The genre spanner

I’ve recently been asked to review albums for Bandcamp. In fact, I’ve been employed to be THE reviewer for Bandcamp. I’m very excited about that. And not just a little nervous.

If you’re not aware of Bandcamp, it’s an online platform for independent musicians on which to showcase and release their recordings. That image above is a screenshot of Snowmine’s Bandcamp page. It’s a great way to sell music online and also a great way to listen to, purchase and download music online, which is a good combination.

There are lots of great features like variable pricing, embedding, the ability to listen to the whole thing before you purchase, the ability to select whatever quality you wish to download, often right up to 24-bit audiophile formats, and the fact that once you have the music, you don’t have to do anything to it. No track renaming or album art embedding required. It’s all done for you.

There’s been a fairly radical update of the website’s front page, with a focus on helping people discover the music that lies within, and they were keen to feature as part of that a sort of ‘album of the week’. My job is to select a release and write about it for that front page. One album per week.

Here’s my first choice for Bandcamp Album of the Week.

I’m on the board of advisors for Bandcamp already, and I like listening to, thinking about and discussing music, so it was sort of a natural progression. Naturally, I’m very excited (as well as incredibly honoured) to be doing this. But there’s a potential problem that I want to address, and that’s the fact that I’m not really a “proper” music fan. I’m more of a musical tourist.

Let me explain.

Breadth not depth

I tend not to focus too heavily on one area of music, and instead, find things of interest across a range of different types of musical expression. As Howard Moon once said: ‘I span the genres. They call me the genre spanner’.

I know that I tend to be seen as ‘the jazz guy’ when it comes to DJing, and it is an area where I have specialised more than others (easily 70% of my vinyl collection is jazz), but I have also played disco, funk, indie rock, hip hop, electronic and reggae sets, as well as some sets that are an eclectic mix of them all.

In short, I like music.

Let’s say I was to review an album of folk music. Or electronic music. Or contemporary classical music. Or rap. Or even jazz music. A criticism that could be levelled at me is that I don’t have the ability to speak about that music with any real authority, since I am not a member of that scene.

My experience of music is one that has focused on breadth more than it has focused on depth. I love too much music to listen to just one type. But that means that I don’t really live anywhere, and I’m not part of a particular scene.

In the wrong pub wearing the wrong clothes

For some massive fans of heavy metal, it might seem unusual (if not entirely problematic) for me to be reviewing a heavy metal album.

I don’t look the part, I don’t often go to the gigs, I don’t frequent the same pubs and I couldn’t therefore possibly know the right things to say about a new entrant into that particular musical subculture. And to an extent, they’d be absolutely right.

But I like heavy metal. I don’t look like I like heavy metal, but I do.

Not all heavy metal, perhaps, but I know enough about it to tell when something’s amazing. I just happen to also like a whole lot of other stuff – from well-crafted pop to the most out, avant-garde experimental noise music. From darkwave to folk, grime to baroque, house to bluegrass, funk to minimalism. I go through periods of listening to just one type of music… but I have never become a fully-fledged member of any of the scenes associated with any of those types of music.

I may be in your town next

Rather than being resident within a particular musical scene, you could think of me as a perpetual tourist. And while a tourist couldn’t hope to (and shouldn’t attempt to) tell someone who lives in a particular place about their home, they can return from their travels with some insight and handy tips.

Because I’m not the sort of tourist that sticks to the main path. I go exploring when I visit, and when I come back, I have tales to tell of interesting things that you might otherwise miss. Wonderful things.

The sort of tourist that says “Oh you’re going there? Well, when you’re in town, you must check out this fantastic restaurant I discovered. It’s a bit off the beaten track, but it’s awesome.”

Like that, but with music.

I will be consulting with experts

I love reading record reviews by people who really know their stuff, but every scene has a body of knowledge that ‘real’ fans have as part of their vocabulary. So, if you’re a ‘proper’ dubstep fan (for instance), you’ll be aware of its history, its main innovators, a range of different styles and subgenres within the scene, some of the insider terminology and some of the backstories of artists, where they come from and what influences they have.

As a result, record reviews by people in the scene will often (rightly) assume a lot of that knowledge as a starting point. Generally speaking I won’t be doing that.

As a tourist, I’ll want to dive in and start exploring. I’ll pick up a few phrases and concepts, learn the basics, and use a map. I’ll consult a guide – someone who really knows what they’re on about – and then try and find things that make sense to me. Things that I can enjoy, and then maybe take home a souvenir to share with my friends and family.

That would be you, in this analogy.

Everything is always awesome all the time

My brief at Bandcamp is to “only write about things that are awesome”. That instruction comes directly from the boss. It’s my only guiding principle here. So my job as I understand it will be to hunt out the awesome wherever it may lie, hold it up and say “this is great, and here’s what’s great about it”.

The best thing about that for me, is that aside from being a musical tourist, I am also an unapologetic enthusiast.

Music is amazing. And so many people miss out on the range and the infinite variety of sonic, emotional, cerebral and visceral pleasure that comes from casting the net wide. Perhaps because they don’t know where to start.

So it’s an incredible privilege to be in the position to introduce people to stuff they may not even know they might like yet.

There will be no three-star reviews. Everything, each week, is, as far as I’m concerned the best thing ever! and absolutely deserves your attention. It might not be what you ordinarily listen to – but you can be assured of its quality.

Trust me. I’m a tourist.


How to submit your album for review

So you’d like your record to be Bandcamp’s Album of the Week?

You should read this.

One Response to “The genre spanner”

  1. Nicola says:

    Glad to say you’re not the only one… I’ve never understood people who restrict themselves tro one sort of music or art… not that I don’t have preferences, but I’ll listen and usually enjoy good music of any genre.
    @bagpus

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