How to explain music styles

How to explain music styles

Hands up if you’ve ever found yourself trying to explain the variations between subcultures or genres of music. Now keep your hand up if you’ve ever had to explain it to an adult, whether they’re family, teachers or just an adult you know. Put your hand down now. We show you how to be an ambassador for your subculture if you’re ever put on the spot about your lifestyle tastes…

Many adults simply don’t understand how one age group can vary so much in its tastes, from the chavs to the goths. From their perspective there’s no visible/audible difference between goth/industrial/emo/electro. They know we can hear/see the difference and find it overwhelming.

No matter whether you’re a goth, emo, indie kid, or any mixture of the massive amount of subcultures out there, you’ve probably had to try and explain yourself to other, less educated, more curious minds. Here are a couple of methods I’ve found to work while trying to explain various subcultures to concerned but interested people. Take a deep breath and have a go.

1) Dispel any myths

No, you don’t cut yourself as an initiation. You don’t slaughter goats as sacrifices to Satan. You don’t feed on the livers of small children. If you do participate in any of these acts, it’s best not to admit to them initially. Warm them up a bit first. Here is a rough guide to the sort of thing you could mention if you were put on the spot and had to be an ambassador for your subculture to someone who was feeling unduly worried about it:

What you can say about Emo: We dress in high contrast dark and light colours because our look has an edgy and maybe vulnerable feel but it’s also playful. Our music is quite rocky, with emotional lyrics. We like our music because it gives us a bit of a sense of release, but if you look beneath the lyrics and the fringes you’ll find we’ve all got a sense of fun. It’s a shame emo’s been associated with cutting. Some people out there might cut themselves for a sense of emotional release. Not all people that cut themselves are Emo, and not all Emos cut themselves. Emos are often interested in emotional release, but we do that through our music, art and our sense of style. We like to appreciate the beauty in life and also to recognise that nothing is set in stone, that clouds can have silver linings but even the happy things in life are complicated…

What you can say about Goth: Yes, there are lots of death motifs in goth. But this is because we love the escapism and romance of a bit of dark fantasy (vampires and the like). To be honest, we find it fun, because everyone going to see Lord of the Rings shows that a bit of escapism never hurt anyone. We’re also interested in the Victorian era, an age of industralism where the world was changing really fast thanks to inventions, factories and improved railways, and people weren’t sure what happened after death because Darwin’s theory of evolution was making everyone question their beliefs. We wear skulls for romance, and dark Victorian clothes for romance – we’re basically thoughtful people, and we like our music dark, moody and thoughtful. But we do think that in this modern world there’s more to life than the latest ringtone – like the Victorians, we quite like questioning ourselves. But most goths are actually quite happy. The Cure were one of the happiest bands ever! We just have romantic souls…

What you can say about Metal: I like metal but I’m actually not a really angry person. I just love how they use their voice and guitars – I genuinely find it really exciting to listen and dance to. I love that someone can push their voices like that. Yes, some of the lyrics can be extreme. I don’t mind the lyrics – they’re larger than life, and full of energy. That’s why I like them. I’m not automatically going to slaughter a goat because some death metal band is banging on about Satan. Sometimes I do appreciate the lyrics though – some of these bands have put some tough experiences into their music and all their fans get a lot out of how much these bands have put into what they do. Our subculture is actually really sociable and friendly, and we’re not weirdos at all. We just like our sounds to be extreme…

What you can say about Punk: Say whatever you like, you’re punk. It’s worth pointing out that punk isn’t about being mindlessly angry but about having informed opinions as well as pro-active energy.

What you can say about RnB: Yes, it’s a shame that gun and knife crime seems to be on the rise (let’s face it, this is probably why adults won’t like you listening to it). I don’t know if that’s tied into RnB or not, but I can’t help how other people view it, only how I view it. Many RnB artists are anti street crime and put that into their lyrics, and everyone’s making an effort. Yes, there are homophobic RnB rappers but there are also successful gay ones. Yes, some of the lyrics talk about ‘bitches’ and are anti-women but for every misogynistic RnB rapper there’s a strong female one with loads of record sales under her belt. I like RnB because some of the vocals are amazing and I like wearing the street style, it’s cool and inclusive and suits everyone. It’s not going to make me a gangsta…

Also worth a mention to confused people when you’re talking about subcultures: Sometimes you get people mixing and matching their subcultures. So you might dress emo but be into indie music. Normally we can tell each other apart – it’s healthy to mix and match because you’re not shutting yourself off to new music, but most people tend to be enough of one subculture – eg. ’emo’ – that they’d end up being referred to as ’emo’. With some subcultures you get a lot of cross-over, like Emo and Screamo (which is emo but infused with punk). Sometimes people are just labelled ‘scene’, which usually means you can see they’re heading in a direction (usually emo/screamo) but are giving them a general label because you don’t know them well enough to pin down their subculutral interests exactly. It’s always better not to shut yourself off completely though…

2) Give them some of the facts, like the music and style you’re into.

Try not to scare them away with obscure bands, but maybe start them out with some softer “radio safe” songs that they’ll probably have heard and sung along to on the way to work.

3) Don’t get angry.

Getting angry really isn’t going to help prove you’re a lovely person in spite of being part of a subculture and not a threat to society, even if you do wear black / flourescent pink all the time. Consider yourself an ambassador for your subculture – you’re there to prove that not all goths worship death, not all emos cut themselves, and not all indie kids want to drink Jagermeister and sleep with many, many hairy boys.

It may be tempting to shower them with shocking lyrics to provoke a reaction, because they’ve annoyed you. It’s not worth it – don’t bother.

4) Only use sarcasm if they’ll understand it.

If it’s just going to go straight over their head, then don’t bother. Their single brain cell can only take so much punishment. Don’t confuse them any more.

Actually, to be fair, an adult probably will understand sarcasm. But if you use it they’ll probably unfairly assume you are a locked-up soul and a tortured teenager who can’t express themselves without being sarcastic, so it’s best to play safe, give them the information they want, and not bother being clever about it. You’re an ambassador for your subculture, so your goal is to win them over, not win a battle of wits…

5) Smile and walk away.

If all else fails, this is your only real option – and if you can, do it nicely to leave the conversation on a high and show there are no hard feelings. If they don’t get it by now, it’s very likely that they will never understand why you dress the way you do and why you listen to your style of music. You can’t win every battle, so when you do lose, do so gracefully.

Now you’re armed with tactics, go forth and unleash your new-found weapons on any unsuspecting adults thinking of questioning your style.

Use the force wisely.

Negativity in Goth is a playful theme, rather than an actual obssession. Photo by the talented Mike Wood.

Emos consider life to be complicated, fragile and expressively playful. They don’t all cut themselves.

Screamos don’t have to be angry.