:Digging into Obscure Electronic Genres
published: 29 /
In 'Bandcamp Explorer' Mark Rowland searches on Bandcamp for electronica and discovers some of its more unusual genres and subdivisions.
Electronic rivals the metal genre for its mountain of confusing subgenres (in fact, I may do a similar thing with metal in a future column). For the most part, I have no idea what distinguishes one from the other. So this week, in an effort to educate myself, I’m digging into the electronic music genres on Bandcamp that mean the least to me.
The first genre we’ll visit is synthwave, one of several genres with the word ‘wave’ incorporated within them. Synthwave sounds like the soundtrack to a lost B-movie from the 80s, which to these ears is pretty great (though occasionally a little one-note). ‘Outrun is Dead’ by Mr Creep is a pretty solid representation of the genre – movie poster-style sci fi/horror cover, retro-future typeface, big, synthy tunes that sit just on the right side of cheesy. Recent release ‘Luminous Times’ by The TCR is a good next step.
Let’s take a look at another ‘wave’ genre. Vaporwave is a mishmash of retro computer imagery, slowed down samples, funky rhythms and wispy synth noises. Where better to start with this genre than the compilation ‘NOBODY HERE: The Story of Vaporwave?’. Expect cheesy 80s and 90s soul samples slowed down into something ethereal. Elsewhere, I really enjoyed '幽霊の破片 Debris Of Ghost Vol.1 and 2' by Sweet Bean Paste – very atmospheric, and less reliant on obvious samples.
Let’s get off the wave train for a little while – what’s witch house when it’s at home? This subgenre is a little more what it says on the tin. Witch house is, for all intents and purposes, goth dance music. The music is dark, brooding, and often adopts an occult aesthetic, sharing a lot of similarities with original goth, albeit made on computers. The genre is known for artists with unGoogleable names, often using symbols and numbers just like D3AD3MOT3 does on their single 'WHT3 SATIN'. Sidewalks and Skeletons is also typical of the genre – check out their very reasonably priced collection of their 2020 singles.
You’ve probably heard of EDM – electronic dance music – but what the hell is IDM? It’s intelligent dance music, dummy! You’re clearly not smart enough for this genre. Just what makes it intelligent is a little lost on me, if I’m honest (yes, I’m a dummy too), but it does result in some interesting music. New York’s Sungazer have released three EPs of danceable tunes with odd time signatures, the latest being 'Sungazer Vol 2'. If you like jazz and blippy sounds, they’ll be right up your street. Nmesh’s 'Pharma' is quite a different prospect, though it adopts those odd time signatures. Sometimes tribal polyrhythms, at others glitchy noise, peppered with kooky television samples, it’s often a disorienting listen, but believe it or not, you can dance to it.
Speaking of glitchy, glitch is its own subgenre. I assumed it would be the sort of thing that Warp and Rephlex records used to peddle in the 90s. It’s not quite that, but there is some crossover. To my ears, much of the glitch music on Bandcamp sounds more controlled than the Warp roster, but there’s certainly ‘broken’ sounds to be found here. A notable recent example is ‘Long Player’ by Jan The Man, the solo project of Scottish artist Jan Burnett. It’s all stuttering synths and ambient noise, and it’s pretty great. To highlight just how varied this subgenre is, let me turn your attention to 'Chronos EP' by KOAN Sound, which is much more beat driven and dub/hip hop-influenced.
Let’s stop briefly in the world of chiptune, a subgenre that intentionally strives to sound like old video game soundtracks. Fidelity ranges from scratchy 8-bit all the way to full colour 24 bit (and maybe beyond). There’s a big difference between LukHash’s ‘CyberChip’ and Opus Science Collective’s ‘Girls on Bikes/Boys On Boards’, but they both have something to offer – the former a sort of lo-fi drama, the latter a funky, cheesy summer party.
Finally, let’s stop back at the ‘wave’ subgenres. Chillwave is another difficult subgenre to define. It as a lot in common with the other ‘wave’ genres and chiptune in that it incorporates retro sounds, but it offers them up in a somewhat dreamier package. It’s a term that’s also been applied more indie-centric acts such a Toro Y Moi and Neon Indian in the past. On the purely electronic end of the spectrum, ‘Spirit Realm’ by Mac Bandit is quite lovely. ‘Hello Goodbye’ by VHSTokyo is also very good, but you could easily argue is synthwave as much as it is chillwave. Or you could argue that it’s all electronic music, acknowledge that all of these weird little subgenres have been declared many times over, and enjoy the music for what it is.