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The Boston Globe

Ideas

Who invented ‘heavy metal’?

A new answer to how a genre got its name—and why it stuck

Ambient. Alt-rock. Axé. Boogie-woogie. Chiptune. Darkcore. Enka. Filk. Grime. Hyphy. Highlife. Deep house. Dangdut. Djent. J-pop. K-pop. Pop punk. Pagode. Disco polo. Dark cabaret. Choro. Chicago blues. Chutney soca. Soukous. Shibuya-kei. Laïkó. Mento. Norteño. Sertanejo. Serialism. Minimalism. Mathcore. Grindcore. Breakbeat hardcore. Bebop. Post-bop. Vispop. Verismo. Wandelweiser. Neue Deutsche Welle. Neo-classicism. Nintendocore. Cod reggae. Rap metal. Ragtime. Trance. Two tone. Vaudeville. Wong shadow. Yé-yé. Zef.

We name musical styles. We categorize. We classify. Every one of those terms—and hundreds more like them—means something to some group: composers, musicians, listeners, dancers. Each has a story, an etymology. Sometimes it’s geographical: The Chicago blues originated on that city’s South Side; Shibuya-kei came from Tokyo’s Shibuya shopping district (and, to the annoyance of some musicians, was further promoted under that name by Shibuya record-shop owners). Sometimes it’s descriptive, or even onomatopoeic: The Indonesian style dangdut and the heavy metal offshoot djent were named in sonic imitation, the former after the sound of the tabla, the latter after its driving, palm-muted electric guitar. Sometimes the origins are whimsically absurd: Filk, a style of science-fiction-themed folk music, got its name from a typographical error.

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