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Friday, June 14, 2024

Region still matters for artists even in information age

Yesterday, I ran a column that investigated the influences of the Internet on the music business. In a nutshell, I said that the Internet has interacted with how we consume music in ways that aren’t necessarily obvious. Unknown artists are now more than ever able to become mega-stars with the ever-growing prevalence of viral videos. And because of the Internet, it’s unclear if music consumers or producers play a more significant role in deciding what rises to the top of the relevance scale.

However, despite this uncertainty regarding the popularization of some artists, the Internet has also led to a diversification in style and genre on the micro level. The Internet allows those without huge record contracts to have their music heard around the world, so even smaller artists can influence those willing to give their tracks a listen.

This segues into another interesting point: Many artists still honor, whether it’s conscious or not, very distinct regional intricacies with their playing style.

Even though pretty much everyone is connected via the Internet these days, artists in different locations still play in entirely different ways. These differences are blatantly noticeable within the U.S.—an area in which one might expect this diversification to be lessened due to the nation’s high Internet usage rate.

I’m not just talking about the whole East Coast versus West Coast days of Biggie and Tupac. Pretty much every nationally recognized genre in the U.S. is played differently based on location.

In California, one can still find traces of surfer rock in many prominent artists. Tera Melos is a prime example of this phenomenon. When someone says surfer rock, the first group that comes to mind is usually The Beach Boys. The term also evokes thoughts of vocal harmonies, power chords and cowabunga in general.

Tera Melos is just about the furthest thing from traditional surfer music. Guitarist Nick Reinhart is known for his excessive effect-pedal setup, which he literally runs across at times, and extremely technical odd-timed tapping riffs. But at the end of the day, I can’t listen to Tera Melos without hearing surf music—especially in the way Reinhart writes his melodies. Maybe it’s just in their roots.

So although math music in the same general vein as Tera Melos is all over the U.S., the band still holds onto some of the regional sounds of those who came before them.

I know this certainly holds true in my hometown of Chicago. It’s hard for me not to hear Cap’n Jazz’s sound incorporated into most Chicago-area skramz, post-punk and emo artists of today. It’s a sound that’s unique to the city. There’s something about that that I find kind of cool.

Even though we’re able to access any kind of music in existence, artists still somewhat stick to the styles of days past.

These nuances become even more pronounced when moving between countries. I think the best example of this is Japan.

Japan is one of the most technologically advanced and connected nations in the world. However, Japanese artists still heavily root their music in pentatonic scales—a staple of their past. Even groups signed to American labels like the Zeuhl (avant-jazz-prog-whatever) rockers Koenji Hyakkei, utilize these quasi-parochial ideas. Their music is anything but traditional, yet adheres to one of their home’s most well-recognized musical tendencies.

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I suppose the reason why I find this whole situation so fascinating is because despite our ability to connect over long distances, we still value our regional musical differences. Hopefully this doesn’t fade with time.

What do you think about regional differences in music? Think they should go away? Let Andy know at holsteen@wisc.edu

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