Genres are an abstract concept. And the problem with abstractions is that they create illusions of agreement.
50 people can read the same exact words, but in their heads, they are imagining 50 totally different things. Whenever we read about characters or scenes in a book, we all picture them somewhat differently in our heads (which is part of the reason some people are often disappointed with the results of a movie made based off of a novel).
Why not throw out the abstractions and start getting real?
If you've ever hesitated to answer the question, “What type of music do you like?” or “What genre do you play?”, you probably have some understanding of what I'm talking about. For person A, “techno” means Juan Atkins, Derrick May, and Richie Hawtin. For person B, it means Fatboy Slim, Prodigy, and The Matrix soundtrack. For person C, it means the latest Nicki Minaj single. I run into this problem all the time whenever the topic of trance comes up. If someone asks me if I like trance, I'm not sure how to answer; I love the type of music that I consider trance… but not the stuff that most people refer to as trance these days. If I say that I do, it easily gives them the wrong impression of what I'm in to.
It can be easy to go down this rabbit-hole of semantics and become obsessed, but what's the point? Some would say that it's a necessary evil for DJs… something that we can't simply ignore because it's at the very core of what we do.
I've found that the less I care about what genre something is, the happier I am as a DJ and the more open I am to exploring different things with my music. I tend to focus much more on the things that I like about music rather than how I think someone should categorize it. Yes, I do use genres for the sake of organization. But in my own music crates (whether physical or virtual), what they mean to me is all that is important.
“Yes, I do use genres for the sake of organization. But in my own music crates (whether physical or virtual), what they mean to me is all that is important.”
Beyond their use as a vague organizational tool, I find the idea of tossing genres out the window to be a rather valuable one. Anything that removes layers of abstraction and get down to what's really important is a good thing in my book. To me, it seems that it would be better to seek out music that appeals to both you and the audience you play for, while marrying together sounds that share similar moods, feelings, or elements. This is how people find their own sound… not by pigeonholing themselves into a specific genre-box.
The point here isn't that genres are useless, it's that getting obsessed with them is pointless. Instead of “progressive house” or “psytrance”, why not think “warm”, “groovy”, “spacey”, or “uplifting”? Or, think in terms of energy. These things are more important to you, and your audience, than sticking to someone else's definition of a musical genre or style. I understand that many DJs like to be easily labeled or identified with a certain genre, but personally, I'd prefer to be known for my versatility.
Have any stories about reaching out of your comfort zone? Ever take risks with your music while still retaining “your sound”? Tell me about it in the comments below!