While we’ve already chronicled the fantastic sonic innovation of the genre-hopping EDM artist NGHTMRE, he’s one of many before him who have carved their own path. Music history is thankfully blessed with free thinkers who dynamited the walls around their own respective genres to create something entirely new. Check out our profile of NGHTMRE above and then take a look at some of his fellow trailblazers below.
The Beach Boys
With Pet Sounds, the Beach Boys quite literally created their own sound. Brian Wilson took studio trickery to previously unheard levels, elevating the entire genre of rock and roll music in the process.
Hard to imagine in a world where critics have spent the last decade arguing the merits of pop music to a diehard base of rock purists, but rock was in the same position as pop once upon a time. Wilson’s layers upon layers of dogs barking, guitars and jazz was so new that it forced a reconsideration of the entire genre. Rock music wasn’t just dance music for teenagers anymore, it could be capital-A Art.
This might seem like over-doing it in the wake of Lemmy Kilmister’s death, but it’s true. Motörhead didn’t so much create their own lane as drive right down the painted line between punk and metal.
The sounds of metal were too slow to keep up with Kilmister and Co.’s amphetamine-fueled lifestyle, so they nicked the speed of punk and used it to become legends. Some might scoff at the idea of making titans out of the band that wrote the song “Orgasmatron.” But the best case for Motörhead’s musical legacy comes by way of the all the speed and thrash metal bands their fusion inspired, including a little cult band called Metallica.
When you create a sound that resembles absolutely nothing you’ve ever heard before, it’s fair to use the word innovator. An artist who already defies genre — is she alt-rock, indietronica, trip-hop, jazz, art pop — Bjork took her eclectic sound to the brink with 2011’s Biophilia.
Part album, part multimedia project, on the album, she used instruments like tesla coils, a group of pendulums that created the sound of a harp, and stuff that you absolutely never heard of like a gameleste (a combination of a gamelan and a celesta). No one thinks or creates like this, she’s absolutely one of a kind.
Where Brian Wilson preferred to layer sounds in studio to get his odd effects, Sonic Youth wanted the sounds to be outright weird from jump. These noise pioneers made use of odd tunings and prepared instruments that would have made John Cage smile. (Turns out guitars do sound different if you jam something underneath the strings and pound on them. Whodda thunk?)
All their tinkering paid off, with the band becoming icons first in the fledgling American noise scene, then in the global musical underground. Almost every important indie act of the last several decades has taken a moment to genuflect at the altar of Thurston Moore, and it’s not hard to see why.
From Sonic Youth, to the scene that inspired them. These New York art kids where enamored with the vitality and energy of hardcore music, the sound that took the fury of punk rock to its logical extreme. And hardcore fans of all stripes have Black Flag to thank.
Though there is some argument about this, Black Flag can largely be credited with creating the hardcore punk sound. At least they were the first to make it popular, helping spread it via their own shows and their influential SST label. With hardcore ur-album Damaged, Black Flag helped spawn the last thirty-plus years of anti-authoritarian beatdown music and generations of pissed-off teenagers love them for it. There’s a reason that Greg Ginn’s band kicked off the quintessential underground bible Our Band Could Be Your Life, after all.
Okay, it might be a little too soon to call Grimes’ latest album a classic, but there’s no denying that she crafted her own sound on Art Angels (both literally and figuratively as she did all of the production and engineering herself) and has been a modern innovator for years. Claire Boucher took the sounds of stadium-shaking pop music and reconfigured them to match her uniquely warped headspace, cranking out songs that work as Diplo-nian ass-shakers and feminist anthems simultaneously.
The hodgepodge of house, K-pop, bass music, country and indietronica became something greater than the sum of its undeniably massive parts and erected a bridge between the worlds of indie and pop that will likely become cluttered with pilgrims in coming years.