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Monday, January 11, 2010

Tribalism in Progressive Circles

"As I experience certain sensory input patterns, my mental pathways become accustomed to them. The inputs eventually are anticipated and even missed when absent." - Data on Star Trek: The Next Generation.

I've often wondered about why there are subgroups within the prog movement who endlessly complain and berate other people within other prog subgroups. There are some in the progmetal group who don't like classic progrock. There's some in the progrock group who don't like anything classified as metal. There's those from both groups who dislike fusion, and undoubetly fusion lovers who dislike prog, people who don't like instrumental music, neo-classical, female-fronted bands, zeuhl, deathy growls, avant garde prog, shredders, and the list goes on and on. If there's any truth today in prog it's that it's hard for all of these subgoups to get along and accept one another, and I think I know part of the reason why.

The progressive rock movement was born out of rebellion. In the late 1960's the baby boomer generation rejected the ideals of their parents and formed their own unique 'hippie' culture, set of radical beliefs, mannerisms, way of dressing, and most notably for us their own form of music. We can listen to their music today and is still very much relevant but I don't think we can still share that feeling they had of all belonging together in a way that gave them their sense of purpose. On a related note to my discussion in Colorado and regions of the Soutwest US today there is a subset of the population who live what is called the "Western" lifestyle. They are pretty easy to spot. They predominantly buy their clothes at Western clothing shops, wear cowboy hats, Wrangler jeans, leather boots, listen to country music, drive pickup trucks, eat their own kind of foods, and attend rodeos. I'm generalizing of course. But acceptance to this group of people is fairly straightforward. One simply has to adopt their principles and mannerisms in order to belong.

For whatever reason these subgroups are formed, whether through a desire to rebel, sharing in a common cause, or a need to fit in there is tribalism at play here. This being the unique set of norms each of carries with us to in order to belong to whatever subgoups we feel connected to. In the past I've included myself in many of these different groups with friends, musicians, photographers, schools, and professional organizations. Today there are endless clicks within the prog genre who have each created their own set of norms, what is acceptable within the group and what isn't. Those who do not adopt the same musical preferences as the group are viewed as outsiders to that group. Undoubetly within these groups there have always been the code-enforcers who are quick to point out others within the group and are all to happy to ridicule or berate them if they violate the accepted norm.

Let me throw out a few specific examples to drive home my point. My first example is probably one of the most divisive today in prog circles, and it has to do with the use of death metal or "cookie monster"-style vocals. I was reticent the first time I heard them and probably would have rejected them had it not been for the constant prodding of a friend of mine to listen to Opeth and the fact that I had read somewhere that Mike Portnoy loved Opeth's Blackwater Park album. It's ironic that the push that was needed for me to get over accepting the vocals for what they were had practically the opposite reaction among Opeth fans when the Morningrise CD first came out. Fans of the band at the time were upset at the band for "ruining" their death metal by including clean vocals in the music. In both cases the listener was forced to make choices that affected their own set of beliefs on what music should or shouldn't sound like. Some countries like Holland and Sweden seem to more readily accept this vocal style than other countries, so culture may play a role.

My second example relates to a few years ago when I made the decision to remove 5-10% of the music from the Progulus Radio library. I removed many power metal, classic rock, AOR, and heavy metal albums that I felt did not contribute to my vision of what a progressive radio station should be. After protests from a few of the listeners I did end up adding back some of the music that I had originally taken off. I did this because I realized that I had been following my own set of tribal norms and predjudices. Right or wrong this tribalism is is an unavoidable part of life. Even though I felt it was the right thing to do, I acknowledged the fact that my own views differed from that of other listeners. That is not to say that I'm ready to start adding back non-progressive albums like was done before, because tribalism does have its place and the line has to be drawn in the sand somewhere.

Progulus Radio today has a very wide range of prog subgenres, perhaps more than many listeners are accustomed to. I think this variety is one of the reasons that Progulus Radio has such a hard time attracting new listeners. The radio station that a listener is seeking must fit within their own predetermined set of ideals or else they are quick to lose interest. The now defunct UK70's radio station is a case in point. As their name implied, they played all old 70's UK progrock bands and they had a huge following. Likewise other internet radio stations today with a more focused playlist have many more listeners than Progulus Radio does. That's not a good thing or bad, but it does show how certain stations resonate to a greater or lesser degree with certain groups of listeners.

I would like to point out here that even with all the bickering and lack of acceptance within the subgroups in the prog genre, the listeners at Progulus Radio are some of the most open-minded people that I know. There will always be disagreement, but the jovial nature and willingness for people to get past their differences makes the radio station something special. We do get the 'tagboard police' on occasion who are quick to point out what they feel does or doesn't belong on the radio station, and that is fine because now we know the reason for it. Personal taste in music is affected by many factors, and tribalism and acceptance by peers is probably only one facet of it. Just like Data from Star Trek said: "your neural pathways have not yet become accustomed to our sensory input patterns".


guitarsean said...

First I have to say that even after 20 years of being a prog fan, I had never heard of zeuhl. I had to go look it up.

It is very much in human nature to be part of a tribe. That means there has to be some people in and some people out. It's also hard to get 'in' if you are a little different that those who already are. I see this a lot with bands that have long varied careers. People get possessive with music that has meaning to them. A line from Freak Kitchen comes to mind: "play me your favorite song and I'll convince you that it's crap. But if you listen to what I listen to I will slip into a funk". There are those who think Iron Maiden is crap without Paul Di'Anno, even after 12 albums and almost 30 years without him. I myself am not a fan of pre-Ray Alder Fates Warning. It just doesn't do anything for me. Then again, these are specific artists, not whole subgenres.

In a way it's like herding cats. To have Symphony X, Genesis, Panzerballet, and Radiohead under the same umbrella can hurt the brain of the most open minded music fan. I also think a lot of us pick and choose by artist more than by genre. I like Helloween but I'm not big on Gamma Ray. Why? I have no idea. They even share a founding member. Why do I like all of Rush's catalog but not Queensryche? It's all subjective. I think being aware of the oddity of my own taste makes me less likely to criticize some else's.

I am also glad the Progulus crowd is both open to new sounds and very "live and let live" when they don't like something. I think letting listeners make requests and letting us rate songs has a lot to do with that.

MAVIII said...

I guess to change a famous Star Trek quote:
"TO resist is Futile".

I had been thinking about (for at-least a Year) writing a "Poem"
as an "Opus Insert" for the next Chapter of my Essay's that started:
"The Rush fan will not bother with Dream Theater, yet it was a Rush for Dream Theater to influence their music, but their fans did not care for the heed of Fates Warning when Professor Peart called upon Mark Zonder as a fine Drummer. As Gabriel was surely missed from the Book of Genesis and jokes were made at the expense of a vocalist named Phil Collins, when long ago he started in the Battery with a mate named Hackett who pulled some strings and all together made beautiful music, but the fans deemed their seperation sacriligious, when Steve and Tony carried on without well wishes"
Something like that, you get the picture...

I sometimes get a bit put off when someone yawns at UK, or plugs their ears when Opeth come on, but I defer from "cussing" at them.
As Lamneth says, we "PrOguli" are VERY open minded. And many have other musics they listen to.
I look at Prog Archives, and I see soo much snobbery that I wonder WHY I even put up a reply to a post, even though they may not "attack" me, the answers or in-direct replies are soo overly 1 sided/mean spirited or "I KNOW what it means and its my way or the highway" that I remove myself from an Email alert.
And I wonder WHY would a bunch of Music Nerds attack a fellow Music Nerd...
Well its simple, they don't have any resource to "Get to Know" the other progger. The PrOgulus Chat Board knocks those walls down and builds a Bridge, right there LIVE you can discuss the music, politics, lyrics, food recipies and whatever else with a "human touch", a conversation.
I look at the HUGE list of Topics at PA and wonder why sometimes, its like I dont even want to see the malaise that they set themselves up for.
There was one that was soo damn funny (Paraphrasing):
"Why are Proggers soo Snobbish?"
Well guess what happened :P
Yup, "They" came out of the woodwork "Insulted!" :rofl:
...Yeah, YOU just proved the persons point.

MAVIII said...

I often make the analogy that here we are, this Genre that is soo insignificant to the rest of the world and bickering why a certain band doesnt belong on a lonely Internet Prog Station or why this band isn't Prog (or pick a rant) as if we mattered to the outside world. We are a piece of Lint floating in the Pacific Ocean.

I am sooo lucky in my mind that I can get into ANY sub-genre of Prog, but its also a curse in a way because I see so many that dont like humour in their music, or a etherial/atmospheric section, the "Cookie Vocals", or even "I dont really listen to the lyrics" :(
And someone will always point out how a particular song, for lack of a better word-SUCKS (and why).
I have heard some of the worst lyrics, or vocals on some songs, but NEVER in a million years would I want it yanked off or berate it to the point that it will offend the one who chose it or likes it (goes back to why I choose not to vote on a song I dont like). Especially if I know that a lot of folks like it.
Sometimes I can be amazed at how high a Band scores, but hey, the PrOguli have spoken, its part of the PrOgulus Archives for anyone to enjoy, even the 0.2 rated (you know, the stuff I like :P).
PrOgulus (as an example) works for "us" because of its variety, yet it can be detrimental to New Listeners because as Sean and Lamneth have said breaks a structure that most people are used to.
I guess I say to that, just be open minded and show a little more tolerance.

I really think PA as well as PrOgulus listeners need to read this and really think about it.
Okay so its not Woodstock and we're all not going to go into a Prog version of "Kum-bi-ya" but that showing a bit of respect for variety and tastes, and just possibly when you are quiet...

You may just hear something in a different way and come to enjoy it.
... or not.

"You talk as we walk along
You never imagined I could be so wrong
Humming your favorite song
You know I've hated that song for so long

How can we ever agree?
Like the rest of the world
We grow farther apart
I swear you don't listen to me
Holding my hand to my heart
Holding my fist to my racing heart

Take a walk outside myself
In some exotic land
Greet a passing stranger
Feel the strength in his hand
Feel the world expand

I feel my spirit resist
But I open up my fist
Lay hand over hand over
Hand over fist"

Does this mean that we can get "Athiest" back on PrOgulus? :D