Most people know that stereotyping is bad, right? If you’re thinking about making some grand sweeping generalisation, don’t. Clichés are clichés for a reason and every stereotype has a kernel of truth within it.
Welcome to the grey area. Get used to it; you’ll be here for a while. For many, music is the space where they find their people and, by extension, elements of themselves. Of course, most people don’t only listen to just one style of music because genres are fluid, and for that reason, most people have probably also been to a concert where they felt that they stuck out like a sore thumb. It happens all the time as we shift from one vibe to the next, digging deeper on every visit.
What’s rarer, however, are those few notable artists that smash through quasi-boundaries and hit it big, making fans of all kinds in what were supposedly niche genres. So in September, with two such acts in town – Nils Frahm and Jon Hopkins – the question is: what exactly makes things go pop?
Nils Frahm has done more for popular piano music than any other artist alive today.
Starting with a massive generalisation, Nils Frahm has done more for popular piano music than any other artist alive today. Whether or not you agree, his path is one that could have been so very different. Frahm’s tutelage in classical piano needs only two protogés (his own teacher, then his teacher’s teacher) until you reach Tchaikovsky, a nice tidbit, but more importantly, it shows how close his training, and the strictures of lineage, brought him into such a very gate-kept world.
Frahm plays five consecutive nights at Funkhaus in September, and you’d be hard-pressed to judge who will be at the concert-hall-cum-nightclub to see an artist who regularly plays concert halls, clubs, and festivals. While techno and classical might seem like chalk and cheese, it’s worth remembering that both share the same jaw-slackening sonic intensity for one reason or another. What’s important is that in evading the tropes, his music allows for often distinct communities to come together.
Jon Hopkins’ arc looks similar to Frahm’s, but Hopkins starts from the opposite direction. Though euphonically similar, Hopkins will always be steeped first in electronica, as Frahm is in the piano. Over the years, he has moved from dank clubs under railway stations to philharmonic halls, which is where he will play this month, and it’s odds-on that some of the crowd may never have set foot in that building or any concert hall like it.
His compositions soar and throb in equal measure, creating voids of ambience and minimalism
His Polarity tour, nominative determinism aside, is among his most ambitious work yet. His compositions soar and throb in equal measure, creating voids of ambience and minimalism in which you can clearly see the straight-line path connecting what would usually be opposing sounds. It is exactly music such as his, and so many others, that reveals the difference between opposition and antagonism. Opposition can be a useful foil in finding new creative modes, one which, when overcome, can take art and the artist to a whole new level of appreciation.
None of this is to say that there is anything wrong with the raw, unleashed physicality of the moshpit, nor the bouncing electricity of live hip-hop. On the contrary, it’s an expression of intense connection to a shared community, sweating under the spotlight cast by the genre at its purest. It is an incredible experience.
Yet, when music is limited only so far as the aura around its genre extends, it misses a trick, because when you’re standing under the light, all else seems dark. Celebrate grey areas, inspect them, play with them, learn from them, and realise that they are the only spaces capable of connecting communities and ideas that once seemed so very black and white.