State of the music criticism?


@criminiminal as it stands it’s all still a bit up in the air. The current timeframe is 1974 - 1984 at the New Musical Express. This is to highlight the arrival of Kent et al in the early 70s, and the onset of the UK and US counter-culturel/Gonzo/New Journalism/Beats integrations within the writing which continued with punk/post-punk/New Pop etc (structuralism/European theorising).

Arguably a ‘golden age’ that encompassed these novel forms of music criticism along with new and progressive sounds along with societal upheavals/turmoil which all amounted to a heady brew. In my opinion.

That said, the scale will undoubtedly change as I progress, every month sees a new iteration, a fresh way of ‘looking back, thinking forward’

I would argue further that the NME in particular never recovered it’s cache post 1987 (Kinnock cover) up to its reticence to feature black acts in the late 80s.

I intend to find out!

Your ‘death of print’ as the death knell is interesting, however, some print that survives still warrants scrutiny and intellectual inspection by virtue of its own challenging text.


hugely agree with these statements. facebook & twitter are too linked to me personally and at the same time too general in the potential audience for me to want to get into debates over music criticism and this kinda stuff on those platforms. i’m really glad a forum like this has popped up and the amount of critical discussion about where we’re at that’s already being had seems like it was probably all bubbling under the surface for ages & has a lot of potential.

anyone feel like tryna advance any solutions…? feel like that’s what mat dryhurst has been tryna get at in his recent tweets. what do we do to try get around the advertising and monopoly platform models? should more ppl go back to writing blogs and try get a network going like there once was or is that too conservative/not sustainable? more independent video content like someone suggested (sounds kinda difficult)? a cryptocurrency blogosphere, u can pay tiny amounts of money to independent writers within the network instead of liking, retweeting, sharing links?


Should we cite the hype Dj Bus Replacement Service got as a proof that it’s now cool and trendy to play shitty music “just for fun” ?


@parrishcouncil I wonder if any solution intended to “correct” this shift would ultimately be done in vain. I have a feeling that any initiative on this scale would still be subject to market demand and that the demand just simply no longer exists (i.e. the rapid-cycling media consumption engine has created an intolerance for substance in its post-Pavlovian state).


We should probably share research…I wrote a 50-page essay that I never really finished taking stock of the US critical situation in general. Just starting my way through this thread and will then add any links or points I’ve encountered or formulated on my own. But very happy to join this chat.

I’m genuinely terrified by the way the negative criticism debate shook out last year and how the following theses seemed to become consensus in various essays and especially on Twitter:

  1. That negative criticism is a lesser form of criticism and an unproductive practice in an era marked by an oversaturation of new music
  2. Advocacy is the role of the music reviewer today and highlighting new and overlooked artists is the primary task of today’s music reviewer.

Have been digging into the various meta-critical debates within music writing for a hot minute and while there have been pieces sounding the alarm for several decades, we have entered a period where I don’t believe that the new generation of music fans and readers of music sites (I’m thinking of anyone over 20) will arguably have not been exposed to music criticism, but rather music reviews. And I think’s that an important distinction to note that I define as follows:
-Music reviews emerged from the Robert Christgau consumer guide model of ‘criticism’ that boiled down the text to a letter grade and are written in service of the music industry (at all levels, indie to major) in the sense that they exist to help quickly identify what music is worth their money/time. The review model fits with the overall transformation of music journalism into lifestyle journalism.
-Music criticism dates back to the eighteenth century (at least) and exists outside of artist relations, advertiser concerns, and auteur fetishization. It is inherently inter-disciplinary as music emerges from life itself.

To be honest, defining what musical criticism is and should be is where I left off as other projects came up. But I believe that negative criticism is an essential aspect of the critical process as it forces both the writer and the publication to confront its biases in taste and coverage. And as anyone who’s ever tried writing a good negative review knows, doing them right involves an intimate understanding of the subject that was devalued over time as reviews took over criticism and negative reviews often meant poor sales. For me to explain why a work of music is not ‘good’ means that I have to be able to pull upon countless positive and negative examples as points of comparison and thus necessitates a rapacious cultural diet.

Anyhoo, realize I’m doing what I said I shouldn’t, but this is a topic I’ve been thinking about nonstop for the past year and is the main reason why I joined this forum. I believe we must create new spaces in which to discuss with other critics how certain methodologies/practices are outmoded and how to make sure criticism is keeping up with how we consume music and is written from a place of understanding how most listeners experience/encounter music today. So yeah, I think just the co-existence of everyone here in this shared digital space is a necessary step towards recovering criticism.

*Side note: My own investigation began not from a growing disenchantment with music reviews–that had been in place for a solid decade–but rather from a place of appreciation towards contemporary television criticism and trying to understand that although criticism still exists and is thriving in some mediums, why is music criticism in the toilet? Just the fact that the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism has won by (I believe) three television critics in the past five years got me wondering how things got so bad/good.


@zurkonic @parrishcouncil sorry y’all, didn’t realize you were also having a more involved, articulate version of this convo over in the 'nuum thread…enjoyed reading over your ideas and links. thanks :slight_smile:


@zurkonic Had to read this quickly, but, will pore over later on and respond accordingly. First glance, looks right up my street.


You might be interested in Simon Reynolds’ discussion of high and low brow culture in Energy Flash. Oversimplifying: underground dance culture is at it’s best when utilising pop forms to make shocking incursions into mainstream pop territory. Acid house and UK Garage being two good examples in the UK. Also argues that attempts to turn genres ‘intelligent’ or ‘progressive’ is usually an attempt to deracinate black cultural forms and impose middle-class norms of cultural worth into scenes, almost always to the detriment of the music. Not sure if that last bit is relevant.

I do think there shld perhaps be more scepticism about the role of the major label industry though.


Thoroughly agree about Singles Club. I stopped reading years ago cause the one-upmanship to be negative was so irritating, and shortly after stopped visiting FACT entirely.

Negative reviews are fine insofar as they identify particular troubling trends in a scene’s evolution or whatever, but they were definitely being used as clickbait and the form tended towards taking pleasure in making it a brutal (and often personal) evisceration, glorying in their own wizardry with language. Might be fun to write, might bring in the clicks, but ultimately reading that stuff all the time is both boring and depressing.

Similar things can be said over some artists who complain bitterly online about anything written by anyone.

My 2p as a fan of music & good music writing rather than an active participant in any of it.


ARGH. Sorry, I’ve been trying to track down a digital or free copy of Energy Flash for a hot minute now as I’ve been assessing much of Simon’s body of writing and composing a critique to jettison the outmoded concepts (HCC, retromania) while salvaging his often constructive observations. And since it’s been a solid decade since last reading it, would really like to re-familiarize myself with some of the more nuanced arguments in it, like the one you mention. What’s so funny to me reading the bit you wrote about how he views qualities like ‘intelligent’ or ‘progressive’ (‘sophistication’ is another of his favorite targets) being used to deracinate black culture when implementing similar value judgments and notions of ‘good’ taste in his scene reporting in the 90s:

He also perpetuates his own middle-class and rockist norms to a frustrating degree in his essentializing of ‘rudeness’ and his bullshit populism (in his rave and EDM reporting). He just always strikes me like the posh boy playing punk until it gets too real and he has to run back into his penthouse and his specter is one that looms massively over contemporary music writing (and especially electronic dance music writing).


@str_apx @zurkonic when you two use the word “deracinate,” are you using it in the literal sense of uprooting (and to what end?), or do you all really mean to say “whitewash”?


Great question! I was actually digging into that word’s usage within afrofuturist criticism last night and it can seemingly have both positive and negative connotations. And think about why it would be used within afrofuturist writing (and the context in which Reynolds used it in the above quote). “Being uprooted” is a hallmark of the African diaspora that separated its inhabitants from their homeland, so in @str_apx’s comment, they’re describing a form of cultural colonization that echoes the already displaced, uprooted nature of black culture.

Interestingly, it’s a word Kodwo Eshun seems to enjoy employing in his afrofuturist outlook that seeks to employ various fictions to move past race all together…or to at least ‘uproot’ the meaning of ‘blackness’ that was imposed by western imperialists. Taken from tobias c. van Veen’s introductory essay to the Afrofuturism issue of Dancecult from a couple years back:
“Eshun’s radical approach to the deracination of blackness has lead to debates over the limits of black identity, embodiment and posthumanism.”

So really it just means to overturn something meaning or identity and can be used rather loosely. Does that make sense?


yes, but I think it’s unfortunate that a lot of smart people insist on examining globalized culture and subculture as if it exists in a vacuum, untouched by external influence.


Really Energy Flash is my only knowledge of his writing. I was too young to have any actual experience of the scenes he wrote about there, and I don’t know his broader journalism well. I amn’t into fetishising ‘rudeness’ but I think it is a vital part of much of the dance music I love the most, and I’m suspicious of attempts to try and excise it from ‘proper’ music or look down on it.

Cld say more abt it but I’ve gone into slightly more detail in the hardcore continuum thread.

@criminiminal I just meant ‘whitewashed’, obviously I’ve read it somewhere and read a false meaning into it. But the @zurkonic view of it seems more interesting! & certainly more informed about the background and other writers’ use of it.


It’s extremely unfortunate and also shockingly commonplace. And that’s where a space like this could serve as a much-needed intervention in such myopia…just the willingness that I’ve seen amongst users here to disagree or discuss music in a way that music sites have decided there isn’t an audience for anymore and that the nature of social media seems to preclude is just insanely heartening to me. Of course, I never saw either heading towards becoming the reaffirmation/consensus machines they are today. But when you think about how globalism came to be–through imperialism and colonization–it seems to be a distinctively human predilection to try and extend one’s familiar culture into the unfamiliar and unrelated.

Since you’ve over here now @str_apx, wanted to say first and foremost that we may share more of a similar type of thinking than you might think! I do not believe objectivity can be attained at any distance, be it up close or far away and in no way am I discounting Reynolds’ account because he was an active participant in the culture. For that reason, he has insight that I could never obtain. But I also don’t think one has to be part of a scene to be an expert on its music and culture. No matter how close we get, we can always overlook something or fail to identify it from afar. My background is in philosophy and history, so I’ve always been taken by questions pertaining to how does one describe an event or movement in the past without narrativizing it, without projecting unchecked assumptions and biases. And while I’m still developing my own means to do so, I do know that it involves never relying on just one method as well as accepting the fact that the conceptual framing device or idea that allows one to make of cultural behavior today may become outmoded in five years or five months. The main issue I had with the HCC (both as a theory and an alleged reality) was how unwavering and unresponsive it was to changes in technology and society it could never anticipate. It’s also rather ironic that for all the supposed self-evidence in support of its existence people and for all the simplicity that made the idea so potent–not to mention the nationalist pride over the development of its own urban electronic music culture that is so attractive to many–it became increasingly opaque and Byzantine the more it was discussed and analyzed (both by ‘the nuum generals’ and ‘the nuum dissidents.’) Part of the reason is that even in 2009, the way we conceived of genre was changing rapidly. As I noted in an earlier post over at the HCC thread, genre terms have long served a descriptive purpose and that the HCC was given its definition by the genres it supposedly incubated.

As I’m finding in my own research, Reynolds’ outmoded approach to historical practice was one that hewed closer to Hegelian and structuralist notions that presumed that words would retain their significance over decades when–as I’ve found in a paper on genre mutation in 90s electronic music–the word techno meant something different in 1994 than it did in 1992. Overall, I’m just in search of ideas, concepts, and approaches to researching and recounting history in ways that are dynamic and flexible as I don’t believe there is ever just one answer or approach to understanding something as complex as a scene. OK, this dude needs a nap.


Yeah I’m sure we share plenty! I did analytic philosophy at uni so I didn’t really learn abt Hegel or Marxism or any cultural theory. So on a lot of this I’m blagging I & I’ll be participating more as a curious amateur tbh! Finding the discussion interesting.


All good stuff @zurkonic would be good to share findings at some point. Despite my reading being more of the historical UK kind (albeit with heavy external influencing) it’s vital to use the past to critically examine the present (and see a future).

Reading these comments makes me also feel that class and its attendant antagonisms are important. A majority of the writers in the UK from the late 70s were autodidacts from working class backgrounds, they added an angrier, more individually stylistic approach to the ‘educated posh fraternity’ (women being on the margins too).

I suppose what I’m stretching to articulate is that these factors, allied to societal tensions and exciting, ‘new’ music, all created new forms of criticism, positive and negative, dry, witty and antagonistic, at odds with the corporate diktats, creating forms that still pervade today. hence the feeling that today’s criticism is PR rehashed puff piece prose. ‘Advocacy’ is a great choice of word.

The marking/grading system for me negates ‘reading’ and encourages surface reading that ends up with surface listening, the writing should enchant and seduce. The grading is a primitive algorithm, consumptive classifications for the supermarket sweepers wanting the new Adele release. Oh, and then there’s streaming …

Re: your television comment, do you think/fear that maybe music has no boundaries to cross, no edges to fray, no borders to surmount anymore?

Maybe Garry Bushell was right, music has just become light entertainment, everything becomes so-opted almost as soon as it appears.

Anyhow, that’s my tuppence worth, for now.

Interesting chat thus, nice one


The theoretical stuff is really interesting but going a liiiiiiiittle over my head. There have been some really interesting posts in this thread so far. I can’t even remember if it’s in this thread anymore, but the post about how Facebook/Twitter etc are controlling algorithms to control what we see effectively was particularly good and relevant. Mostly because my original thought was that the internet has lowered the barrier to entry for creatives, but also for critics. Just like it’s easier to get your work out there, everyone is a critic now too. I think that’s why we see a wealth of positive reviews, because someone out there is going to either like your project, or want to like it.

With that said, the barrier for entry is lower, but it’s also harder to get noticed now I think, unless you get picked up by the right people/company/online outlet. There’s probably swathes of music that I would like, that just isn’t hitting my ears, because what I listen to is mostly governed by the sites I check regularly, and my social media feeds/friendship circles. I’m sure that’s true for most of us here. I’m proficient at doing my own research on industrial techno because I like enough artists associated with that scene to find stuff that isn’t picked up by RA etc. For anything else (even genres I enjoy/would consider myself a fan of (electronically speaking)) I am pretty reliant on RA or someone picking it up and pushing it. For example, I’ve been checking out and loving Eris Drew’s mixes, but I never would have come across her if her mix didn’t make it into the monthly roundups by both RA, Fact and possibly even Pitchfork.

Basically agreed that music criticism is now mostly a form of promotion. I don’t know how we scale it back a bit. I think honest critique of art is good and should be encouraged. Another poster here said that anything mildly negative will get downvoted on RA/Reddit. This is definitely a problem. The comments on Reddit are useless for telling you whether a release is worth checking out or not because the initial reaction is almost universally positive, unless it’s an artist that particular community hates, in which case the opposite is true.

I think part of why this is a difficult problem to fix/discuss is that it’s hard to tell what is an honest difference of opinion, and what is a positive review, pandering for the sake of it. A recent example would be the new Jon Hopkins. As a big fan of his, I found the new album to be a huge disappointment and very bland. The comments online seemed to share my opinion, but all the reviews I have seen are pretty positive to very positive.

Maybe forums like this, where the focus is more on a topic of discussion rather than upvotes and downvotes will help bring discussion around albums back a bit. Anyone knows that trying to follow a genuine conversation on Reddit is a nightmare.

Just in keeping with the format of the rest of the posts in this thread: sorry for the ramble and I hope there are some good points in there. Have been really enjoying this forum so far, this thread and the discussion about deconstructed club have been particularly interesting to follow.


yes, it’s an interesting thread but potentially veering off topic somewhat.

I liked @parrishcouncil’s question to start putting some ideas out there of possible action. We can all see that one artist starting a forum can make a big difference already.

I think, just to look at these structural devices for communication that we all use, may have effects upon the entire community. Looking at which conditions over the years led to better results, and learning from it. Personally, I think there was something about Myspace that held a lot of strengths. There was something about its ability to communicate something particular about its users. You could click on a page and instantly know if it was something worth checking, or just another dud. If it was worth checking and you liked the music, there was a Top Friends feed where you could find recommendations of their favourite artists, user comments allowed you to connect with potential audiences.

I’m not saying it was perfect or ideal, but if we look today at SoundCloud, Bandcamp, Facebook, Spotify, what we see is a kind of ultra-cookie-cutter profile with no worthwhile networking capabilities. Everyone looks the same, and there’s no way of really cutting through the shit. This is something you see hinted at by journos all the time: “there’s so much stuff out there, it’s just so hard to find the good stuff” etc.

{EDIT: what you started to see was artists using Tumblr or some external source to ‘express’ what their project was all about. Listeners having to literally click off-site to get some clues as to what they were listening/looking at.}

At the same time, a music critic, or a music fan, have very little space for interaction or self-promotion either. There was a time when BBC DJs and such were using SoundCloud and Myspace to find and network with artists, to a degree I don’t think is possible in the slightest sense today (if you have 3.5m followers). It’s almost as if the democratisation of culture has made it impossible for anyone to find anyone, and the only people able to cut through the cheese is Warner Bros and Sony, or a major Media brand. The demise of Blogspot as an serious outlet and the rise of Instagram or Twitter as basically contentless time-killers feels very relevant to this moment too.

I do really want to stress I’m not a ‘golden era of the internet’ believer, no such thing, there are uses for the tools out there today, but there are also instances where certain parameters worked better for what we aim to do, and the only thing stopping it happening is the phony belief that ‘the market will self regulate’… ‘if we need it, some genius will make it’… maybe it’s the time to invoke Eno’s Scenius, or maybe that’s just a cheesy way to end this post.


HI wonder if forming subscription co-ops might help small (web) publications recover a financial backing. Few people will get one-by-one subscriptions for every publication they read, but maybe it would work to have one subscription for access to a sufficient number of them. There’d be a lot of kinks to figure out (how to share revenue constructively, how to choose member publications, rivalries…) No idea if it would work, but it’s something to consider.