‘Rape Gaze’. The phrase has been causing controversy in the last few weeks after Pitchfork issued a statement officially retracting its use from a review of Salem’s new album King Night.
First coined by the band CREEP, it refers to an emerging genre characterised by haunted, atmospheric music with vocoder manipulated vocals; also referred to as ‘Witch House’, ‘Drag’ or ‘Haunted House’. The band have now disowned it, commenting, “It was a play on words which we never expected to be used as an actual genre”. Now however pretentious this may be, it does raise interesting questions. What counts as a genre? What meaning does the term have anymore? And what the fuck do these words even mean in the first place?
A whole slew of new bands have dominated the blogs this summer, all of a similar fuzzy, surfer, weed-induced disposition just waiting to be labeled as “Beachwave”
This rapid branding and debranding of genres appears to be occurring in the industry with remarkable frequency. So far within the last year, we’ve received two new ‘genres’ under the guise of Chillwave and the aforementioned Rape Gaze/Witch House. However, it doesn’t end there: a whole slew of new bands have dominated the blogs this summer, all of a similar fuzzy, surfer, weed-induced disposition just waiting to be labeled as “Beachwave”. And that’s not counting last years Neoshoegaze, Afropop, Zef…
This explosion of genre labeling hasn’t been unnoticed by the blogosphere either. Satire blog Hipster Runoff allegedly invented chillwave by promoting the term incessantly, and one look at their now classic “Genre Shirt”, where real genres (such as Nintendocore and Crabcore) are almost indistinguishable from fake ones (such as Poetrygaze, and my personal favourite Googlewave) shows how far this has penetrated the indie culture.
But why? What is so appealing about identifying music with incomprehensible words? The most obvious reason is the invention of music blogging, where the everyman with a keyboard and an opinion suddenly has a platform to talk and discuss any and all music available. In times gone by, small movements of bands would arise in cities or under a record label, cultivating a sound through a tight nit community which could take years to establish. Today, a blogger can pick bands seemingly out of the air, regardless of geographic location or level of talent, and brand them under some new term, which can gain wider recognition in the space of a few weeks.
Today, a blogger can pick bands seemingly out of the air, regardless of geographic location or level of talent, and brand them under some new term
This consequently has positive and negative effects. The good news is that this high turn around from artist discovery to classified genre means that when combined with the short-term attention spans of blogs, it creates a cycle of constant innovation. New sounds are constantly bought forward, and only the best will survive, producing a vast variety of new music, often rewarding and of high quality.
The bad news is obvious: it’s often confusing, pretentious, not really necessary, and anyone who doesn’t keep a day-to-day tab on thelatest blogs quickly becomes out of the loop. This forces the mainstream and the alternative genres further and further apart, leaving autotuned monstrosities to take over the charts and the Hipsters cradling their Sleigh Bells and Washed Out vinyls.
Whilst I might have come across as somewhat disparaged by this new genre cycle, it can’t be ignored that overall this is a good thing for anyone with two ears and a reasonable taste in music. Whilst these names might come across as idiotic, they only serve the wider purpose of uniting bands under a theme, which can possibly begin to break, and influence, the mainstream (The New York Times recently ran an article on Chillwave for instance). Let’s just hope they pick something more suitable than Rape Gaze next time.