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Has the Internet killed regional sounds?

World full of Norway

Has the Internet killed regional sounds? I can’t tell where anything is from anymore. Albums and bands flood my inbox and mailbox, and they’re all blurring together. I’m hearing Eyehategod clones and American-style deathcore bands from Europe, Viking metal from non-Viking countries, and Darkthrone and Hellhammer clones from every other country. This both should and shouldn’t make sense.

It makes sense because the Internet allows one to hear any music at any time. 20 years ago, a band’s influences were limited to exposure through tape trading, record stores, and touring bands. Now its potential influences are unlimited.

But it doesn’t make sense because bands are adopting idioms illogically. Southern sludge, the bastard child of metal and blues, is very American. Why do Europeans ape Eyehategod? Conversely, how does Texas produce good black metal (Absu, Averse Sefira, Bahimiron, Brown Jenkins)? Texas is hardly a frostbitten kingdom.

The Internet’s effect may be more quantitative than qualitative. Tape trading allowed Swedish bands to sound like German thrash, and English ones to sound like American proto-grind. People will always seek out information and filter it through their consciousness. All the abovementioned Texas bands are not “Internet bands.” They are old-school, and have each developed an individual take on black metal. Influences are a constant game of broken telephone; often the more broken, the better. Hence, for example, Bahimiron‘s filtration of black metal through a hot, drunk, very Southern sensibility.

Bahimiron shirt

But the quantitative effect may be so large that it becomes qualititative. Tape trading allowed copying, both of recordings and playing styles. But the Internet works faster and with worldwide reach. Now instead of broken telephone transmission (time delays through mail, sound degeneration through dubbing, limited number of influences allowing room for one’s personality), we have digital networks blanketing the earth. Exact Audio Copies yield Exact Band Copies. Multiply this by the speed of download/upload, and the result is — for me, at least — widespread, suffocating homogeneity.

Perhaps the notion of regional sounds is illusory. First, they may not derive from environment. Regional sounds could result from isolated innovators who attract local imitators. Second, the perception of a regional sound may depend on the degree of hair-splitting. Zoom out, and Norwegian black metal becomes “thin guitar tones with tremolo picking and blastbeats.” Zoom in, and one gets infinite variations, like depressive, crusty, and thrashy. If bands these days are blurring together for me, perhaps coarse hearing is to blame.

Assuming a reasonable degree of hair-splitting (perhaps impossible for metalheads), metal has some geographically recognizable sounds: old-school Swedish death metal, Gothenburg-style melodic death metal, German thrash, Scandinavian black metal. But it also has regional assocations that aren’t necessarily cohesive. Florida death metal is one. Death, Obituary, Morbid Angel, and Deicide all sounded different. Is there such a thing as a Florida death metal sound? Bay Area thrash is another one. Metallica, Exodus, Testament, Death Angel, and Forbidden all sounded different. Finally, “true Norwegian black metal” may not have a singular definition. Darkthrone, Immortal, and Mayhem are quite unlike. A regional scene does not necessarily equal a regional sound.

Clones have always existed, and the Internet means there’s more of them now. Perhaps my complaint boils down to that. But the more clones there are, the less interesting the world is. Techno music comes to mind as an example. Ten years ago, there were recognizable sounds from Germany (hollow, banging), Spain (tribal), Naples (funky, bass line-driven), and Birmingham, UK (hollow, scary). Now not only has techno devolved into a soup of “minimal,” other electronic genres like house and trance have followed that trend. Is such homogenization happening to other kinds of music?

– Cosmo Lee

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