Nowadays ‘post’ is one of our favourite idiomatic inventions. After ‘gate’ that is. Far too many genres are lazily described this way: post-dubstep, post-industrial, post-disco to name a few of the more ambiguous titles that inadvertently lead us to not bother finding out more.
However for me, I can look past the tiresome label of post-rock. It is a genre that has shaped much of my musical listening and inspired me hugely as a musician. It may have a devoted core of fans that like to think that it is a music for the minority (and they would like to keep it this way), but in reality it is a music that has a much wider appeal, often a backdrop to films and documentaries.
Now largely superseded by other forms, post-rock was the dominant form of experimental rock music in the 1990s and in many ways it characterised the epoch rather than constituted a specific ‘sound’. Nevertheless, most bands and artists had notable shared characteristics with the use of standard rock instrumentation, electronics and sometimes classical instruments. Often epitomised by a vast range in dynamics – quiet and gentle subtlety, to loud and aggressive explosions of noise – tracks will usually be no less than 8 minutes in length and rarely feature vocals. It is admittedly a genre that can often require patience, at least at first.
By listing five genre-defining bands in this weeks ‘The Bubble Playlist’, we give a rough guide to post-rock for the uninitiated and hopefully indulging and no doubt provoking to those who are more familiar.
The veterans of the scene and in many ways the fathers of post-rock, Mogwai’s no nonsense approach has seen them slowly grow in popularity over the last fifteen years to become a major player in the British music scene. You’ve probably heard them without realising, most notably providing the music to the highly acclaimed film Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait. Formed in 1995, the Glaswegian five-piece have a notoriously direct and loud live show, which they continue to share with us, having headlined several major festivals this year.
Not necessarily just the twinkly band you heard in the background to that BBC advert with the whale, but a true post-rock band who have inspired too many bands to list. Icelandic, quirky, with big guitar sounds and big atmospheres, they popularised the ‘bowing guitar with cello bow’ technique, which has become a classic technique of the genre. Although currently on a hiatus, front man Jónsi Birgisson’s falsetto vocals and the profuse incorporation of lush orchestral elements have made them the pin up boys of post-rock.
Explosions In The Sky
If ever there was a template for a standardised post-rock band, then Explosions In The Sky are it. That’s not to say they are a standardised band, although countless bands have tried to imitate them without success. Reverberant guitars weaving beautiful and intricate melodies around each other contrasted with abrasive drums and pulsating bass to create a powerful yet at times delicate sound that you would not expect from the Texan quartet.
A contentious choice for the playlist, many would argue that Tortoise are not post-rock and indeed they themselves try to avoid labelling. Genre classification, the perennial task of the music writer, is indeed difficult with Tortoise. They are however proof that experimental music can still find a place in a more popular market, at least in the USA. The Chicago-based instrumental quartet wield influences diverse as Krautrock, Afrobeat, Minimalism and Jazz, and there is a distinct lack of guitar. However they maintain the post-rock ethos and offer something both highly complex and accessible.
Godspeed You! Black Emperor
Godspeed enjoy a regal status in the post-rock genre, as much as I’m sure they would try to shun this themselves. Recently re-forming after a lengthy hiatus (a common occurrence for the post-rock band), the range and breadth of styles moulded together produce something that is unique. Gentle passages of melancholic strings, mournful guitar and recorded monologues have become the backbone to their sound, which many describe as symphonic. I would argue however that their sound is much more subtle than this, constructing intricate soundscapes that retain emotional intensity. Usually consisting of about nine members, you may have again heard more of them than you think, with their music having been used to notable effect on the big screen, such as in Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later.
Listen to the Bubble Mix tapehere
Or on YouTubehere
Do you disagree with the choices? Please feel free to comment below.