The Internet and Social Media have both completely revolutionized not only how culture is shared but also how it’s defined. There are subcultures and micro-movements online that never would have existed if it wasn’t for instantaneous file sharing and the ease of use of media production software. All of the creative realms have been affected by web culture, but it seems like this transformation has had the most impact on music; entirely new sub-genres have come into existence that may never have happened if it wasn’t for Internet culture.
One of the main reasons the Internet has spawned so many sub-genres in the last few years is due to the ease of diverse cultural exploration that was so much harder to accomplish before the advent of Social Media. Previously one of the of the only ways to learn about obscure sub-genres was through magazines or actually having an in and traveling to these places to get a glimpse of the local underground bubbling artists. The Internet made it possible for anyone to become an expert on any micro-genre; their geographic proximity, affiliations, and demographics became secondary to having a thirst for new and innovative music. Someone in a small town in the Midwest could realistically know more about what’s happening in Brooklyn music then people actually living in Brooklyn. This removal of cultural barriers is one of the main catalysts in the expansion of Internet born genres.
The most famous or possibly infamous example is probably chillwave, a genre coined by the Hipster Runoff satire impresario Carles around late 2009 while reviewing some new tracks by Washed Out. He listed around twenty absurd genre names in trying to frame this new sound and chillwave was definitely the one that stuck. From there the meta-genre of chillwave spread like wildfire all over the web; Rolling Stone, The New York Times, and even The Wall Street Journal all did chillwave pieces that sought to identify it while at the same time questioning the validity of a genre half-jokingly invented by a blogger. Chillwave echoed a central quality of most Internet genres by being focused around a distinct sound, style, and aesthetic instead of geography, which is the main way most genres originate. By not having a central location or scene affiliated with the genre, artists were able to experiment and cultivate the sound at their leisure while collaborating with an eclectic blend of influences from around the globe.
That’s probably one of the most interesting aspects of its conception and of Internet music genres in general; it’s a cultural construct that has concrete origins but is more indebted to experimentation because it doesn’t rely on real world interaction to expand. As Pitchfork talked about in their chillwave dissection piece, chillwave’s actual origins really go back to the dreamy idyllic sounds of Boards of Canada, an early Warp Records ambient-idm forefather of sorts, and more recently to the 2007 solo album Person Pitch by Panda Bear. That’s what separates chillwave and a lot of other Internet conceived genres from conventional music evolution; the basis and style of their sound already existed in some form or another, but Carles was able to frame it and meta-brand it for an Internet audience that quickly latched onto the idea, and were able to expand on it’s model in any direction based on their individual culture and surroundings.
Electronic music is probably one of the best examples of a genre that’s extremely fertile for experimentation and Internet mutations. The majority of electronic genres are usually defined by their drum pattern, tempo, and the synthesizers and drum machines that are utilized, so any unique combination of these original elements can easily give way to a new sound. There are tons of new electronic artists from the last few years that are taking established electronic sub-genres and combining them into a new mass of indefinable genres.
An artist like Nguzunguzu takes the best aspects of bass music, juke, footwork, bmore, ghetto tech, r&b, and southern rap and completely Cuisinarts them until they sound entirely different then the original genres while still retaining the core elements that make those sounds so intriguing in the first place. The Internet has completely expanded the palettes of electronic musicians who can easily find everything they need to know about brand new sub-genres through a simple YouTube or Soundcloud search. Labels like Night Slugs and Planet Mu are taking the last twenty years of electronic music and completely transforming them into amazing new permutations. Mike Paradinas, aka the legendary idm artist U-ziq, and label-head of Planet Mu, has been one of the largest supporters of footwork and juke music, which are sub-genres born in Chicago that evolved from ghetto house and ghetto tech.
That’s one of the most amazing aspects of Internet genres and how music has evolved through Social Media and web culture; an English musician like Paradinas is almost single-handedly responsible for the promotion of an obscure American sub-genre that might have never become as popular in England and Europe if it wasn’t for his label. The Internet creates an atmosphere of cross pollination that consistently encourages new forms of cultural experimentation; if this is what music sounds like in the early 2010’s you can only imagine what amazing new genres will exist by the end of the decade.