State of the music criticism?


Hello everyone. I wanted to start this topic to hear your thoughts regarding what was mentioned in patten-fact interview. The point was that there’s certain problem with instant consumption of music and no place to discuss or research it when everything just scrolls down the feed.
I see this thought interconnected with criticism in music, and this thread is also a reflection on this article

What I see is that there is almost no negative tone regarding any new stuff. Let’s say we are talking about indie/“underground” scene, and not about 1/10 ratings in fact singles for nonsense mainstream hits. It appears to be reasonable when you just shed light on the music that is great and try to use strategy “ignore it and maybe it’ll go away” for all the other stuff. I do it myself all day. But I wonder if it’s the best possible way, just to let all the seeds grow and see the best of them to become great artists. I remember frighteningly harsh reviews in the past, almost “killing careers”. I don’t see them today but I see lots of bad music. The difference between past and present is that in the past you might read an opinion on music in a magazine and a writer with immense knowledge can explain why this music is low-minded and vulgar and just a bad copy of something you never heard of and this will have an impact on your taste and urge to dig and to know more either if you agree with author or don’t. Today there is no writer, kids just use recommendations to listen to the next playlist (there are certain media, you all know them, but still it seems like a dying profession). And the next playlist is just more new stuff. And why is it wrong? I don’t remember film where Moby said that, but quote was something like “when everyone around making mediocre music, the world eventually will be covered in mediocrity and then people will start to be comfortable with mediocrity”

It’s an axiom not to judge. Show me RA podcast comment that mix is garbage without minuses. You make music? Cool. Not my cup of tea but it’s amazing, keep doing it. Does this position add up value to the whole thing when it comes to modern electronic music, with all the accessible tools to make it and audiences to reach out to? Why don’t be more real? Yeah let’s go to this live techno act but the sequence and drum pattern aren’t changing for 10 minutes ahh I forgot that’s live, then you’re right, it sounds cool. And you, maan, everyone is raving about arca, I heard, but you just trying to copy his sound with 1000 other soundcloud producers with your obscure labels with same effected clangs and noise and gunshots. I guess I listen to a lot of stuff as anyone on this forum do and it just becomes more difficult to find great music because of soooo muuch generic tracks and labels that are actually mentioned, claimed as something cool and new, like it’s anything of substance - just to forget about it in a week. I’m constantly finding myself forgetting releases that I thought were great. I do not return to them, don’t have urge to give them another listen, can’t even remember why I liked it at first or recommended to someone. Have you been in that situation? I guess they just sound different and weird. We like that because it stands out. But it hardly means that you’ll want to play it to your kids in 20 years.

To sum up I just can’t decide which side I’m on and which will make us have more great music and strong scenes everywhere :1) let’s have no judgement and wait till this generic making guys progress to the moon - kinda what we have now 2) let’s be honest and criticize generic when it’s generic to motivate and to stop everything to be covered with mediocrity. I guess only more deep and analytical journalism can change it for the better, and refusal to praise all the new stuff just because this label’s consistent or this genre’s getting popular, and maybe same goes to promoters.

I’m not complaining, we definitely live in the best time possible with tremendous amount of new music and instant access to it, we’re blessed. I’m just interested am I alone on this or is it a common ground for a discussion.


the answer to this question is longer than I care to type on a smartphone but the condensed version would be this: when publications lost ad dollars in the shift to digital, criticism became “content” and writers desperate to hang onto what little there was to earn from journalism began to adopt the tone of publicists in a bid to keep working.

more than happy to continue this conversation, especially if it effects some small amount of meaningful change in the way we support and intellectualize art.


It’s funny how print media was in a pinch to pay writers and, perhaps my own writing was just too awful, but also had problems allowing for long form writing even just after the dotcom boom. For doing a review I used to feel that 500 characters was short.

Perhaps a print magazine with 140 character thinkpieces and reviews would be a nice balance of nostalgia and dedication.


I remember Triple R doing really short (twitter compatible) and to-the-point critical reviews in German Frontpage magazine back in the 90s. I enjoyed those and do miss that sort of reviewing today. Also I can’t really read reviews which sanitized the idiocyncrasies and biases of the reviewer. It always come across as pseudo-objective/balanced writing, like RA reviews which are mostly very predictable and overly polite.

Maybe blogging are coming back, idk.


I guess they just sound different and weird. We like that because it stands out. But it hardly means that you’ll want to play it to your kids in 20 years.

When checking new (or old, for that matter) music my first rule is: If I’m in any way ‘impressed’ by novelty, sound design, beat trickery, sheer powerful ‘impact’ etc is to leave it be.
And I must say to me 99% of recent UK post-club/digital stuff gives this impression. It seems these musicians want to one-up eachother in production design or novelty trickery. Maybe those musisicans should work in the ad world or do video game music instead.

Second rule: The music I tend to carry with me and still cherish I initally hated or was indifferent towards.


Absolutely agree with this. But I’d like to take it a step further - the music I value most is the music that I STILL hate or am indifferent towards. I don’t want to get too comfortable, cause I feel I will then stop learning, which I’m terrified of.


I do think the turn towards writing in the voice of publicists can’t be understated. It’s very rare I read music writing of any kind, let alone criticism, that does anything more than repeat already-existing facts, publicist-crafted sentiment, or fashionable judgments. Take a look at the recent coverage of DJ Koze, which amounted to a bunch of articles all basically saying the same thing: “check out this guy: he’s quirky but relatable!” And I deeply love much of Koze’s work (but I don’t think this album is as front-to-back brilliant as Amygdala).

That said, I’m not just in favour of bringing back criticism for the sake of it. My first wish would be to see numbers/letter grades just removed altogether. It’s a totally absurd practice that flattens the inherently open-ended possibility of music making and artistic practice by implying all music can be understood in the same way, and that it exists for similar audiences and for similar reasons. I’d much prefer music writers spent time trying to understand where the art comes from, and why, and how it came to be (that includes the techniques used, which really do matter). Instead, the critical move in music writing is always to contextualize art with reference to other music (usually prior canonical works or fashionable contemporaneous ones). This is not only poor critical practice but incredibly boring! It’s also striking that this critical move is adopted by very young writers (man, when I realised how young some of these critics were…!!). I don’t mean to argue that experience is always better than youth, but so many of these young writers ignore the true benefits of youth and simply feign experience, comparing, with a jaded insouciance, everything to the canon of bygone days they never saw!

It seems these musicians want to one-up eachother in production design or novelty trickery.

This is relevant, and, I think, driven partly by the fact that artists have to have ‘a sound’ to be deemed worthy of publicity. You need an ‘angle’. And novelty is the way to get that. It makes things harder for those who diligently and slowly build up a body of work over a long period to get recognised since they are never ‘relevant’ and yet those sorts of artists are often some of the most interesting folk!


well put. I didn’t want to play the old-guy card so thank you for that :wink:

(and, yes, amygdala is the superior record)


I think we gotta realize that press is often paid for. And when you take money from a label or publicist as an outlet or writer you’re agreeing to represent their message in one way or another. Not that that’s inherently bad or different from the past, because it’s not. Those paid for promo pieces pay for the reviews of stuff that doesn’t have any money behind it. This is entirely conjecture, but I imagine there’s nowhere near as much money floating around so the ratio of paid pieces to “free ( of course yo’re paying a writer but you know what I mean, no PR money)” you take as a publication is probably higher now than it used to be. Thus leading to this “polite” style of review or article being more prevalent.

There is def a danger though to being negative because people can swing just the other way and say “oh so and so has an ax to grind IDK maybe don’t send them promos”. I can imagine writers maybe being afraid of being put in that sorta situation with both PR people and readership - BUT then again, a lot of the writers I talk to and follow complain about how shitty PR people are lol.

I think Koze was a good example, but I would also look at the pieces that come out in regards to the new OneOhTrixPointNever… Warp has some $ so it would probably a good example of an opportunity for critics to really dig in and write a piece, whether it’s a paid for promo or a “matter-of-fact” journalistic review.

(Ok I think I lost myself but maybe ya’ll can pull something from my little rambling)


And I must say to me 99% of recent UK post-club/digital stuff gives this impression. It seems these musicians want to one-up eachother in production design or novelty trickery. Maybe those musisicans should work in the ad world or do video game music instead.

I’m glad to see I’m not the only one who feels this way about that scene/aesthetic. When I first came across it through the likes of Arca I was pretty impressed by his production wizardry and just how out there his work was in comparison to what I was listening to at the time. The more I started digging around and seeing that that type of sound was becoming more of a bonafide movement, what with the disparate cats coming out with some type of post- sound, the more it just struck me that it all feels like it’s just producers trying to out-weird and one-up each other.


But the other side of the argument is that this kind of one-upmanship drives genres forward, e.g. jungle. Still, in this case, I agree that this sound needs freshening.

Yeah, it’s about the balance of power, and it’s not really in favour of artists or writers. Where once it lay with the people who decided who got to make records, now, since everyone can make records, it lies with those who decide who gets to be heard, i.e. the PR folk. And the PR world is not exactly an accountable or transparent process, riddled as it is with nepotism and fawning sycophancy…


current music criticism is almost losing relevance just because it’s now just as easy (or easier) to listen to the new music than read someone’s review or impression of it.

music criticism really should reassess its place, its use, and its perspective. it can be good, it can be useful, but it doesn’t seem like many outlets are there to help the reader or anyone except their own ends (getting clicks). still very stuck in the past or in old ways of thinking about it, maybe?

sorta rambling thoughts about this, sorry, but I do feel this is a good topic. curious to read what everyone else contributes.


This is part of a huge topic that 100% does not have a straight answer but it my opinion I think it’s more a symptom of a few factors. Small scene, too much content and too much focus on money.

First the most obvious one is that its a small scene. People/DJ’s/Producers don’t want to step on each others toes when they’re super likely to crossing each others paths constantly in clubs, festivals, sponsored events etc. A lot of people that write reviews for RA, Fact, Mixmag etc are super involved with the backend/frontend of these scenes. I hear constant valid criticism from these people in person but its the sort of material that’d never be published, especially when they share the same booker/manager/promoter(the rise of the power the booker has is another topic I’ll save for a later date).

Another one is what @mr.shiver pointed out. It’s not as relevant and its easier to listen make your own opinion. Music was no where near as digestible as it is now with constant mix series, radio shows, show recordings, live streams and an endless feed of tunes on SoundCloud, YouTube or Spotify. Quantity ties in with this as well. There is an artificial demand for more musical content which is causing a quantity over quality issue whereby people become big based on how much they appear in these feeds. Take Roza Terenzi for example, 6 releases on different labels and 7 guest mixes on different platforms within 6 months. I got excited when I stumbled upon the first mix of hers I found but I’m already feeling fatigued because there is a lack of restraint from both myself and the team behind her projects(do you think they want a bad review to slow that train).

Don’t trust anyone that says there is no money in electronic underground music. We’ve seen the Avicii scenario and you’re in denial if you believe things aren’t on that scale of intensity in the “underground”. I’ve seen what some DJ’s get paid after its gone through the hands of club owners, promoters, bookers and managers and it is no small sum for a artist that plays twice a week. Critics are paid for their time and there good words, its simply advertising/promo/distribution under the guise of reviewing.

  1. good review
  2. more people listen
  3. bigger profile
  4. more money to be made in bookings
  5. team get paid
  6. repeat

Happy to keep this conversation going so feel free to call me out or add anything.

A few extra things…
I like Fact’s approach to reviews. I doesn’t give the reviewer a choice of what they want to talk about but it lets them be brutally honest.
Videogamedunkey is a Youtuber from the video game world that made a really good video about game criticism which I do think has plenty of parallels to the review systems of music as well.


earlier I almost mentioned FACT’s Singles Club as you did: it gives a more current way of checking things out than reading a ‘review’ would’ve in the past. this along with Spotify playlists and just general connectivity via social media gives us all a constant feed of new things to check out (if you’re friends with/following the right people). this has proven to supersede any need I once had for ‘reviews’ or critiques. I think criticism could still have a place but traditional reviews (as I think of it, Rolling Stone picking out 25 new releases of the last month with short write ups) is dead really.

hell, even music stores are better now: I know that every couple weeks I can go on Boomkat or Bleep and check out their feed of stuff with short write-ups and previews and probably find something i’d otherwise not have heard of. that’s replaced the music stores of the physical world with employee picks, basically, but it works well in my experience.


I know everyone makes fun of boomkat blurbs but, despite everything being a “massive tip,” I get quite a bit more out of their write-ups than most copy/paste blogger barf.


what about the way night slugs went off on resident advisor for giving their compilation a positive review, surely that plays a part, writers can’t be critical anymore because producers/labels have egos ygm


thanks for this post, really appreciated it. I thought about small scene argument too but in another sense. Some people criticize boiler as guys feeding off brands by selling underground culture to public. But I completely disagree because the whole number of people who love kind of music boiler is promoting and I guess we all love is relatively so so small comparing to mainstream that this kind of educated and affectionate exposure is dis-proportionally more beneficial overall. It’s simply more people get to know more great music. even if every event was sponsored when in reality that’s just a small part of all broadcasts. So coming back to music reviews, it adds up to a position that there is very small audience for this kind of music is general, so no sense to blame bad quality stuff , let it have it below … listeners until extinction or grow into something better


I think negative reviews and rating out of # are really the least of our worries. There are systemic issues with music “promotion”, let’s call it, since the collapse of the ‘blogosphere’ around 2013/14. Before then, things worked in a very (Ryan Holiday ‘up-the-chain’-esque) bottom-up style, small bloggers would write about things, and then larger magazines would jump on it to keep market share, meaning artists would propel in visibility quite quickly. Since then, systems like Spotify, or just the large publications going it alone means the flow has turned top-down. With a rather few exceptions, most artists I see thriving in the publication world today made their name in the pre-blogapocalypse, and continue without any real rivalry. In the end there are 1000 producers trying to sound like Arca because there are 1000 articles written about Arca (trickle-down culture), rather than 1000 writers picking out their favourite 1000 soundcloud artists who might be doing something unique, relevant, or irrelevant, or whatever, in an ultimately more democratic bottom-up cultural flow. All this without mentioning quality of journalism, or where salaries might happen to magic out of


Right, and that’s the point. A small group of people hold unaccountable power: even those who have criticisms of the business won’t voice them because of various worries they have. As individuals, their actions make sense, but as a collective, it’s bad for the ecology of the scene as a whole because it basically means small cliques of people with largely unaccountable power set much of the agenda.


I don’t doubt that there’s some money to be made or influence to flex from the event side of “underground” music but I don’t think that’s ultimately the source of the “systemic” issues contributing to the decline of music journalism standards. I think a large part of it is simply your run-of-the-mill millennial fear that’s fueling the overwhelming positivity we often see in what passes for music criticism anymore. it’s not commerce that’s eroding individualism, it’s social media and the fear of exclusion and/or fear of the mob. the new currency is status, not cash.