Exile From Recommendation Land - Melting Pot Week on BTR


During Melting Pot Week, we at BTR won’t be investigating the thermodynamics of marijuana, but rather the dynamic cultural exchanges taking place in our world and in this article specifically, the world of music discovery.

Leaping into a foreign musical genre was once considered an act of cultural treason punishable by scene exile. Following Nirvana’s “Heart Shaped Box” with Wu-Tang’s “C.R.E.A.M.” at a party in 1993 would not have been appreciated the way it is today, and in the wrong crowd it might have caused a brawl. As we digitally leaf through musical history without the geographical constraints that once limited our exposure to new styles and genre re-configurations, we discover that most of our distaste for ‘Other’ styles of music was due to some purely consequential loyalty to what we were most familiar with.

As utopian as that vision of the Internet’s liberating qualities sounds in concept, the fact is that most of the big music distribution and recommendation services out there are failing to maintain the same level of adventurousness that was abound in the beginnings of the digital revolution, and they have at best promoted a well-developed taste-catering service. eMusic, iTunes, last.fm, Pandora et. al. have developed algorithms, a Music Genome Project, and other methods of exposing users to music they might enjoy based on acquired personal information, but they do little to open stiffened ears to unfamiliar soundscapes.

The emphasis that companies like Amazon and Apple have placed on recommendation engines to induce customer loyalty is a perennial business tactic to building a customer base, and given time, the company would theoretically be able to predict each user’s buying future. Read Write Web’s look at the recommendation engines highlights four principles of what content distributors look to capitalize on while users browse through their stores:

  • Personalized recommendation – recommend things based on the individual’s past behavior
  • Social recommendation – recommend things based on the past behavior of similar users
  • Item recommendation – recommend things based on the thing itself
  • A combination of the three approaches above

Needless to say, Amazon knows exactly what I want to buy, and Google knows what I want to find out in most of my searches as long as I’m logged in.

The somewhat anarchic first decade of the Internet was arguably an open era compared to this current climate of segregated communities in which differing ideologies have been able to seek refuge. Here’s a social media experiment: go on the New York Times website and look around at user comments. Now go to the Heritage Foundation and check out the discussions going on there. Aside from the occasional trolling episode, there’s a real dearth of exciting or engaging argument happening, signifying a destructive level of segregated insularity within the apparent openness of the Internet. We’ve found our virtual homes away from home, and it’s much cozier and friendlier that way.

In music it’s a similar but obviously much less grievous situation. Being able to hop outside the distributors’ networks of recommendation and move back into the niche communities is really the best way to get your discovering on. It requires more work – not nearly as much as it used to before the Internet – but if musical tourism turns you on, the best way to do it is to participate in the niche/genre-specific sites to get a better understanding of that culture through the eyes of its experts. With all the great compartmentalizing value there is in content aggregation, many of the important subtleties of each cultural language are left behind when you step outside the bounds of a genre-dedicated site. Plus, you can avoid the messy interfaces of sites hoping to cover the whole world of music at once – a near-impossible task – and pretend you’re on vacation from the oppressive hype machine. Spend a day on Afropop Worldwide, turn off the world and intellectualize on Classical, or browse your heart away on RootsWorld.

All that said, this discussion would look preposterous before the Internet swept us into a virtual melting pot, providing the proper tools for nomadic life but ultimately pushing us into the direction of settlement.

Here’s a melting pot listening schedule catered by BTR especially for you drifters and tourists in the world of sound:

  • Monday: Start your hopefully great, possibly shitty week off on the right foot with DJ Don Jose’s Latin Worldwide for a peek into the alternative Latin scene. It’ll get you moving and thinking at the same time, which is usually a winning combination for Mondays.
  • Tuesday: Tuesdays are notoriously aggravating days. Not because they’re too far from Friday and too close to Monday, but because Tuesdays think they have no business with weekends and weekend hopefuls Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, and they’re better than Monday by virtue of following that miserable day. Well here’s how you can give the finger to Tuesday and learn your way into the crazy good dance-turned-musical genre known as bhangra. DJ Rekha is our resident (and national) ambassador on bhangra and will bless you with Punjabi brilliance.
  • Wednesday: Wednesdays are pretty cool but they need a rough boot in the ass to get moving lest they start pondering Friday. Take a gander at Crazy DJ Bazarro’s comprehensive world hip-hop show where he not only lets you know where each artist hails from (Murs if from Jamaica?!), but he’s crazy.
  • Thursday: Party. Time. Almostthere. Saturday is close and Friday is closer, but you’re going to need some kind of a psychostimulant or adrenaline shot to stop yourself from drifting into an end-of-the-week state of ennui where you start tweeting mirror shots of your naked upper-half. DJ Hanabi’s Japanese Super Terrific Happy Hour is the injection of power you craved but couldn’t find the right dealer for, so head on over and make this your pre-Friday mix.
  • Friday: Finally! Isn’t it great how by Friday, retrospect tells you the last four days weren’t so bad, and you suddenly learn the value of hard work and perseverance? Get your fun time happy mix going and pop on DJ Emily’s Revolver, which takes a diverse look at all the positive sounding music going on that you can’t find on some lesser, emo radio station.
  • Saturday: If you were ever wondering why there weren’t songs called “Miss Yuh Fuck” or “Gyal Yuh Can Fuck,” rest assured DJ Meredith will expose you to the very best, very dirtiest, and very various beats and rhythms of the explosive dancehall movement on Carribbean Fever. Get down.
  • Sunday: Cool your jets and massage your eardrums with Mr Jason’s Funk and Soul Hour on this ambiguous day of beginnings and ends. It’ll be the best funkin’ sole hour of your recovery day, I promise.

If you found this to be a particularly junky listening guide, and you’re the type of person who doesn’t like taking orders, go browse through our Program Guide and fashion your own sched

Written By: Jakob Schnaidt