Increasingly, data is driving music – how labels invest resources, where bands tour and what we listen to. Sometimes that data reveals the unexpected, and no one is better at sharing those surprises than Spotify’s Eliot Van Buskirk.
When you build a system for classifying music that reacts to cultural and acoustic information, some fairly strange-sounding clusters of music appear. These genres emerge based on how it sounds, how people describe music, and how they listen to it.
Let’s explore the most strangely-named music genres on Spotify. These are the secret rain forest dwellers and deep undersea creatures of the genre world.
We started with our list of 1369 genres of music (and growing), sorted by familiarity to bring up the more obscure ones at the bottom of the list. And then we plowed through in that order, plucking out the ones that sounded, well, strange to our ears, in terms of the music they were describing in English (see the full list for all of the genre names).
So here, for a bit of fun with data and musical exploration, are some of the most strangely-named genres on Spotify. You can click them to hear what they sound like.
Note: “Strange” is subjective. Explore more new and interesting genres with this list of 1369 genres and counting, which is sorted sorted by familiarity.
50 Genres with the Strangest Names on Spotify
aggrotech: This is electronic music that fuses elements of electronic body music, industrial, noise, trance, and techno. Aggrotech typically features distorted and pitch-shifted vocals, militant lyrics, and a fast, danceable beat.
aussietronica: It’s electronica. From Australia.
beatdown: Beatdown is type of hardcore punk characterized by a more aggressive sound and vocals that are shouted, screamed, or growled. Emerging in the ’80s, beatdown has slow, chugging breakdowns and later influenced the development of metalcore.
black sludge: A combination of black metal and sludge, the music.
brostep: Brostep is a variation of dubstep that some view as “Americanized dubstep.” It emphasizes the middle register sounds as opposed to the sub-bass content that dubstep accentuates. Brostep has more robotic sounds with a “metal-esque” aggression.
bubble trance: Bubble trance is bright, upbeat trance music.
catstep: This particularly-aggressive filthstep variation is promoted most enthusiastically by the label Monstercat.
crustpunk: Crust punk has a fast, dirty sound influenced by anarcho-punk, hardcore punk, and extreme metal. The style evolved in England in the mid-’80s and often has lyrics with a dark perspective on politics and social ills.
deep discofox: An goofily earnest genre featuring slick techno-disco and the occasional video.
deep filthstep: Only the true filthstep fans know their way around these more exploratory, sometimes lesser-known filthstep musicians.
deep liquid bass: Deeper cuts from liquid bass (for the serious enthusiast), which combine the sleek synth lines of liquid genres with the bass from drum and bass.
deep psychobilly: Deeper cuts from the psychobilly genre, which draws heavily on rockabilly and punk.
destroy techno: An invented name for a particularly hard-to-describe experimental techno cluster.
drone folk: It’s like drone music made with traditional folk instruments (guitar, banjo, strings, and possibly hurdy-gurdy).
ebm: Electronic body music combines post-industrial, electronic dance music, and synthpunk. It first came to prominence in Belgium in the early ’80s.
ectofolk: The kind of indie/folky music that the old Ecto mailing list was devoted to.
electrofox: Electro with some of the goofy earnestness of discofox.
fallen angel: Fallen angel is a dark, often-orchestral, form of metal that features female vocals.
fidget house: This variant of electro house features clicky treble and sludgly basslines, with blurry synths and a midrange tempo.
fingerstyle: Fingerstyle refers to music in which musicians pluck the strings of their instruments with their fingertips or fingernails, rather than with a pick. The fingerstyle technique is usually used on steel string guitars, acoustic guitars, and ukuleles, and often appears in folk, blues, and country.
footwork: Footwork is a style of music and street dance from Chicago that involves drum fills and hand claps. By improvising elaborate twists, turns, and movements of their feet, dancers move quickly to the beat of the music and compete against each other.
freak folk: Freak folk is a contemporary style that’s based on elements of traditional folk, especially in the use of acoustic stringed instruments. It also uses elements of experimental and avant-garde rock, psychedelic folk and rock, and jam bands.
freakbeat: Freakbeat is an ’80s name for a ’60s sound, referring to bands that experimented with studio production techniques. Freakbeat music features strong drum beats, loud and frenzied guitar riffs, and a variety of effects.
gauze pop: A descriptive name for a subtly distinct cluster of indie pop, which needed a name.
jerk: Jerk is a hip hop dance and music from Los Angeles. It focuses on a sparse but danceable beat.
jump up: Jump-up is drum and bass music that features robotic bass sounds and energetic, heavy drums. Jump-up began in the early ’90s.
lowercase: Lowercase refers to extreme ambient minimalist music. Lowercase recordings feature very quiet sounds, such as ruffling of papers, and amplifies them to an extreme volume.
mallet: It’s not a new kind of mullet; it’s a kind of music made with mallets.
martial industrial: Martial industrial, also called military pop, originated in late 20th century Europe. It combines traditional marches with influences from industrial, dark ambient, post-punk, neofolk, and neoclassical.
medieval rock: Medieval rock, or medieval folk rock, blends rock music with elements of medieval, renaissance, or baroque music. Medieval rock began in the early ’70s in England and Germany.
microhouse: Microhouse is a blend of house music and minimal techno. With origins in the ’80s and ’90s, microhouse gained popularity in the early 2000s with its minimalist take on house music. Microhouse uses short samples to replace drum machine sounds with clicks, static, or everyday noises.
nerdcore: Nerdcore is hip hop music catered to nerds. Lyrical subject matter may include science fiction and computer games. Most nerdcore features DIY production and uncleared samples.
neurofunk: Neurofunk is drum and bass that emerged in London in the late ’90s. It replaces breakbeats with backbeats and industrial timbres with funk harmonies, juxtaposing hard funk with influences ranging from techno, house, and jazz.
new weird america: New weird America is an indie folk/rock variant descended from the psychedelic folk and rock of the ’60s and ’70s. Its influences are broad and eclectic, including metal, free jazz, electronic music, world music, Latin, noise, and even opera.
ninja: Ninja music either comes from, or sounds like it could have come from, the Ninja Tune label, known for pioneering and championing its own brands of underground electronic dance music since 1990, with strong breakbeat and occasional hip-hop influences.
shimmer pop: Shimmer pop is closely related to indie pop and indietronica. Acoustical elements may include reverberated vocals and guitar, booming choruses, and use of synthesizer, piano, or drum machines.
shiver pop: A descriptive name for a subtly distinct cluster of indie pop, which needed a name.
skwee: The idea with skwee (a.k.a. skweee) music is to “squeeze” the best sounds out of vintage synthesizers.
solipsynthm: Solo laptop experimentalists.
spytrack: This sounds like soundtracks to spy movies.
stomp and flutter: Like stomp and holler, but with airy fluttering instead of earthy hollering.
stomp and whittle: Like stomp and flutter, but with a more traditionalist bent.
swirl psych: A descriptive name for a subtly distinct cluster of indie pop, which needed a name.
unblack metal: This black metal-style music takes the opposite (anti-satanist) view.
vaporwave: Vaporwave consists of samples of corporate muzak and TV commercials from the ’80s and ’90s. The samples used in Vaporwave are often altered in pitch or tempo and manipulated with compression or reverb.
vegan straight edge: Vegan straight edge is hardcore punk that espouses a vegan and drug-free lifestyle. Lyrics feature themes about animal cruelty and clean living.
vintage swoon: Old school heartthrob crooners from the depths of time.
wonky: Wonky is electronic music characterized by synths with unusual time signatures in abstract, hip hop-style beats. Wonky takes cues in its sound from instrumental hip hop and glitch but sets itself apart mainly by its lack of the heavy quantization seen in many electronic genres.
wrestling: The sound of wrestling stars.
Where did these genres come from?
Spotify’s music intelligence platform continuously learns about music. Whereas static genre solutions classify music into rigid, hierarchical relationships, which have a hard time keeping up with all the music in the world, our system reads everything written about music on the web, and listens to millions of new songs all the time, to identify their acoustic attributes.
This enables our genres to react to changes in music as they happen. To create dynamic genres, we identify salient terms used to describe music (e.g., “math rock,” “IDM”, etc.), just as they start to appear. We then model genres as dynamic music clusters – groupings of artists and songs that share common descriptors, and similar acoustic and cultural attributes. (And in the somewhat rare cases when a music cluster appears without a name, we come up with one.) When a new genre forms, we know about it, so you can discover it right away, too.
This approach to genres is trend-aware. It knows not only what artists and songs fall into a given genre, but also how those songs and artists are trending among actual music fans, within those genres. About a quarter of these 1369 genres are hyper-regional, meaning that they are tied to specific places. Our genre system sees these forms of music as they actually exist; it can help the curious music fan hear the differences, for instance, between Luk Thung, Benga, and Zim music, and plenty more in addition to the ones listed above.
See all of the genres we picked from on everynoise.com.
(Image via Flickr/Jonathan Lidbeck)