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11 February, 2004

Is 'prog' progressive?

This is a distinction of which many 'prog' fans will be aware, and particularly Porcupine Tree fans, but the subject came up in conversation at a Jethro Tull discussion group today, so I thought I'd mention it here too.

Progressive music is that which progresses, adding something new to a particular genre, typically taking that genre in a new direction. Music of any genre can be progressive.
The progenitors of hip-hop defined a whole new genre. The act of definition was was progressive; it changed the direction of popular music. However, once established, hip-hop itself isn't progressive. Likewise, the originators of disco, or swing, or skiffle, whatever, were progressive, though those that followed in the same genre weren't. Fairport Convention were progressive at the start of the Seventies, in combining rock sensibilities with traditional English folk music to father a whole new genre, folk-rock.

'Prog rock' is the name of a specific genre. In this context 'prog' is a label, not a description. This specific genre, also known as 'symphonic rock' or 'art rock' is usually characterised by extremely long songs or instrumentals, with intricate, highly structured arrangements borrowing heavily from orchestral music.

Now the distinction: very little 'prog' is progressive, and progressive music isn't automatically 'prog'. In the early Seventies, bands such as Yes and ELP defined the 'art rock' genre, so were indeed progressive; hence the original label of 'progressive rock'. However, having carved this niche, such bands continued to release further albums in the same vein. All credit to them for finding a successful formula and sensibly sticking to it, but by definition they ceased to progress and 'prog' became just a name. To rigidly conform to an unchanging style cannot be truly progressive; some would argue that 'more of the same' is even regressive.

  • Music expanding/transcending any genre can be progressive.
  • Only music fitting the specific, well-defined genre is termed 'prog'.
  • Music expanding/transcending the 'prog' genre could be progressive, but that's very rare nowadays.
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