Ishkur’s Guide to Electronic Music is back. Its third major overhaul gives it a new look, and brings its sprawling map of electronic style to 166 genres, 11,321 tracks, and exhaustive descriptions to match.

The Ishkur effort is beautiful partly because it takes on an impossible task. Can you break down every fork of UK Garage, and also work out how John Cage tape pieces and weird Dick Hyman psychedelic numbers fit in? (There is literally a category called “Moog.” It… doesn’t entirely work as a genre.)

But somehow, Ishkur does that. (To paraphrase Lewis Carroll, and Zaphod Beeblebrox, why not six impossible things before breakfast?)

What you get is a now-legendary, zoomable, playable map, laid out a bit like a trainyard switching diagram in a metro terminal in Hell. Begun in the year 2000, it will be well known to you digital diggers of the noughts. But this is an update that brings it into a new generation. And the resulting interface excels in revealing the emergence of major forks in those genres, at the critical junctures where new grooves and sounds crystallize.

Crucially, of course, the whole thing is playable. The real fun of this is flying around, God-like, decade to decade, genre to genre. You can tune in years and styles like a radio. The graph is so oversimplified as to erase all interconnections – really, the history itself is gone. But that navigation lets you quickly find and compare seminal tracks in particular genre appearances.

And I think as a producer, that’s terrifically liberating. It demystifies genres that gatekeepers refuse to explain to newcomers. And by allowing easy access to those sounds, it frees your ear and memory to go try something new.

Ishkur, for Ishkur’s part, explains it all perfectly. (Who is Ishkur? In my favorite FAQ answer, Ishkur is Ishkur. Ishkur says “punter,” so they are probably in the UK.)

Colors are meaningless; lines are inaccurate:

All music is influenced by its contemporaries far more than its own past. Illustrating those relationships, however, would render the map unreadable. Coherence is preferred over accuracy. It is simplified for the user experience.

And meet the term trendwhoring, also in the FAQ:

It’s a term I apply to artists, tracks, and sometimes whole genres that whore themselves out to whatever’s the current fad or trend in music. If fart noises were suddenly popular, each scene would trendwhore it with fartstep, fartcore, techfart, farthouse, fart trance, etc. It is especially noticeable in classic tracks that are remixed into modern genres, which some might consider sacreligious. A good example is the Dream Trance hit Robert Miles – Children, in which there is now a Hardstyle version, a Dutch House version, a McProg version, a Eurotrance version, a Goa Trance version, and even a Snap version and a shitty Brostep version. None of these genres existed when the original song came out in 1995. That’s trendwhoring.

Ishkur’s Guide is a map to everything, when so much of the online world now is a map to nothing. It’s a transparent, linked-out Whole Internet Catalog Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy that makes Discogs references visual and draws in tracks at random. It’s more useful and vital than ever, really.


Thanks to Andy Baio for the news on this: