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A few retrospective music genres for armchair time-travellers

Occasionally I realize – with a slight panic – that most of the things I like are from the past: Federation houses, seventies thrillers, Soviet writers, eighties synthesizers . . . I am not the forward-looking person I thought I was!

New songs sometimes catch my ear, but then I’m disappointed to notice that the bassline mirrors something I already like, it having triggered some deep-rooted musical memory, forged during childhood.

It’s no secret that music is the closest thing we have to time-travel. It lets us relive moments of our life, certain intense feelings and experiences we had, carefully encoded along with whatever music was playing on a radio at the time.

Not only that: music seems to have the power to evoke images and memories that are not our own. Listen to 1930s jazz and you are flooded with images and feelings from no lived moment in your own timeline. Maybe they’ve been accumulated through watching lots of old Hollywood films, seeing archival newsreels of people jitterbugging like crazy; and all of these things associate neatly together in our imagination.

But perhaps there is another level to that type of time-travelling, maybe an element of magic, where music does have the ability to evoke things that are completely new and unknown to us. And we travel not just through time, but to the feeling of an actual place. The music has captured the experience of its creator, and it somehow has been passed onto us by the act of listening.

Anyway, that’s a fairly fruity idea that’s partly Jung’s ‘Collective Unconscious’, Rupert Sheldrake’s ‘Morphic Resonance’ — with a bit of Doctor Who melodrama chucked in for good measure.

As you get older, the music of the past is viewed from a new position — and people begin to regroup it, seeing patterns and similarities that you may not have seen at the time. Italian people are often surprised to hear about the early eighties genre of ‘Italo disco’, pointing out that when they were growing up, it was just called ‘pop music’. The term ‘Italo disco’ was floating around back then; but it was used by outsiders: the German record label ZYX used it as a name for a compilation, and as a marketing term, the way perhaps many music genres are first coined. But thanks to DJs and record collectors, new musicians and music journalists, ‘Italo disco’ has been set in concrete as a kind of retrospective music genre, its name pointing to its place of origin, the way Swiss Cheese and French Champagne both do.

But as far as time-travelling goes, Italo conjures up feelings of driving along the coast at night, sticky red aperitivos in sleek clubs, the street lights of Rome ala Dario Argento films, red white and green pop decor in cafes, cappuccinos in ceramic cups; but also school discos, learning how to play octave bass on a keyboard at band camp, and yellow LED screens on black plastic synthesizers! Some of these memories belong to the collective memory, and some belong perhaps only to me.

What we’ve heard all around us at certain points of our life — songs that were played on every radio station, many times a day, at roller skating rinks, milk bars, by cover bands at local RSL clubs — slowly disappear over time. We didn’t necessarily like this music when we were hearing it, as we already had our favourite bands that we liked; but all the same, we were still soaking it up without realizing it.

And in time, that background music becomes special to us too, as we no longer hear it being played. It becomes just as much a time capsule for life moments, as all of our favourite songs do.

One of those genres for me, which has also been given a retrospective music term is ‘Yacht Rock‘ — the American adult-oriented rock played mostly on FM radio during the 80s — bands like Toto, Hall and Oates, and Jimmy Buffet — that would sometimes have a slightly tropical feel about it, thanks to the musicians living on the West Coast, buying yachts with all their rockstar cash, so they could sail around Caribbean islands in their spare time.

But that tropical sound also came from some of the synthesizers they were using, which had built-in presets like wooden mallets, flutes, plucked strings and steel drums — particularly the Japanese FM synths — and these sounds often ended up in their music.

I actually think that many of these songs ended up as romantic background music for movie love scenes, where the lead guy and girl would dance at night on a raised deck by the edge of a beach, smooching finally under a string of coloured lights to the sound of crashing waves. Which had the unfortunate effect of setting a pretty high ideal of what romance amounted to, for many kids watching these movies with their parents.

And some of these bygone radio hits can still become new favourites. I remember going to karaoke with work friends a few years ago — something I’m too conservative and unadventurous to do on my own — and I was surprised by how much I enjoyed singing ‘Africa’ by Toto. The words just felt so good coming out of my mouth, they were easy to follow on the screen, and great to sing.

Anyway, following a much loved rule-of-threes, my final recommendation for retrospective music genres is ‘bardcore‘. This is more of a novelty genre, than a hardcore music journo genre — but it’s still awesome in its own way, and with a greater degree of time-travel possibilities, starting with my own karaoke-night revelation.

Interestingly, the third track, ‘Wideputin’ is originally the music for a meme of a ‘wide Vladimir Putin’ walking around parliament, but the track itself is ‘Song for Denise’ by Piano Fantasia – an Italo disco track from 1985.

So there you go. Round and around.

Photo by Logan Cameron, Unsplash

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