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The Danger of Too Many Labels

Jerry Lucky Commentary February 2010

Copyright Jerry Lucky © 2010 All Rights Reserved

 

Iím not in the habit of getting involved in forum discussions, but every-so-often I give-in and go looking at whatís being said.

And many times I just shake my head at the wrong-headed-ness of some of the comments. I saw one the other day that caught

my interest. The various posters were discussing the dreaded term ďNeo-ProgĒ. Now, Iíve done a lot of research into the term ďNeo-ProgĒ

and Iíve come dislike it immensely, both for itís inaccurate description of a musical style AND for itís inaccurate description of a musical timeframe.

 

Back in late 2001, John Collinge at Progression Magazine asked me to put together an article on ďNeo-ProgĒ and I said sure. But as I started looking into the use of the word, reading the articles, doing the interviews and gathering the research I came to the conclusion that the term itself was deeply flawed and in no way did justice to the music it was being used to describe. This revelation was a surprise to me and took the article in a completely different direction. (Printed in Progression Magazine #40)

 

Needless to say my article raised quite a few hackles. As a result of this research I could no longer in good conscience use the word in my work. I couldnít use the word because of the Ďbaggageí that came with it. Why should I continue to describe something as ďNeo-ProgĒ when I knew that a good many people reading the term would gain a negative view of the artist as a result? It would be different if everyone reading just saw the term as ďNew-ProgĒ, that would be fine but most donít see it that way at all. Theyíve twisted the term to mean something altogether different and in most cases more confusing. Since that time I have continued to explain my views on why I think the term is so flawed, writing a number of commentaries regarding its use, most recently with a piece entitled 13 Misconceptions of Neo-Prog that youíll find posted elsewhere on this site.

 

But it got me thinking about the danger of having too many labels to describe the music we love. Iím a bit of traditionalist in that I appreciate some descriptive labels if they help me discover bands I think I might like. I like to know if a band is symphonic or prog-folk or prog-metal or Avant-prog or jazz-fusion. But if you spend any time visiting various prog websites you quickly come to see that the whole business of using labels to describe progressive rock music has gotten out of hand. We have so many labels now that seem to be there more to pigeon-hole the music rather than describe it. Not to pick on anyone in particular but what exactly is Crossover Prog or Eclectic Prog? No offence but do we really need more category labels that are used to describe music that already easily fits into the existing sub-genres weíve always known.

 

Iím sure the people who create those kinds of labels will claim they did so because they felt the music they were describing DIDNíT fit into an existing category. Iím tempted to say you didnít look very hard. Look, I know that individuals have invested a great deal of time and energy in crafting descriptions of those genre labels to help explain their use but to my mind thatís simply a make-work project since as I say, most of the music that is being created can easily fit into the existing genre labels. I donít think we need more labels. It simply becomes jargon and in the end is meaningless to the new fan.

 

There are some people who feel that we should have no labels what-so-ever and I must admit when I see where this has gone Iím tempted to agree. Then I cool down and I begin to see reason. As I say, I like some labels, and itís no accident I like the oneís Iíve included in my books or on this website. I didnít make them up. Theyíre labels that have been around along time, theyíre basic and most importantly they describe the music. Theyíve also stood the test of time. The way I see it, if you use a label and the person youíre talking to doesnít get the type of music it is, then I figure youíre using a bad label. If you need to describe what the label means to help someone understand the sound or style of the music, Iím not sure thatís a constructive genre label.

 

See, when I say the band is symphonic, you get it or if I say theyíre progressive-folk or electronic-prog or even Avant-prog or acid-folk you have an idea of what they SOUND like. But if I call something Post-Rock what does that actually mean and what does that music sound like? Again no offence but who needs that kind of label? Iím going to step out on a limb here and suggest we get rid of some of these incomprehensible labels. While I appreciate having some descriptive terms, I tend to think the fewer the better. But most importantly letís use labels that actually describe the music rather simply allow someone to put the music in their own personal little box. Last time I checked there were no awards for creating the most obscure labels. At least thatís what I think.

 

Jerry Lucky (2/1/10)