The queer musical wilderness

Every year I write an article sharing a list of music. Last year, the theme was “outsider” music, defined as music coming from outside the musical establishment. I remarked that the outsider genre seems to come from an earlier era, when such music was difficult to find. Today, anyone can self-publish their own music–and I speak from personal experience.

If I were to reformulate “outsider” music, I would dub it the musical wilderness, and it wouldn’t be a genre. Rather, it would be a way of exploring and discovering music without totally ignoring the long tail. It’s considered hipster to say “you’ve never heard of the music I like”, but there’s really nothing special about that–that’s literally just most music. The point is not to celebrate obscurity nor to scorn popularity, it’s just simple truth that if you’ve never listened to music nobody else has heard of, then you’re neglecting the vast majority of what’s out there.

To create this list, I searched the “queer” tag on Bandcamp, using the “surprise me!” setting. Why “queer”? Several reasons: a) an unconventional tag will is the quickest route to the wilderness, b) it doesn’t confine my list to any particular genre, c) if I’m going to highlight some random artists, might as well support queer artists, and d) aren’t you curious what kind of music an artist will choose to tag as queer?

I sifted through a lot of music to make this list. As you might imagine, a random search finds a lot of music that I didn’t care for, but also plenty that I liked but wasn’t sure how to talk about. Some things I didn’t include: riot grrrl, punk, death metal, power electronics, r&b, and a whole lot of singer/songwriters with ukuleles or the like. Some of it just doesn’t stand out, or perhaps I lack the genre experience to appreciate it. For an unfiltered experience, you are welcome to check out the tag yourself.

Tsinder Ash – Sore

Tsinder Ash is a multi-instrumentalist and singer/songwriter. IMHO the star of show is their quavering and expressive vocals. The instrumentals are soft and emotional, often with little more with a guitar, but sometimes incorporating electronics. The lyrics are tenderly homoerotic to a degree that I find distracting, but I suppose that’s what I’ve signed up for.

Cheating Spouses Caught On Tape – The Communist Gay Agenda

Cheating Spouses Caught On Tape is a very prolific band with almost 50 albums spanning the last decade. I sampled a bit here and there and it ranges from harsh noise to grindcore, industrial, and shoegaze. This particular album is, relative to most of their discography, on the accessible end–industrial shoegaze tunes that are practically catchy.

Ignatz Höch & Hannah Mouse – Social Para Normal Para Social

Ignatz Höch & Hannah Mouse is a musical project that produces some unusual but conceptually simple electronic music. Most tracks consist of multiple bright arpeggios playing simultaneously, interlocking and clashing. Listening to this gave me an idea: what if I could feel more things at once by playing multiple tracks simultaneously? Which wasn’t actually a good idea in practice, but that’s the mood.

Cat Child – c-t ch-ld

The opening track to this EP had me expecting some cat folk neo-renaissance stuff. And that would have been really neat, but by the third track it started getting unexpectedly bluesy. I particularly like Cat Child’s bending vocals—you know I love that incidental microtonality.

uncertain – God is a Man Eater

uncertain makes dark ambient ritual music. In God is a Man Eater, I hear chimes and a chanting choir, things I would normally associate with sacred calm or meditation. For some reason I don’t feel calm here, maybe it’s the war drums and distant screams of the damned? But those too are meditative, if you spend enough time with it.

ManDate – Oral History

Oral History is an eclectic rock album themed on queer history. There are a few wild instrumentation choices here, including one band member being a cellist, and someone contributing occasional death metal growls–but it’s far more approachable than I’m making it sound. It’s just a solid rock record backed by a clear passion for the subject matter.

Greta Russell – People are grass

This lo-fi ambient album is attached to a heartfelt story about a mixtape they made when they were younger, expressing unnamed frustration and self-hatred. While the sources of the problem can be understood in retrospect, the past cannot be fixed. This album wordlessly nails the mood of regretful nostalgia and hopeful resignation.

angel apricot – the pink sunset over you

Admittedly I found this album while using Bandcamp’s “best-selling” setting, before I figured out that I ought to select the “surprise me” setting. That’s alright, I don’t have anything against music that sells moderately well. angel apricot is a singer/songwriter who makes dreamy songs over electric guitar riffs. I like how sharp and clean the production is, and the simple catchy tunes. I really appreciate the electronic interludes that break up the album pacing and give it structure. (Also, trans vocalists rule.)

T. S. Grooves – T. S. Grooves Ain’t Never ALONE – It’s Everybody

I was just saying earlier that the “outsider” genre doesn’t make sense, but T. S. Grooves makes me wonder if that’s a bit premature. T. S. Grooves appears not to exist anywhere outside of this one album on bandcamp, which bombastically claims to be the soundtrack to an upcoming time travel epic, “You Can’t Be in the Moment, If You’re Always Traveling Through Time.” So it’s basically one person’s spoken word and synth jamming, building it into a weirdly ambitious genderqueer hip hopera. It is delightful.

Lord Horace – Waves

As I was closing out this list I found it increasingly difficult to find stuff because I felt my biases were too plain and maybe I ought to correct for them. (Did I really reject that much queer punk? I don’t necessarily dislike punk.) Instead I found some music that hits my personal biases even more squarely, being avant garde drone of uncertain tuning. The first half of the album is a smeared chaos of swarming drones. Then the drones begin to spiral upwards, and break into disjointed polyrhythms. There are some rough aspects, and perhaps nobody else will like this, but that’s okay. In the musical wilderness, our tastes may become unbound.

It was really neat to see all the different directions artists would take under the “queer” tag. Of course, normally when I search for music, I narrow it down by picking an actual genre. If you want to find more music, and you have the patience span to do some sifting, I recommend searching tags for a genre of your choice.

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