What The Heck Is Mathcore? Your Guide to Obscure Niche Genres

The Internet revolution brought with it almost limitless trivial information about the most arcane pockets of culture. How many of you, before the Internet, knew about the indie scene? But the Internet also brings us into contact with whole subcultures that we'd never have dreamed possible.

Now, in case you ever meet a friend who brags "You can't stump me! I know every music genre!" - be sure to ask them about Balakadri - a traditional quadrille music that was performed for balls on the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, Jaipongan - unpredictably rhythmic dance music from Sunda, Indonesia, or Narodna muzika - Serbian folk music.

But we aren't going to troll you like that! Our criteria for inclusion will be that the genre, obscure though it may be, is at least something you might have heard without going out of your way. Be it through a random spin of the radio, overhearing it once at a music store, or having a really geeky co-worker who's a music enthusiast.
8-bit - Can you hum the theme to the video game Tetris? Then you already know some 8-bit! 8-bit is one of the digital music genres that include music for video game consoles and handhelds, including things like Nintendo Gameboys. There are also original artists working today who compose new 8-bit music. Related to chiptunes, Nintendocore, and picopop. Example artist and album: Horse the Band, Secret Rhythm of the Universe.

Batcave - Goth music with a post-punk element and a spooky style. Named after the Batcave club on Meard Street, Soho, London, England, which is widely considered to be the birthplace of Goth rock as far as England is concerned. Example bands include Specimen and Alien Sex Fiend. Batcave documentary here.

Cowpunk - A cross between punk rock and country and western. It's actually a lot better than it sounds, and all of it has a sense of fun that doesn't take itself too seriously. The nexus seems to have been Southern California in the '80s. Related to alternative country and psychobilly. Since this genre's vast and established, we'll just link you to the Wikipedia list. Explore.

Crunkcore - First there was crunk, a fusion of hip-hop and techno. One of the urban legends around the name is that "crunk" is the state of being "cranked" as in pumped up, by the same logic that "thunk" would be the state of thinking. So then there's crunkcore, which is kind of the punk of crunk, turned up to eleven. You either love it or you hate it. How about some example videos? Brokencyde - Get Crunk, Dot Dot Curve - Take My Picture, and Family Force 5 - Love Addict.

Dementia - Silly, you know this one! It's the kind of music they play on the Dr. Demento radio broadcast, which is now nationally syndicated. In other words, funny novelty songs. If you've even heard of Weird Al Yankovich, Tom Lehrer, Richard Cheese, Spike Jones, or Frank Zappa - or know the songs "Another One Rides the Bus," "Dead Puppies," or "Fish Heads" - that was the good doctor promoting these artists and songs to the public.

Folktronica - The intriguing blend of traditional folk music and high-tech electronic mixing. Imagine if you captured notes from your acoustic guitar and then looped them and mixed them on your laptop and added a drum machine. Last.FM has a category. Note that there's still a lot of debate as to what exactly folktronica is yet.

Mathcore - Mathcore is a highly technical, very progressive form of metal, metalcore, or plain experimental rock. Think eccentric time signatures, angular melodies, dissonant chords, atypical rhythms, peculiar chord progressions, and just about anything else that would only make sense to a band geek. Example bands: Black Flag, Dillinger Escape Plan, and Converge.

Merseybeat - It's named after the Mersey River that runs through Liverpool, England. We gotcha on this one - everybody can name at least one famous band from that area, but almost no one outside of England knows that that area has its own genre, which includes The Dakotas, The Zombies, Herman's Hermits, Gerry & The Pacemakers, The Moody Blues, and dozens of other well-known acts. Is there something in the water?

Oi! - Punk rock that minds its manners amongst the conservative, blue-collar, working-class people. It's always spelled with the exclamation point; the chorus might even go "Oi! Oi! Oi!". It's a very bouncy, folksy, cheerful kind of pop-punk, popular throughout the UK. Example bands include: Cockney Rejects, Perkele, Oi Polloi. You knew they'd have to shave that Mohawk and get a job eventually, didn't you?

Paisley Underground - Originally a tongue-in-cheek name for the alternative-rock scene in Southern California in the 1980s, this was a counter to the angry hardcore punk. It countered with a happier, peace-and-love aesthetic recalling the flower-power bands of the '60s, filtering it through the punk sound of the '80s. Example bands include The Bangles, The Chesterfield Kings, The Fuzztones, The Long Ryders, The Pandoras, Rain Parade, and The Verge. A nice little essay on it here.

Riot Grrrl - Feminist punk rock, as both a music style and a very political subculture. These aren't just girl groups; these are punk girl groups for women, about women's issues, and sometimes even lesbian bands become part of the mix. Very much a folk movement, chock-full of lyrics about the glass ceiling, pro-choice activism, sexist media portrayals, battered wives, and the occasional ballad about Birkenstocks. Example groups: Fifth Column, Bikini Kill, Jack Off Jill, and The Third Sex.

Sludge - A form of heavy metal that takes it back from the speed/ hardcore set to slooooow it down. Think death or doom metal played as a ballad. As its name suggests, it's thick and tarry, almost fattening. Got it's start in Louisiana, and is now generally associated with the Southern US. Example bands are Eyehategod, Crowbar, Acid Bath, and Iron Monkey.

Skiffle - Older readers can skip this one, but you young shrimps ought to know that skiffle music fathered half of everything you listen to now. Skiffle was originally a kind of jazz/ folk/ country/ blues fusion in the US in the early 20th century, played with things like spoons, jugs, washboards, kazoos, and grandpa's false teeth. That would have been the end of the story of skiffle, except that it accidentally caught on as a brief, but permeating, fad in England in the 1950s. And skiffle either influenced, or was the starting genre for, a number of influential musicians. Who? Oh, nobody much. Just Van Morrison, Mick Jagger, Jimmy Page, Ritchie Blackmore, Dave Gilmour, and John Lennon. The Quarrymen, Lennon's first band, was a skiffle group. Most famous skiffle song surviving today: "Does Your Chewing Gum Lose Its Flavor?" by Lonnie Donegan's Skiffle Group - you'd know this if you listened to your Dr. Demento.

Tin Pan Alley - Really older readers can skip this one, but you young and middle-aged shrimps ought to know that you were practically raised on Tin Pan Alley music and you don't even know what its called! Tin Pan Alley was the district of New York where sheet music was published in the late-19th/ early-20th century United States. These songs survive and even thrive today either because they are so popular that they're saturated into American society, or also because their copyrights have all expired so they're public domain. "Take Me Out To The Ballgame" (1908) and "God Bless America" (1918) are Tin Pan Alley songs. And have you ever watched a cartoon, especially Warner Brothers cartoons from the 1940s, '50s, and '60s? The background music in hundreds of these cartoons samples "The Sidewalks of New York," "Hello! Ma Baby," "Give My Regards To Broadway," "Yes, We Have No Bananas," "Ain't She Sweet" - the list goes on forever. And don't get us started on I Love Lucy reruns! These songs have been around for about a century now, and they're so saturated into the Western consciousness that most of us aren't even aware of how many we know by heart.

2 Tone - You probably have heard of this one, but it's ska revival. Kind of a fusion of ska, reggae, pop, and a tiny dash of punk. Named after the 2-Tone Records labels started by Jerry Dammers, front-man for ska-revival band The Specials. The label's first single was The English Beat's version of "Tears Of A Clown." For a great lesson on the history of the genre and to hear some fine examples, check out our interview with Dave Wakeling of The English Beat.

Zydeco - OK, we admit it, you caught us. We're including zydeco just so we could get a 'Z' on the list and not have to end on 2tone. Zydeco is the quintessential obscure niche genre, being Louisiana home-grown folk music with Creole/ Cajun seasoning. It is also a blended genre, with a tradition of evolving and folding new genres back into itself again and again without losing its own character. Noted performers include Queen Ida, John Delafose, Boozoo Chavis, C. J. Chenier, and Geno Delafose. Now, hipsters, repeat after us: "I was into zydeco before it got popular!" Play this right, and no one will hear the end of it from you.
~ "Penguin" Pete Trbovich
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Comments: 15

  • Trev from Ki love mathcore :) ive listened to every genre of metal there is and got bored of them until i ran into mathcore & jazzcore... amazing bands that keep the genre alive deserve more attention but i like being interested in things that are not mainstream :)
  • G from NycWhoa, hang on, folks - Black Flag are most assuredly *not* "mathcore." HARDCORE PUNK. Sure, Greg Ginn's guitar playing is singularly angular and head-twisting, and they have a couple songs that veer away from 4/4, but for most part, they're a punk rock band. Even the band members themselves describe Black Flag as a rock and roll band. Or rock band. Or whatever. But if you gotta cram Black Flag into a genre, PUH-LEEZE make sure it's the right one, y'all! Black Flag: hardcore punk. Not "calculator rock" or "protractor boogie" or whatever. It's like calling the Butthole Surfers a polka band because one of their songs features an accordion. OK. Thank you.
  • Michael from Mcfarland, WiAny mention of sludge as a genre absolutely must include The Melvins. They were heavily influenced by Flipper and one particular Black Flag album (My War) but they are really ground zero for modern sludge metal.
  • Carson from Colorado SpringsIn the sub genre Math Core, you left out a key band. The Fall of Troy, Thomas Erak, while being vain, earns that title. With Math being a central part of the "Math Core" his riffs and time signature changes vary so much that it needs to be listed
  • Jadon from Port Saint Lucie, FlWhy is it that most of these genres hurt my ears? No wonder they're so unknown...
  • A.h. from VirginiaCan't believe you didn't include L7 in your Riot Grrrl synopsis... they were the only ones who had some minor hits. "Pretend We're Dead" ??
  • Ron from St PaulOnly one of your " Merseybeat" groups is from Liverpool-- Gerry and the Pacemakers. Herman's Hermits and the Dakotas were from Manchester (a bit beyond the Mersey), though the latter backed Billy J Kramer, who was Liverpudlian. The Moody Blues were from Birmingham, and the Zombies from Hertfordshire.
  • Miri from North Somerset, EnglandI really am a metal freak but am also a bit of a nerdy gal so hearing about 'mathcore' was a defining moment in my life :D thanks ;)
  • Kate from MichiganI just about died when they mentioned Acid Bath. That is an awesome band and I thought very few people even knew it existed so it was cool seeing them get mentioned. Check out the songs Scream of the Butterfly, Venus Blue, and What Color is Death?. =]
  • Tony from SeattleI'm disappointed! I was hoping to hear your take on "2-step garage". But, yeah, thats getting deep into Ishkur territory.
  • Martin from GermanyA bit more accessible example for Folktronica (The Books are quite experimental): James Yuill - "This Sweet Love" (2008) http://vimeo.com/1399343
  • Maddie from Baton Rouge, Laim a twelve year old girl and i listen to multiple songs from each of these genres. daily.
  • Akyho from ScotlandWell u figured id be into one or two but no...i am into most fo these niche genres...one side note this list does contain an abolsute abolation to music. Crunkcore is worse than nails in your ear. I am only glad it is as niche as what i listen to and i know how niche my stuff is.
  • John from Montgomery County, MdI took an admissions test for high school once that had a whole section on zydeco, which was kind of weird, since it's not a music program.
  • Tom from Austin, Txhttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GynnhBUOHkg
    Greatest Skiffle song ever.
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