What is the world coming to? Once upon a time genre names used to mean something. Rock’n’roll had loud guitars and leather jackets, and disco meant falsetto vocals and glitter pants. Now that electronic music has taken over, it’s all glitchcore, pumptech, and sadhouse. How can the modern music aficionado keep track of it all?
The dance music community has long suffered from a tendency to invent countless inane sub-genres of itself. What started in the ‘80s as house and techno branched off into acid house and deep house, minimal techno and hardcore techno. Then they all got freaky with each other and produced tech-house and electro-tech. But these days especially, it seems like the sub-genres are multiplying at an alarming rate. We may be reaching critical sub-genre overpopulation.
While some of these genres are clearly real things with actual stylistic differences, the boundaries between a lot of them are really hazy, leading to endless arguments in YouTube comments along the lines of “This is considered hard-house but I personally think it is more minimalist so I think that it is really electro-trance.” We’re all doomed.
At least some people are having fun with it. A brief sampling of Soundcloud led me to producers who labeled their tracks “colonial house” and “George Lucas-step.” But many of the sub-genre creators may be little too serious about their creations. We decided to scour the internet and round up 10 of the most ridiculous sub-genres out there today.
Have you ever been pounded in the temples by a zombie hummingbird with a tiny sledgehammer attached to its wings? That, more or less is splittercore. It’s a sub-genre of speedcore, which is itself a sub-genre of hardcore techno, in which extremely distorted beats are sped up to 600 BPM or more (some context: most electronic music hangs out in the 120-150 BPM area). It’s somewhat interesting/enjoyable in a masochistic way, but I suspect if you listened to this on giant speakers at a club you might poop out all your internal organs.
And if you want more, try out extratone, the extreme speedcore variant in which the beat is sped up beyond 1000 BPM, becoming just a wavering texture in a wall of impenetrable noise.
A portmanteau of the words “ill” (meaning sick, dope, the bomb) and ambient (meaning the sound of waves gently crashing upon the shoreline), illbient was the moniker for an experimental scene led by multimedia artist DJ Spooky in New York in late ‘90s. Despite the somewhat lame sounding name the sound was pretty alright: a mixture of hip-hop aesthetics with hazy soundscapes and a pervasive feeling of urban grime. Like trip-hop, but for super cool artistes of yesteryear who hung out in industrial lofts before the internet was invented and talked about the nature of human consciousness in hushed tones.
Where do we even start with the unfortunately-named genre of “hardbag”? The mid-‘90s genre, described sometimes as “life-affirming,” consists of fast, hard house beats and happy, major-key melodies. But not quite as fast nor as happy as “happy hardcore”, which would come later.
Anyway, why was it named hardbag you ask? Stay with me here, there’s a good reason. In the ‘90s, a particularly lady-slanted stream of house music with big female vocals became known as “diva house” or, alternatively, “handbag house.” It was only a matter of time before somebody thought it was a good idea to make a hard-driving variant called, obviously, hardbag.
The hardbag era bloomed in the UK from 1992 to 1997. Check out the classic hardbag track “Don’t You Want My Love” by Felix, below. If that’s not enough hardbag for you, try out Artemesia’s “Bits & Pieces” and Tony de Vit’s “Burning Up.”
7. Yorkshire Bleeps and Bass
The short-lived but influential “Yorkshire Bleeps and Bass” movement is yet another case of terrible branding for a great electronic dance sound. Yorkshire, in the northern UK, is best known for green hills and purple fields of heather, but it’s also the location of some sooty industrial cities like Sheffield and Leeds, where a bunch of producers were making some great, bleepy techno around the year 1990.
According to the site ElectronicMusicStyles.com:
“The sound was characterised by harsh, funky minimalism, speaker-breaking sub-bass and electronic bleeps or other futuristic sounds. Unlike the present-day English techno scene, this early Yorkshire movement was inner-city, multi-racial and aggressive”
Ok, so it had lots bleeps and bass, but the best name you could come up with was “Yorkshire Bleeps and Bass?” How about bleepcore? Acid bleeptech? Sheffield bass?
Check our this tasty track from LFO, one of the prime exponents of the genre:
Nuerofunk is sub-genre of drum & bass that is particularly hard-edged and mind-melting. The term was coined by music writer Simon Reynolds in this very 1997 Wire article, to describe a trend in UK dance music that managed to be both funky and neurotic sounding at the same time. Reynolds described the style as the “eroticization of anxiety” and anthropomorphized it as “a stalker, furtive and morbidly fixated.” And if that doesn’t make you want to listen to it, I don’t know what will.
What’s interesting about neurofunk, however, is that the concept has stuck around since the late ‘90s where other sub-genres (see: hardbag) faded. Today the term is used sometimes to describe the manic drum and bass tracks of Noisia.
5. Full-on Darkpsy
Then there is psy-trance, the perplexing phenomenon that started once upon a time with hippies having spiritually-oriented acid dance parties on the beach in Goa, India. Today it’s worldwide, and considered something of a low-brow genre among EDM snobs. It basically sounds like this sound: “thubbathub.” Its practitioners also tend to be skilled at the hula-hoop.
The insane taxonomy of psy-trance subgenres are worth an article of their own. There is “darkpsy”, which is, predictably, a darker and scarier type of psy-trance. A subgenre of darkpsy is “forest psy,” made by Germans for use at raves in the Black Forest.
There’s also the sub-genre of “full-on” psy-trance. It was pioneered by Israelis who took the British slang term “full-on” to basically mean “non-stop.” Full-on was described to me by one aficionado by saying that it’s psy-trance where the “thubbathub” sound never stops. Somewhere right now, there is a trance message board post about how the rise of full-on is running the psy scene.
Then, people were like, “Let’s put together full-on and darkpsy to make a sub-sub-genre called full-on darkpsy, that’s a good idea.” According to the psy-trance website Ektoplazm, this genre is now being alternatively labeled as “twilight psy-trance,” because it’s best listened to at sunset. Judge for yourself:
4. Orchestral Uplifting
While full-on darkpsy might not be for everybody, it’s not the hardest sell in the trance family. That award probably goes to “uplifting trance,” which is described even by some of its fans as cheesy. I’m not even sure what its detractors might call it. For a certain kind of music listener, the style probably amounts to an extreme form of torture.
“Orchestral uplifting” is the sub-sub-genre of positive, emotional trance jams made even more positive and emotional with the help of violin and flute sounds. If a deep, dark part of you is curious what that might sound like, google Andy Blueman or Ralphie B.
Ok, now it’s time to switch it up: I actually think cybergrind is a fantastic name for a genre. It sounds like club music from the robot future danced to by laser-wielding technopunks.
Upon further research, I still think cybergrind could work in that context. If we’re going to nitpick, cybergrind doesn’t really hail from the EDM family. It’s actually a super-subgenre from the rock world, coming from the extremely intense grindcore genre, which is a mix of pounding drums and monster growls, related to deathmetal and hardcore punk. Cybergrind is the technology and science-friendly version of grindcore, which might feature digital drums, synthesizers, and lyrics about being a hacker with ninja-level skills. If you must, check out Genghis Tron, Alien in Uranus, Sky Eats Airplane, SYCX1.
No, Complextro is not a comic book villain armed with supernatural math powers: it’s an emerging sub-genre of electro house in which innumerable synthesizers are used in rapid succession, giving you that schizoid dubstep vibe without that wobbly bass. But other than that, the details are hazy. People are still arguing over the defining characteristic on the dedicated complextro reddit page.
Internet legend (ok, this tweet) has it that producer Porter Robinson invented the term to describe some of the tracks he was creating, alongside compatriots like Skrillex and Crookers. Complextro was among us already, we just didn’t know what to call it. Thank you Porter Robinson, we would be lost without another ridiculous genre name to hit #2 on our list.
Check out this track from Wolfgang Gartner, a chief complextro exponent.
Sometimes you don’t get to choose your obscure sub-genre; the obscure sub-genre chooses you. Belonging to the fun-filled world of pejorative genre names (see: brostep, yacht rock), clownstep was born when Dylan and Keaton insulted the track “Bodyrock” by Shimon and Andy C, due to it sounding like dance music for demented clowns, with its swing beat and insistent, wobbly bassline.
Soon after, the term’s makers lost control of clownstep. Forum trolls started accusing producers of being clownsteppers just because they didn’t like their music. Others appropriated the term and started labeling their own tracks as clownstep proudly. In the whole process, certain clowns’ feelings were deeply hurt.
Moral of the story: never make up a ridiculous sub-genre name to insult somebody’s music. Just tell them that it’s bad.