Why I find it difficult to categorise my music collection.
I have been watching this music video by Kamasi Washington quite a lot recently. The folk I know often describe my music taste as – ‘…a bit different’ – in comparison to some of the other stuff out there, this is fair enough. My music taste is mostly unsuitable, and in more formal places – like work – I don’t usually suggest music to listen to. I think it’s fair to say I’m a bit of an oddball when it comes to music, I definitely wouldn’t recognise a Dua Lipa track. It used to seem to me that weird music taste must account for something a bit fancy. I assumed that anything off the beaten track was a sign of value. Now increasingly I think that this attitude is mostly for clowns. This is especially true if the music is particularly nuts.
A friend once said he couldn’t listen to my music sober. He was saying, referring to a band called Death Grips, that they try too hard. This is absolutely fair enough, of course. How many people out there that have been irritated by hipster music I will never know, even accounting for niche Half Man Half Biscuit songs, about Primark FM from the 90’s, which is perhaps my all-time favourite. The point, in my opinion, is to listen to what you enjoy, regardless of trying to fit in with a certain category.
But choosing a track that’s suitable for work is not easy. Firstly, there’s music that everyone likes but isn’t work friendly. Secondly, talking about music is tricky, specifically why I like certain music, and it’s impossible for me to explain why I love PJ Harvey so much. The easiest thing to say is that I’m a cliché. Everyone likes PJ Harvey…don’t they? My smooth-boy colleague – a R&B fanatic – disagrees.
It’s definitely the case that in most countries everyone loves hip hop. Hip hop helps young people find a voice, even if it’s just anger at first, against what certain people say and think. Hip hop teaches you that words have historical context. The last time I saw De La Soul play at my home city, for example, was at – the soon to be renamed – Colston Hall. These bands, started decades ago, in many cases from the 80s, are replayed today, often in reference to gender, ethnicity, or culture, giving some perspective on a historical event that is currently being rehashed. Music that is heavy on political irony is not work-friendly, though.
Active Child, the experimental R&B harpist, describes his music as, ‘…a combination of electronic and choral music’. He is niche, humorous, but treads a fine line between self-parody and navel-gazing. This is clearly not something to play at work, either.
The music that I hear at work is safe, inoffensive, and generalist. It always seems to fit neatly into a category while appealing to all. The lyrics are bland, and the production is laid on thick. It’s OK. Nobody is going to get their knickers in a twist. But it makes me feel like I’ve been cocooned in a riot of beige. One of the things I hate about this kind of music is, even if I listen to it for the first time, I feel like I’ve heard it before. Part of this is due to the formulaic way it’s put together, which carefully follows a set pattern, largely making sure it fits into set parameters. The same can be said of music that is deliberately crazy or odd.
The categories new wave, post-punk, hip hop, R&B – a bit different – can be a barrier from the listener’s point of view, stopping you from hearing music as something more than a sub-group from a particular era. If there are songs explicitly marketed to mixed-race women, for example, I have never liked any of them. A specific sub-group is still the default position where a lot of music is concerned, on a work-friendly radio, at least. This is not the fault of any specific musicians, and they should not be undervalued or overlooked on this account. But, knowing how important music has been throughout my life, it’s better to listen to music outside of the narrow categories of their labels. Unfortunately, this can sometimes make it hard to fit in at work, music-wise.
The most work-friendly song I own?