If you type the word genre into a tweet, the first option offered by spellcheck is ‘genre-hopping’. Clearly there is move against defining music using a single word, and maybe genre-hopping is favourable to ‘genre-bending’ or ‘genre-mixing’.
Suddenly it is no longer enough to simply produce rock, dance or folk. If you cannot cover at least two or three genres in the first 15 minutes of an album or live set, then frankly what are you doing making music in 2017?
The easiest way to show your music is worth more than a basic tag is to put the word ‘alt’ in front of a traditional classification. Hence we have alt folk and alt country. Similarly, just about every guitar band wants to be regarded as ‘alt rock’, though quite what is alternative about much of it may not always be immediately apparent.
The fact so much music is tricky to classify in 2017 is one why reason why the music scene is so exciting. And some of the most innovative and challenging sounds come from artists who, had they been born in earlier centuries, might easily have found themselves playing in music halls alongside, or in place of, orchestras.
The classic touch
So let’s raise a toast to alt classical. By this I mean music that, through depth of skill, feeling and experimentation, evokes similar sensory responses to traditional classical music. It is not just music for the present, but all time. Music that goes beyond a basic song line and is not easily equated with a particular era in terms of art or fashion.
Step forward Arca and Clark, both of whom happened to release new albums last week. Born in Venezuela but now living in London, Arca has added Spanish vocals to his new album. This, if anything, makes it easier on the ear than the brilliant if brutal Mutant, released in 2015.
Clark, meanwhile, recognises his brand of dance/electronica works better with visual accompaniment and so offers up dancers as part of his live act.
Fans of traditional classical are more likely to be drawn to Colin Stetson, whose track Spindrift, created by one man and his saxophone, has to be the most spellbinding piece of music made by anyone, anywhere, this year.
Stetson, along with say, Max Richter, are generally regarded as classical musicians. As they frequently stray into more popular territory, they command respect from a wide audience without exactly being household names.
But just because Arca and Clark are more likely to be heard in clubs than on Classic FM, why shouldn’t their talents be recognised in the same way?
I must also mention Manu Delago, an incredible player of the hang (and also a frustrated drummer) who thrilled a modest audience in a concert hall at Southampton University last week and deserves a far wider following.
Rock me please
The emergence of the consistently-excellent Erased Tapes label, home of Nils Frahm, Ólafur Arnalds and A Winged Victory for the Sullen, shows the growing appetite for music without lyrics, or which only uses words sparingly.
But this is nothing new. From the first time I saw Mogwai live nearly 20 years ago, I realised there something special about instruments doing most of the talking. This guitar-based sound was rather ridiculously labelled ‘post rock’ and, to some extent grew to encompass Sigur Rós, who still wanted to sing so invented an entire language to go with their music.
Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Explosions in the Sky have spent the best part of two decades bringing instrumental rock to a knowledgeable and intrigued fanbase. I am also delighted to see the US band Tides of Man returning to the UK this summer to play End of the Road festival, but expect to be just as enthralled by the synth-based sounds of Romare and Blanck Mass.
For in the main we listen to music because of the sound, and the feeling, that it inspires inside us. Play me anything that’s different and I will usually listen, for a while at least. Just don’t expect me to sing along.