Friday, 11 November 2011

Judgement and prejudice in music (is prog still a dirty word?)

IMG_0840 by mattstevensguitar
IMG_0840, a photo by mattstevensguitar on Flickr.
Prog used to be a dirty word, people used to use the phrase "It was OK then it want a bit proggy" as a term of insult. I think this is less the case now, but it still happens. I don't really class what I do as prog because it upsets fans who say it's not "proper prog". Fine, I'm OK with that, I'm trying to do something progressive, not "prog". But we all sometimes approach music with stereotypes about what it might sound like on the basis of its context, what bands they support and the scene they are part of. Someone wrote this about my album Relic the other day:


"Being a slightly judgemental music listener (I try not to be, but I know I am) I may not have given it a try had I known about his support gigs with Barclay James Harvest and Fish prior to listening to the album. However, I listened to the album with an open mind and I’m glad that I did as it is a bit of a gem, and a genuinely different musical experience."


I'm not having a go at Neon Filler, they gave Relic a great review and it is very much appreciated by it has made me think about the context I present the music I create in.

Should I choose my support slots more carefully? I dunno, I think I've been very lucky to play with the bands I have. I know Fierce And The Dead has a slightly different (more "post rock") audience to my solo stuff but whether this is to do with context/name/presentation or the music itself is hard to say.


But it has made me think about some of the judgements I've made about the music of others, it's easy to be judgemental.......

20 comments:

Guitar Jar said...

Mate, there's nothing wrong with liking, or not liking, "Prog". There's also nothing wrong with who you choose to support at gigs.

You're creating music; that in itself is a gift. Keep playing and writing what your heart leads you to do - that's the power behind the music.

Chrissie said...
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Chrissie said...

We get this a lot too. Loads of our reviews start off with a rant about how the reviewer hates prog, then they do a paragraph on how much they liked our EP despite that. Bizarre

Anonymous said...

Your musings about support slots makes me think of Trent Reznor and NIN in its early years. Reznor was keen not to get NIN lumped in with the 'industrial' bands of the time but pushed to tour with the likes of Janes Addiction. Not thinking commercially but genuinely where he saw his music sitting in the spectrum of all music.

Tim (Kalyr) said...

This is one of my hot button subjects. Anyone who would refuse to listen to any artist because they once supported someone "unfashionable" is an idiot who should absolutely not be pandered to. I'm sure you gain more followers through these supports than the tiny number of anti-prog bigots you might lose.

I've still got the scars from my treatment at the hands of the stoat-eyed acolytes who wanted Heather Findlay's entire existing audience to fuck off so that she could re-invent herself as a "mainstream" artist without the alleged stigma of "prog".

I very nearly walked away from her and her music over that, and I know of people who actually did.

Matt Stevens said...
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Matt Stevens said...

I've no problem with people calling my stuff prog, much of the music I love is prog (bruford, Crimson etc) - its some of the "proper prog" brigade that say my music isn't - which is fine. I also love Husker Du, the smiths, Aphex, Coltrane and all sorts of other other music and its all in there :)

I think anyone that know me either online or in person know that i'm not arsed about fashion :)

I think you're very lucky to have an audience of any kind at the moment :) It seems crazy to push people away because of allegiance to any perceived musical tribe.

Tim (Kalyr) said...

I must stress that trying to drive fans away because they belonged to the wrong "tribe" wasn't coming from Heather Findlay herself (It's not something I could possibly imagine her saying), but from some of her hangers-on.

Matt Stevens said...

Of course, musicians mostly just want to be heard :)

Interestingly I've heard of artists being asked to "prog their music up" by labels to appeal to their niche audience!!! Which is just as big a sell out as far as i can see :)

progzilla said...

What folks have to realise is that there is a often a vast chasm of difference between progressive music (small 'p') and Prog Rock (big 'P'). Bands like Wobbler, Glass Hammer et al are 'Prog' bands (ie: they're striving to recreate the sounds of the big bands from the 70's), while the likes of Steven Wilson, Anubis & yourself, Mr Stevens, to pick three random samples, are trying to do something properly progressive, ie trying to push the music in unexpected directions.

A wise man once said to me: not all prog is good music, not all good music is prog! B->

Paul Cusick said...

Labelling simply helps people find things, especially when the web has so much stuff. Do what you do and let those that feel the need to, do the labelling. Disliking one genre of music is cutting your nose of to spite your own face, but some people will do that....

Matt Stevens said...

Sadly that labeling also puts people off.....

I don't have an answer to be honest.

Tim (Kalyr) said...

I don't think you can draw a rigid line between backward-looking "prog" bands and forward-looking "progressive" bands. Especially when you cite Steve Wilson, whose most recent album "Grace for Drowning" very strongly evokes 70s King Crimson and Canterbury-scene bands.

It's a spectrum, not a divide. And every genre has it's fare share of unimaginative and derivative bands. Just look at Indie!

Lew Bear said...

As I said much briefer in twitter, it's similar in many niche genres.

Mostly I've seen it in folk, but I've seen it in blues and grunge as well

When I ran the Fringe Stage at Spratton folk festival, I did my best to include a lot of acts that to my mind were folky, but werent typical folk - and I think I did a good job of that!

There were many people in fact who entered that stage and said "now this is what folk music should be about" about acts that wouldnt have got on at hardly any folk festivals, precisely coz they werent folky enough

I also took some criticism from purists - it was always going to happen!

Niche genres are great for targeted marketing and the like, but often it's a lot better just going for people who like music, coz if these purists showed these same opinions about anything other than music they'd be labelled bigots, racists, homophobes etc

And sod pandering to people who're that closed minded!

Anonymous said...

I would say labeling it something is good. if it wasn't for Matt Stevens showing up in "Prog" Magazine I would never have paid attention.
In reality I think it's impossible to label Matt into any genre, no one has done music quite like it.

Mind Sculpture said...

I agree with Paul, people feel the need to categorize everything these days (also rather annoyingly the need to abbreviate i.e - prog).
My guess is that the definition of prog probably means different things to different people. The most common definition of prog would be bands or music that was created (or sounds like) in the golden era of the 70's - i.e Rush, Yes, Genesis, Gong etc...
Another definition of Prog would be "progressive music" - modern artists that try to push boundaries and be adventurous in their approach to making music - such as Porcupine Tree, Opeth, Radiohead, Anathema etc... these bands may or may not sound like music from the 70's, but will certainly share certain traits that are associated with bands from that era such as - top notch musicianship,creative approach to production, long songs or concept albums, proggy album covers - take Opeth's Heritage album cover for instance - are Opeth a death metal or Progressive band? Although traditionally thought of as a metal or death metal band, I have somehow always thought of them as somehow progressive at heart. No doubt some of the die hard metal fans will not like their new album because it will be considered a lot more obviously "prog" than previous albums. My view, much the same as Mikael Akerfeldt's, is that it sounds like a natural (for want of a better word) progression. Anyway, I digress....
If I had to describe Matt Stevens - I would say - a talented guitarist and creator of adventurous guitar based instrumental music - oh, and also a bit of a social networking slut (sorry Matt!). I would not change your approach one bit as it seems to have served you well.

Tim (Kalyr) said...

The thing is, the review Matt quoted said nothing about genre classifications, but mentioned the names of two bands Matt had supported, both of whom I've seen a number of times, and who have little in common musically.

How many gigs does the support sound exactly like the headliner anyway?

Tom Slatter said...

Pffffffft. Stressing about whether something fits into a genre, and whether genre matters, is childish and people who think it is important can be safely ignored.

(Full disclosure - when I was a student I wrote a dissertation on genre distinction in heavy metal. Yes, I am a nerd)

Genres are useful if thought of as spectrums (This band is a bit thrash metal, with hints of calypso) but most genre names are there because a journalist wanted to coin a new phrase, not because anyone has a musicological point to make.

One Fret at a Time said...

People have always had the need to categorize. That's pretty much an innate thing for humans to do.

I think problems pop up when someone, musician or listener, believes that prescribing to a genre means there are established boundaries that must be adhered do, which is rubbish. Some of the best albums I listen to cross numerous genres between tracks.

Make the music you like or listen to the music you like. People are going to label it whatever they feel like irrespective of what you think anyway.

For whatever its worth, I was talking to coworker about music and learned he "disliked prog". I gave him a ride home a few days later and we were listening to a band I considered "proggish". Before we reached his home, he loved it. To say the least, prog means different things to different people.

So ya, genre labels can cause some bias. But in the end I think people are going to like or dislike whatever they listening to, irrespective of the genre it has been labeled.

Anonymous said...

Interestingly I heard Jo Whiley doing a record review thing on R2 the other week, they reviewed "On'n'On" by Justice...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5KoP0MnyFAA

They were saying it was very proggy (there's even a Mellotron flute solo!!) and she was saying how much she liked it. Prog on Radio 2! Who'd have thunk it eh?

So I'm not sure prog is a dirty word anymore, Elbow openly reference early Genesis as one of their influences and musical competence (not wankery I hasten to clarify!) is becoming respected again.

That said, I've always thought genre allegiance to be pretty childish. I find most "normal" people just like what they like.

And hooray for that eh? :)

Jem

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