The James Clayton column: create your own music genre!

Our brand new columnist ponders Justin Hawkins' recent genre branding, and considers others who have tried the same thing...

Justin Hawkins of The Darkness

Justin Hawkins, he of falsetto vocals and ridiculously tight flared catsuits, is back! Ah, the music scene has been miserably low on personality since The Darkness declined and Hawkins subsequently resigned and crashed into rehab. The former frontman of East Anglia’s finest is now fronting a headband-wearing group called Hot Leg who deal out deliciously ebullient rock ‘n’ roll with all the stagecraft and gleeful gusto that made the man famous.

Having been catapulted into the stratosphere on the back of “I Believe in a Thing Called Love”, The Darkness were callously discarded by the fickle public who dismissed their real-good-time rock as a fad whose novelty had worn out by album number two. The true believers knew though that this was no joke: this was rock ‘n’ roll, heart and soul. There is no place for pernicious critical snobbery in the realm of real unadulterated guitar geekdom. The Darkness – and concomitantly Hot Leg – may be daft and deliriously ‘ridiculous’ by everyday standards but, damn it, isn’t that the whole point of popular music?

In a recent interview with the Guardian, Hawkins described how Hot Leg play “Man Rock”. Last time I browsed through a record shop, there was no “Man Rock” CD section. This is a genre that Hawkins has come up with himself and decided defines his band’s sound. “Why Man Rock?” he muses rhetorically. “I think anything with ‘man’ at the start sounds impressive. Man-sized tissues. How big are they? They’ve got to be huge haven’t they?

Once you get beyond scary thoughts of what kind of creature would have such a nose that would necessitate such supersized sheets of Kleenex, you realise that Hawkins may be right. “That’s one rockin’ man-riff!” sounds like a decent enough way of describing a potent power chord. “Shut the hell up or I’ll kick your head in with my man-boots!” certainly sounds impressively threatening and tough. “Man child” maybe doesn’t have the extraordinary element, but there’s a sense of fun in that phrasing for sure. It’s when you get to slightly pathetic lexis like “man-flu” and “man bag” that you realise that Hawkins’s rule isn’t a cast-iron universal truth.

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Regardless of the merits of the “man-”suffix, Hawkins is crowd-surfing on a cracking idea here. Why narrowly confine yourself to industry-prescribed generic labels that most often mislead and lump you in a vague categorisation that no doubt carry negative connotations? Here’s a list of just a few of the artists who’ve imaginatively fashioned their own form of music to free themselves from faceless genre branding…

Gypsy Punk, as performed by Gogol Bordello

Because they’ve got the speed and non-conformist counter-cultural outlook of punk and because they’re a bunch of rag-tag travelling gypsies, Gogol Bordello’s compound categorisation is fitting. Altogether it conjures up images of a Romany caravan convoy full of boho berserkers hurtling through the countryside in a hedonistic hand-crafted cultural spree.

Jet Rock ‘n’ Roll, as performed by Guitar Wolf

“Japanese Ramones With Lower-Quality Recording Gear” just wouldn’t justice do to the joyous Asian sonic explosion of Guitar Wolf. They’ve got the leather jacket look and they’ve got their own rock ‘n’ roll zombie movie (Wild Zero). Inhabiting your own unique genre is the next step to cementing a strong individual identity to amp things up even more in order to become the globe’s favourite Far East garage gang.

Death Punk, as performed by Turbonegro

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Death brings the darkness, and cult Norwegian rockers Turbonegro, with their Turbojugend Army following, are too dirty and distinct to be generically labelled. Would the hardcore following in their marked denim jackets and mad enthusiasm for the politically incorrect party rock be so empowered if they were rallying around standard “punk rock”? No way, “Death Punk” makes things sound so much more excellently intense and OTT…

Shamrock ‘n’ Roll, as performed by Dropkick Murphys

For a band that sound like Sham 69 fighting The Pogues after a particularly raucous night down the pub, “Shamrock ‘n’ Roll” sums up the Oi-rish punk rock peddled so passionately by the Murphys. Proudly boasting a universal flag-waving fanbase festooned in band tattoos, the Celtic cacophony of the Dropkicks has been carried further to cult status thanks to their successful crafting of a unique niche.

Nintendo Metal, as performed by Dragonforce

Shredmaster Herman Li has also described the epic, fantasy-flanged sixsome as “21st century progressive metal” and “Bon Jovi that doesn’t suck on speed”, but “Nintendo Metal” ranks as the most memorable effort to genre-type the blazing bludgeon riffola produced by the band. Electric noises – courtesy of keyboard and ripping rapid-fire guitar solos – that evoke old-school gaming characterises the cathartic assault, and the songs are blissful blasts of brain-addling brilliance. It’s game over for anyone trying to group these guys into a straight-forward group.

More bands should grab the bull by the pointy bits and conceive their own genre category. It doesn’t just make commercial sense and made the band more appealing, adorable and open to cult adulation but it also makes them more interesting. If you’re blandly billed as an emo outfit, no one is going to actively explore your musical output. If you were to tag yourself as “Melodious Mopecore”, then maybe your fortunes will be more favourable. Are you going to stand out if the music press proclaims you as another northern-accent bearing indie act? Don’t be so drab: describe yourself as Ecky Thump Rock and you’ll capture the imagination of the masses and start a mass movement of eager Ecky Thumpers who’ll cling on to your every utterance and look to you as tribal leaders.

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I applaud Justin Hawkins’s initiative and his exhortations that we open up to embrace his Man Rock. The music industry needs more of this mad self-definition and diverse sound description. Down with the dull clichéd categories! Bring forth the fresh fantasised genres!

James will return next Friday!