When the "Young Disciples" first album was released in America January '93 (15 months after the album's British release), the group's lead singer had already left the band!

There are plenty of examples of this phenomenon, and it has been going on for a long time. The first Rock and Roll record* ever was probably "Hastings Street", which was recorded in 1928 by Charlie Spand and Blind Blake. Why did it take so long for this new style to catch on? We know from the story of Buddy Holly that even by the '50s, there was still a lot of resistance, fueled by predjudice, and that he was scorned by many for having the gall to choose playing the music he did. Nor was he the first to experience the resistance of 'polite' society and the entertainment business to the sweeping changes brought out by innovations in musical style.

The changes in today's political and social climate are both fueled by, and mirrored by, the new music of today. These changes are more than skin deep, but there is still a great deal of predjudice in the way that music is presented to the American people by its Music industry. I know that it's not possible to completely eliminate the problem as it's necessary to categorize a product in order to sell it. I wonder sometimes, however, at the choices of venue. I saw Tori Amos performing "God" on MTV's Alternative Nation, and I wondered 'Is this really Alternative music?' and 'If her skin were a few shades darker, would this song be on MTV Jams instead?'. These concerns are precisely why a cross-cultural style like Eclectro has such a hard time getting a foothold in America.

Our very own Hudson Valley is greatly similar to London, in respect to both the abundance of creative people here, and the ethnic and stylistic diversity of those people. We have tremendous potential as a region, in our musical community, and the community at large is finally awakening to this great resource. I have travelled fairly extensively, and I have not found the same richness of musical endeavor everywhere. The original music of this area's residents seems to be of a particularly high caliber in terms of both originality and professionalism, and I'm proud to have had an opportunity to contribute to the local music scene.

If you have the means to pursue it, the search for new music both locally, and worldwide, can be tremendously fulfilling. Make the extra effort to seek out something different, from time to time. Whether its a local group you like, someone you've never heard of, something you heard late at night on the radio, or a Cassette or CD which catches your eye, take a chance on new music when you can. There is a revolution in Music happening all over the world, as various cultures are being exposed to the music of other human beings. In a land founded on freedom, we should not settle for being left out of this revolution which we have helped to create. If anything, the musicians of the Hudson Valley should be leading the charge!

©'94,'99 Jonathan J. Dickau - all rights reserved

* - Check out "Rock before Elvis, ...", a 2 CD set on Hoy Hoy Records.
Send to P.O. Box 3091 Troy, NY 12181 if you can't find it.

This piece appeared in the October, '94 issue of Rhythm and News Magazine.

If you are wishing for
a sequel to this article,
proceed to
Closing the Gap

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Music and Playing


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January 20, 1999

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