My music taste is so varied that you get a different answer depending on who you talk to. Let’s start with the easy pickings first.
Oh, and I am so sorry for this wall of text but it’s impossible for me to make this any shorter.
Rock and Metal
They are not the same at all, but I’m throwing them together because I’ve been exploring both at the same time for as long as I can remember. One of the few similarities my mother and I had were our affinities towards rock and metal. She preferred the stuff she grew up with: Metallica, Megadeth, Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, etc. My dad’s taste overlapped a bit with Led Zeppelin and The Beatles, but he was also really into funk and MoTown. He even plays the bass. So rock and metal is in my DNA.
My ascent into metal was quite strange, because neither of my parents listen to metal. Linkin Park gets an honorary mention; several of my friends listened to Linkin Park and would talk about their songs from Hybrid Theory, but this was in the 90’s so there was no way to actually play these songs on demand. Best they could do was hum or sing it. Then, at some point Meteora dropped and it became impossible to go anywhere without hearing “Breaking the Habit” or “Numb”. Once they did the crossover with Jay-Z, that opened up the world of nu-metal to my rap listening friends and I would never hear the end of Linkin Park’s name until Minutes to Midnight. I never actually got into Linkin Park that deep because my mom would forbid me from forming my own music taste until I was 15 (and then wonder why I didn’t show any interest in music that differed from hers…), but I do remember liking the melody to Numb even though I would only hear it once in a blue moon over blown out mall speakers and the chatter of 300 young children. So yeah, not at all.
I didn’t really listen to any Western metal. I found metal entirely through visual kei! I found visual kei several times: a friend’s sister in 1999 put me on to Dir en grey, then there were several anime themes that I liked over the years, and then in high school another friend introduced me to MIYAVI. I orbited visual kei in the early 2000’s, but at a very far distance and in very small doses. It was very difficult for me to get enough time unsupervised on the family computer to do these things, and then I had to go delete my search history so my parents wouldn’t think I was watching gay Japanese porn or something (you can’t win with them). It wasn’t until MIYAVI and high school that I had enough privacy (and my own computer) for things to change. Once I figured out a way to “acquire” his music, I then went to “search” for more Dir en grey. First two songs I remember listening to was Ash and OBSCURE on the bus on the way to school. Didn’t even know about OBSCURE at this point, but when those guitars hit for the first time…boiiiii.
It was at that point that I began devouring anything and everything visual kei, and I had a phase of four to five years where visual kei was all I listened to. I stumbled across Tainted World very quickly because I had a unique skill called Knowing How To Google Key Words, and all that did was connect me fully to the scene I was trying to break into since 1999.
But you see, the story doesn’t end here because at some point, I reached a crossroads in my visual kei journey. The worst imaginable thing happened. I got bored. Metalcore and nu-metal was fun, and I went back into 90’s visual kei and found some bands I liked, but keeping up with every indie band was exhausting and ultimately not as fun as I thought it would be. Losing bands was always painful, even when you internalize it as a fact of life. Knowing there’s music out there you are never going to hear is also another flavor of disappointment. But ultimately, just listening to the same few chord progressions, keys, tropes, melodies, etc. gets boring! You can try to step outside of the box in visual kei and find off-beat things like 9GOATS BLACK OUT or 8-eit, but visual kei is not an endless font of creativity. I did just that, and then it made me realize that there was a lot more going on to Japanese music than I gave credit for - and this was something I always knew but didn’t internalize. I was downloading Aikawa Nanase singles in 2001 over Limewire! I just had to get over my comfort with visual kei and step out into new waters again.
Enter @CAT5. This man slides into my last.fm DMs all smooth and shit like “hey bro, your charts look interesting, wanna exchange mixes?”. I sent him what I had - which was mostly visual kei - and this man sends me back music from the other side of the pond. There was so much I didn’t know, so much left to hear. This man is responsible for my fascination with school food punishment, Mutyumu, Muga, 9mm Parabellum Bullet, Maximum the Hormone, me-al art, COHOL…there isn’t a non-visual Japanese artist in my library that I can’t attribute to him directly or indirectly. If you listen to one of these bands and you got it from me, then it’s because I got it from him. He even sent me stuff from outside of Japan altogether, which was like another smack in the face because I’m listening to everything with new ears like “What is this?!?!” and then I went and devoured like all the music. At one point, I came across Boris. I can spend literal hours talking about Boris, but let’s just say that they are an excellent band for deconstructing misconceptions you have about how bands should sound, sell, and position themselves. So many albums, so many different genres, all excellent.
At some point, I also had a fling with doujin music. You might also recognize it by the term Touhou, but that’s a bit more specific because doujin can be from any game and Touhou is just a specific series. But I digress…finding these instrumental metal bands was also key in breaking out of my visual kei shell. It was still Japanese and nerdy as fuck, but it was a new flavor and something I didn’t know I needed to hear. ELECTRIC RED, Kokuyasou, Thousand Leaves, Imperial Circus Dead Decadence, Foreground Eclipse, Demetori, BLANKFIELD, kairos, SILENT DIFFERENCE…all music I still bang today. The only ones that are still active right now are Demetori and Kokuyasou (but in a new unit called Vermillion-D Alice Syndrome).
I was then at the gates of metal. I done listened to almost everything metal-adjacent that I could from The Land of The Rising Sun, so it was time to turn my attention towards
America Europe. I had a bit of a fascination with Nightwish for a while, and this was essential in programming my brain to accept English as a language that could be sung. It didn’t last forever because I was more of a Tarja fan than an Annette fan and I found them right before Dark Passion Play, but once I was in those waters I was basically swimming. Decided to dive into extreme metal waters at this juncture: Dimmu Borgir, Cradle of Filth, Immortal, Bölzer, Jinjer, Amon Amarth, Burzum, Emperor, Wintersun, Bolt Thrower, Bathory, Amia Venera Landscape, Dragonforce, etc. but I didn’t stay very long here. Like or hate Dimmu, Progenies of the Great Apocalypse is such a memorable song that I can remember the orchestral lines like nothing the minute you mention “Progenies…”. I even got people that hated metal to at least listen until ICS Vortex comes on.
At some point I discovered Devin Townsend and Strapping Young Lad, and that’s how I eventually came back around to American metal. I am actually quite picky about what I choose to listen to because I still find the vast majority of English lyrics goofy, but even with that limitation there’s still stuff to like. Russian Circles, Animals as Leaders, Chiodos, Stray from the Path, Spiritbox, Blood Freak, Car Bomb, Rage Against the Machine…all excellent bands. I even managed to get into Metallica and Megadeth on my own terms, exploring songs besides “Creeping Death” and “Enter the Sandman” on repeat forever and ever.
I don’t listen to a wide selection of electronic artists, but enough for it to make the list here. I have to credit a combination of Limewire, bad metadata tags, youthful ignorance, and my interest in anime and Japanese culture. Why? I was looking for music from the Ghost in the Shell soundtrack, and I found Ghost in the Machine instead. And to top it all off, most people on Limewire had it tagged as “ghost in the shell (electric rave remix)” but this particular person had it tagged as “aphex twin - ghost in the shell (electric rave remix)”. Remember, this is before Wikipedia or even the internet in general was an information resource, so 8 year old me was like “oh man, this Aphex twin group is cash!”. But shortly after that, my computer gave up the ghost and I was pretty much cut off from the internet for a while.
I never really forgot what I was messing around with when I was younger, so when I was 15 and got my own laptop, I decided to go searching for more Aphex Twin. Couldn’t find Electric, but I had my mind blown by 4. 4 was so good, finding Electric became irrelevant. It was then that I realized that I had no idea what I found when I was 8, and that it wasn’t Aphex, but I may have never discovered the joys of braindance had that person not mistakenly attributed Ghost in the Machine to Aphex Twin.
Yes, this was a blossoming 7 years in the making Now look at me!
And I’m sure I don’t have everything…
Anyway, it’s impossible for me to not understate just how impactful AFX/Aphex Twin/RDJ has been on how I play, experience, and even think of music. This man plays around with his own scales just for fun. This man makes symphonies out of electronic sequencers. He can create music that is incredibly self-consistent from beginning to end and doesn’t repeat a thing.
In 100 years, people are going to look back and come up with names of musicians that were among the brightest minds of our day. I’m telling you from the future right now - if it doesn’t have Aphex Twin on that list, throw that textbook out.
But this is more than just the Aphex Twin show, even though with all his different aliases this man takes first, second, and third place. I’ve spun a few artists like Autechre, Infected Mushroom, Chase and Status, Black Sun Empire, Noisia, Kashiwa Daisuke, Merzbow (but only with Boris), and then some more obscure stuff like Rawthang and Joe Boyd Vigil.
I completely skipped out on the dubstep phase because I was too busy catching up on Aphex Twin. Tons of people were playing Skrillex…how many people do you know that still listen to it on a daily basis? Not as many. I like the odd dubstep song here and there, like this Harry Potter and the Half-Dub Prince remix, but the ones I like prioritize melody over the trope of a fuck load of noise and then “building” to a drop and then having no interesting ideas to fill up the rest of the time. So glad that phase died out tbh.
I have two people to thank for opening my eyes to the smooth and sexy qualities of jazz. One is once again my man @CAT5, and another is a member from TW called Pr0phet. Both of them came at me individually with the ultimate one-two punch, and I ended up sampling from a genre I would have otherwise had no exposure to.
CAT sent me a very obscure Japanese jazz unit called uni-birth. Specifically, he sent me the song Movement. This song tickled my brain in ways I did not understand. I hated it. I needed more. I could not wrap my head around this song for as long as I tried, and I could not reconcile it with what I thought jazz was as defined by visual kei. I grabbed a copy of the album but it sat in my library untouched for a few weeks until Pr0phet slides into my DMs and says he got a copy of 8-eit’s “Velvet Venus” in good quality. He said they were really good visual kei jazz and that piqued my interest because I was like “what vk calls ‘jazz’ and what the rest of the j-music scene calls ‘jazz’ are two entirely different things” so I grab it reluctantly and throw it on.
A legit impression of my face when I first heard 戯れGOLD
It was at that point that I realized that jazz is metal without distortion. They stimulate the same parts of my mind in different proportions. I think after I discovered 8-eit, I logged 412 legitimate listens of just that one band in one week. It was so much, @CAT5 dropped by my page and was like “man, I see you’re really digging this band!”. I was. I still do - I just bought my bullet last week!
Point is, once I realized there’s a completely different flavor of music I liked I dove into the other side of Japanese music with a new vision. I ended up coming across so many cool artists that I hadn’t heard of on Tainted World too much; artists like EGO-WRAPPIN’, SOIL&“PIMP” SESSIONS, Shiina Ringo, Tokyo Jihen, Maron Hamada, jizue, Blu-Swing, Jill-Decoy Association…I fell hard into jazz pop waters for a bit. Still sorta there.
I am still actively exploring jazz too, so if you have any good recommendations send them my way! But real jazz, no visual kei pls.
Hip Hop and Rap
I had a very love-hate relationship with hip hop and rap music growing up. What started as a way to express the harsh realities of street life and growing up poor transformed into glorification of it by the time I was old enough to understand words set to music. My mother never approved of it - BET was basically banned in our house - so any hip hop music I heard, I heard outside of the house.
No doubt I was raised in the era of 2pac and Biggie, so I have an appreciation for lyrical artists of that time. But in general, I had and still do have a distaste of braggadocio rap. When you grow up sleeping on the floor because you lived on the first floor and you had to avoid shoot outs in your neighborhood and errant bullets flying through your windows, you would too. There was a very brief period of time where I tried giving rap a chance, so that I could connect with my peers musically and have something to talk about. I got about as far as Lil’ Scrappy, Lil’ Jon and tha Eastside Boyz, and Trillville before visual kei sunk it’s claws into me, but that tiny bit of exploration proved invaluable later.
Hip Hop and Rap in general existed in this ambiguous state where I didn’t necessarily hate it, but I hated the expectation that I was facile in this genre because I was black. It was a complete impossibility that I listened to anything other than hip hop, rap, or R&B to a large group of people - much less that I actually listened to Japanese metal. I didn’t know Jay-Z had a new album out? For shame. I couldn’t recite every song off “No Ceilings” by heart? Not black enough. All of these indirect experiences caused me to just tune out of this entire genre of music…until one fateful day.
I was chilling at a party senior year of college watching my friends play beer pong on a crooked ass table when one of my friends walked over to his laptop to switch songs. “Yonkers” by Tyler, the Creator started blasting through the speakers. Yeah, YONKERS. The switch up at that moment was insane. I was gone for hip hop for so long that I was still operating under the assumption that they were still rapping about the same stuff as in the 90’s. Everyone was yelling and screaming about beer pong rules and how far the “naked lap” had to be and I’m here listening to Tyler rap while he’s about to hang himself.
I had Goblin on my PC the next day. Eventually worked my way back to Bastard and then over to Earl Sweatshirt because of the song AssMilk. That was the door swinging all the way open. I’ll be honest - I didn’t really understand EARL (the mixtape) at first. But something compelled me to come back again and again, and it started clicking several times. I went from “this is just alright” to “holy fuck, this mix tape is a classic”. I still think it’s a classic, and ultimately it’s what I needed. The lyrics are absolutely abhorrent, misogynistic, homophobic, even depraved and murderous at some points, the beats are dark and thick, the delivery can at times be unorthodox…but that’s what I needed to show me what hip hop can be.
Horrorcore blew the doors off braggadocio rap with a sawed-off shottie because while I’m remembering your average hip-hop artist delivering simple flows with simple lyrics over boom bap beats, EarlWolf is over here firing off complex deliveries and dense lyrics over dark beats and MF DOOM flows. It was a complete inversion to what I was normally used to listening for in music; to me, most instrumentals come first and the vocals are just another instrument but in hip hop, the words and the vocals are the show and the beat supports it. I know someone is spitting heat when I can separate the beat from the flow and the flow is still fuego.
I show up back in my old hood after college still bumping Odd Future. Run into an old friend from summer camp who still lives in the same building I did. Small fucking world. He introduces me to his group of local friends - who I now go to concerts with - and in the moment, one of my friends was completely obsessed with BetterOffDEAD by Flatbush ZOMBiES. I remember the first song I heard was MRAZ. I was intrigued, grabbed a copy for myself, spun it a few times. I didn’t get it at first, but I knew that I walked this path with EARL before and I just needed time for the layers to really unfold.
Trust me, BetterOffDEAD is a classic. Every track slaps. Straight bangers, all of 'em. FBZ was what I needed to get more oriented into these waters - while I like Earl and Tyler, they didn’t really collaborate with anyone outside of Odd Future, so it was hard to make connections to any artist that wasn’t Domo Genesis or Frank Ocean. But now I had FBZ, Action Bronson, the entirety of Beast Coast, and from there it’s not hard to find Clockwork Indigo, Army of the Pharaohs, El-P, Killer Mike, Run the Jewels (who btw are going on tour with Rage Against The Machine and have collaborated with Zach de la Rocha…I am going to that concert), Celph Titled, Big Pun, Big L, Czarface, Cannibal Ox, The Alchemist, Vince Staples, Kendrick Lamar, Shofu, CTC, Token Black, Matt Houston, VI Seconds, etc.
Turns out I like underground rap and horrorcore Still won’t catch me listening to Drake or A Boogie tho
Laugh if you want, but this was an essential step in me actually being here. Anime music was my escape from rap music and what I perceived as the “school to streets” pipeline. I lived for every 90 second opening and closing theme I could get my hands on. I wouldn’t stop until I figured out that the song “No Future” from Zoids: Chaotic Century was by Aikawa Nanase. I needed my friend to find the full version of “LOVE DEEPER” by Yuiko Tsubokura. Death Note dropped both Nightmare and Maximum the Hormone on my lap - where were you the first time you heard Zetsubou Billy? I was half-asleep in bed.
But the real MVP here? Ghost in the Shell, Origa, Ilaria Graziano, and the glue that holds them all together known as Yoko Kanno. Yoko Kanno is the invisible hand that guided me all along. She is responsible for the fantastic OST of the first season, the second season, and the movie. She directly connected me to Ilaria Graziano, who is my favorite female vocalist of all time. She and The Seatbelts set the seeds to sprout a love for jazz within me by proxy of the Cowboy Bebop OST. This may as well be the Yoko Kanno paragraph…she was always in the background, popping up at the most unexpected times in 90 second increments. It wasn’t until a few years later watching Zankyou no Terror that I realized just how prolific she really was. My anime friend didn’t understand the significance of Yoko Kanno until I started listening her resume to him and he was stunned that she was everywhere.
This is just her anime credits:
Yoko, wherever you are, I bow in your general direction. Thanks for everything.
Oh you got to the end? Thanks for reading my musical autobiography. Here’s a cookie.