Let me go back to the early days of the Pop Journal. Radio 3's evening news hosted a new group almost every day. Or we should say very new: they arrived with a demo under their arm or, in the best of cases, with a brand new album. In the ensuing interview there was always an awkward moment. You'd ask how we should define their music and most people swore it was unclassifiable, that it didn't look like anything. And you put on a poker face when it was obvious that they were listening intensively to the Ramones, Leño, Kraftwerk or The Police.
The strange case of Paco de Lucía
Hey, it's not evil: maybe they really believed in their uniqueness. But the announcer, the journalist in general, felt compelled to label them as a punk, techno, rock or funk band, in order to organize the program and synthesize their essential militancy. They did the same in magazines, fanzines, stores or in the record companies themselves. In this way, the blissful label helped them reach their potential audience. Then, once settled, they could evolve towards a more personal expression, as happened with Radio Futura or Gabinete Caligari.
Of course, I am talking about times of scarcity and uncertainty, when music could bring people closer to a group identity. It was not categorized by vice: it was intended to facilitate connections. It was tribalism, but it helped both the listeners and the artists. Today, you know, we depend on streaming companies, who guide us through their algorithms. The work of machines, but with contributions from humans. It was in this area of mystery that Glenn McDonald operated.
Glenn McDonald, a fucking legend! Spotify's data analyst is a master of music taxonomy: he has identified more than 6,000 genres present on the platform. I must point out that not all of them are pop: they include hundreds of folkloric categories (yes, there is the Aragonese jota) and many others of what, for lack of a better name, we encompass as classical music or cultured music, including religious songs and various avant-gardes. It's also worth knowing that McDonald's values geographical origin: there are two dozen varieties of ska, although I find it hard to imagine substantial differences between Chilean ska and Indonesian ska.
Contrary to what we might imagine, McDonald did not intend to lock the listener into one or a few genres. By detecting listening patterns on an (almost) global scale, I located new communities and facilitated with playlists the opening to other sounds, without snobbish prejudices or false sense of ownership. He guaranteed the diffusion of fresh hybrids by designating them, generally collecting denominations used by the musicians themselves or by pens in search of the next big thing. He ensured the survival of historical genres by merging or renaming them, assuming that they are as fluid as our own listening habits.
A tiny fragment of Glenn McDonald's map of musical genres.
Glenn McDonald's maps became so popular that they spawned clothing and other merchandising objects. He may even reveal too much information on his particular page, everynoise.com. At the beginning of December, Spotify decided to cut costs by laying off 17% of the workforce, about 1,600 workers; among them was Glenn McDonald. General astonishment. The company thus dispensed with a true musician, someone who believed that Spotify, apart from providing a service, could also be a positive force. It's a (bad) sign of the times.
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