Beyond Steve Reich and Philip Glass: New Classical Frontiers

Radical classical music has never been more vital and influences everything from techno to metal and "adventurous" music festivals.
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There are a lot of things wrong with classical music, mostly because it embodies some of Western culture’s most sinister traits. There are many dissertations on how classical music mirrors the emergence of the Venetian banking system and civil bureaucracy, how the orchestra embodies elitist hierarchies and systems of control, how orchestral styles and themes were shaped by the rich and powerful or how classical venues and institutions are propped up by big banks and oil companies. Indeed, you probably have a friend who has dedicated their entire life to learning a classical instrument in a classical institution, and that same friend can only play music written on a page, as improvisation or making music of their own are alien concepts.

You’ve probably even heard your fair share of classical music and couldn’t be blamed for thinking it’s boring, prissy, wanky or anachronistic. The thing is, there’s a whole world of seriously explosive music out there that’s been birthed by the classical tradition—so if you hate classical music, it’s worth knowing that there are composers out there who hate it more than you. They turn the cultural edifice of the classical tradition inside out and attack the beast from within. It’s difficult to call much of the following music “classical” because it isn’t subservient to tradition, which is why you might not have heard of these artists; teachers in music schools generally want to reinforce the pillars of their culture rather than undermine their foundations. The truth is, a lot of your friends from the academy probably hate this music, but if you like techno, post-rock, electronica, dub, ambient, illbient, industrial, death metal, drone or any vein of music with unique atmospheres, textures and sounds, there’s some gold out there waiting to be unearthed. And even if you can’t sit through a whole piece, we guarantee there’s at least some moments that’ll get you inspired and recalibrate your perception of what’s possible.

This autonomous, innovative music has never been more popular or had more influence upon mainstream music and electronic styles in particular. Younger generations of artists and labels, from Oren Ambarchi’s Black Truffle to Stephen O’Malley’s Ideologic Organ, are reinforcing the interconnectivity between the avant and the populist, showing that no one need stay in the ghettoized confines of a particular genre. What’s more, the ever-growing profiles of deconstructed dance music and “adventurous” music festivals like Unsound, CTM and UH speak to the undercurrents of inspiration percolating in the recesses of 20th century music history. Consider this a refresher course for the forces pushing the edges of modern music ever outward.


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