Whenever you buy a carton of milk, it comes with a lot of important information on the packaging. It tells you its nutritional facts, its location of origin, and, perhaps most importantly, its expiration date. Sure, you can usually tell just by the smell, but it's generally a decent arbiter.
Does music work the same way? Some forms of it are seemingly indestructible. I'm not sure the guitar will ever be completely abandoned, no matter how popular music programmed on a computer gets. Still, it might be true when we're discussing sub-genres and micro-genres, because some of them go sour fast.
Don't get me wrong. I love some subgenres to death that have become decidedly stale or even straight out rotten. The thought actually first occurred to me when I considered a band I used to love which fits into one of these categories: Dance Gavin Dance. The R&B inspired post-hardcore band played here in Houston a few weeks ago, and I decided to skip it. Why?
Dance Gavin Dance has played themselves out. Their genre is pretty much dead. The R&B inflections are no longer welcome in post-hardcore, and no band in that genre does the high-pitched singer/low-growling screamer duo anymore. In that way, they pigeonholed themselves from the very beginning.
It hasn't helped that they've tried to latch onto another dead trope of metalcore and post-hardcore: obnoxious misogyny. Count the times they call a woman a "bitch" in their music. It's disturbing.
I can still listen to their early work and really enjoy it, but their moment has passed and they're now a largely skip-able band for me. I don't even care if they play the music I like now; I just don't care.
It's telling as well that the band is on tour now opening for Finch, a band who hasn't released a new full-length record in eight years and is largely forgotten as well. They still have a core fanbase, however, which Dance Gavin Dance lacks, given that they have coasted on trends and bandwagons over the years. That's what must have determined the playbill here.
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What other factors determine the death of a genre, and by extension the bands within it, then?
Two big ones come to mind. First off, is the band still releasing music that no one is truly paying attention to anymore? As someone who gets paid to pay attention to these things, I can tell you a great deal of hair-metal bands from the '80s have recently chosen to record and release new music for their base of dedicated fans.
However, if you go down the street and poll fans of these bands, you'll probably find most of them have no clue the band they supposedly love is even recording anymore. They like what they like and they no longer want to hear new music of that style. That's a death knell for a genre.
Secondly, are they influential? Are new bands picking up on their style and reinventing elements of it? I'll grant that there was a very brief period this last decade where this happened with '80s hair metal, but it dissipated exceedingly quickly because no one really wanted to see those tropes come back except for record labels who stood to benefit from it.
More generically, however, you can say a genre is dead when no one is adopting even its barest fragments anymore. In this manner, your Dance Gavin Dances, and even similar bands like Chiodos, are the last vestiges of a dead genre. No one is picking up on their sound as new bands have come along to stick the knife in all they stood for.
Of course, you can make an argument that nothing ever truly dies. For years when I was growing up, it was a huge joke that disco was dead forever and would never come back. Now you can't turn on a radio without hearing a new disco song. Artists in that genre who were long considered forgotten are even making comebacks now because of it. Disco is alive and well, and it only took some 30 years for it to wake up from its coma.
Could there be a similar renaissance for other such "dead" genres? Perhaps. So maybe it wouldn't be wise to stick a firm expiration date on an entire genre, or to put the nails in the coffin just yet. Maybe coming to the conclusion that these things are dead is a mistake. Maybe they've just gone dormant.
Nevertheless, it's worth considering that some things truly do end. I'd be willing to bet money my formerly beloved Dance Gavin Dance is not going to suddenly start gaining fans. They're more likely to lose the few they have left before breaking up for good. I can hardly see them still being together when I turn 50, even playing at casinos or state fairs like their hair-metal counterparts.
In that light, it might be time to recognize that some brands of music, even ones we love, do come with a built-in expiration date. We may all have to accept that certain forms of music can't go on forever, and that we won't be shuffling to dubstep or EDM when we're old men and women.
That's a tough pill to swallow for the bands and the fans alike, but it may in fact be the reality.
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