but this place is just right.
When I clicked “Request to Join Group” early last year, a pop-up window asked: “What is rule number one?”
I typed into a text field, “Shazam it first.”
A moderator deemed my response acceptable a few days later and I was admitted into The Identification of Music Group, a private Facebook community for heads, punters, rave obsessives, vinyl collectors, UK lads, trainspotters, disc jockeys, and ketamine users who have heard a song they don’t recognize and want to find out what it is.
As rule number one implies, the Identification of Music Group fills the gap left by Apple-owned Shazam, an app that can identify music by listening to it through a microphone, which in 2014 had 100 million active monthly users and had identified songs 15 billion times. When failed by that application, IOM users can harness the combined musical knowledge of its 95,000 members. Here, those unrecognized earworms that pleasantly but annoyingly haunt your memory and camera roll are finally pinpointed in a crowdsourcing exercise as satisfying as it is silly.
Scrolling down the page, it takes only ten seconds to find a good example of how the Identification of Music Group functions. One user, Lewis, had posted a short, shaky video with the caption “Dixon ID?”. In the video, the popular German DJ, Dixon, plays for a crowd in Tulum, Mexico. Blackened outlines of dancers sway, strobes flash and bass is distorted through the phone’s internal mic. The song in question has a persistent house kick, tribal hand drums, a synth melody and a female vocalist singing in an African language.
A few fellow IOM members agreed that the song was cool, but didn’t know the track themselves, so they each commented a “b”, both to to bump Lewis’s post’s algorithmic visibility on the page and so they, too, would be sent a notification if an enterprising future commenter rescued the mystery record from sonic obscurity. Ffive minutes later, a user named George commented, leaving just a YouTube link to“Gatluak (Nandu Mix)” by Nyaruach. Case closed.
If you’re a person with a normal brain, the necessity of the Identification of Music Group might sound suspect. Streaming service libraries and their recommendation algorithms serve up more music than a person could listen to in a thousand lifetimes, clearly displaying song metadata without the need for an international network of detectives. If you hear a new track on the radio or in a restaurant, Shazam probably won’t fail you. And if it does, why not just accept the song’s ephemerality in that moment? Why go through an elaborate, multi-step process to identify a piece of music that we will eventually outgrow or forget or play to death in a world of endless audio?
In the case of IOM, its members may seem to have a particular affliction that requires them to consume repetitive robot-fart music in sweaty warehouses for hours on end. Others compulsively purchase first-pressing disco twelves on vinyl resale sites. And whether in a packed rave or in the living room of a friend’s apartment, those people form intense connections to the music they hear not just aurally, but kinesthetically and visually, almost in a narcotic sense. For them (or really, us, if I include myself, which I should), a great song played at the right time can transform a night or weekend, and letting it slip into the ether unrecognized feels like a minor tragedy.
Some of the most satisfying posts in IOM come about when posters give the group scant detail to work off of. Some postings are completely devoid of audio or video, and resort to onomatopoeia to describe all-instrumental tracks (“I’d say the tune’s around 130 BPM, the synth line goes doo doo, bee bee bee, dummm”). Others sing half-remembered melodies into their voice memo apps. Such Hail Marys don’t always work, but these challenging IDs get a lot of engagement from users who are amused by and sympathetic to the efforts of the original poster; the group’s helpful and competitive streaks kick in, resulting in dozens of suggestions.
And sometimes magic happens. One guy recently had his track identified after simply describing it as “someone smacking a metal bin lid.”
The plight of IOM members has a lot to do with the genres we’re interested in, which are at once specific and not. They’re best put under the umbrella of “dance” music––most identification requests are tracks cherry-picked from DJ sets performed by the type of artists covered by Resident Advisor, one of the only online electronic music magazines that isn’t perceived as a cancer by true devotees. While younger Americans might associate dance music and raves with fur-booted, Electric Daisy Carnival imagery, the editors, writers and readers of Resident Advisor put little stock in the ostentatious EDM popularized in the US in the 2000s. Uninterested in that subgenre's poppy vocals andinfamous “drops”, the publication and its community favor loopy techno, refined house, breakbeats, ambient, experimental, dance classics and uncovered rarities.
The eccentricities of these strains of dance music and its performance can often prevent a rigid, inhuman tool like Shazam from properly identifying songs, creating a need that the people-based network of IOM satisfies. Most dance music is performed by DJs, who layer two or more tracks on top of each other while manipulating their sonics with pitch, equalization, filtering and effects. These fundamental aspects of DJing make songs sound unlike themselves, and it’s easy to imagine how that fucks with Shazam.
What’s more, a DJ’s tracks might also appear ostensibly unidentifiable if they’re very new or very old. In terms of the former, DJs reward live audiences and pique the interest of IOM members with brand new tunes that have yet to hit steaming services, record store shelves, or Shazam. UK artist Four Tet, for instance, played outhis edit of Bobby Powell’s “Question” for months before releasing it to the public, leaving the heads on IOM to clamor in vain.
At the other end of the spectrum, digger DJs like Amsterdam’s Hunee and Antal Heitlager weaponize decades-spanning record collections as they delight crowds with too-obscure-for-Shazam grooves from long-shuttered labels of Italy, Japan, Africa and beyond. (After catching them perform last year, I needed IOM’s help to identify the 1979 tune“Make Your Body Dance” from Nigerian disco outfit BLO.)
Factor in other quirks, such as the scene’s longstanding fetish for digitization-eschewing, vinyl-only labels, and you can see why dance devotees are often denied the big data promise of Shazam. The existence of this void moved a guy named Daniel Rothwell to found the Identification of Music Group in 2015 to beat the machine with a comparatively analog, community-oriented solution.
The discourse is overwhelmingly friendly and functional, in my experience. Original posters are often still buzzing, literally and figuratively, from the performance they saw the night before, and would like to get some particularly resonating tracks identified before they forget. Their happiness comes through in their caption. In the comments, strangers from around the world bump the post and tag their friends, validating the unknown music as good and a worthwhile contribution to the group. And despite their often-encyclopedic dance music knowledge, commenters that swoop in to ID tracks don’t gloat or shame people for not knowing a tune, they just drop a link.
Some interactions can skew a bit cruel; there are lighthearted ribbings when someone posts a particularly cheesy track or genre. The song gets identified anyways. At the heart of IOM is a strangely kind, communal instinct to help people you’ll never meet with their inconsequential sonic mysteries, sharing arcane knowledge without any material reward.
The Identification of Music Group’s congeniality is partly due to being a closed group with tactful moderation, and to the group’s utilitarian purpose. The page’s limited scope of discourse is a welcome reprieve from the fraught, open-ended discussions that can make other music communities (of all genres) exhausting. Instead of picking apart artists, industry trends, and album reviews, people on IOM simply capture, share and ID songs that make us happy.
Dance music has always provided escape from the professional and political, and while it’s important that people and publications interrogate the scene’s artistry and activism, it’s also valuable to have online spaces like IOM that distill its innate diversion. Because it’s quite popular, there are certainly chin-strokers out there who want to debate the group’s “effect on the scene.” But IOM is just a place where a hundred thousand people who like goofy, repetitive music can rave vicariously and scratch the itch of having unidentified songs identified. It’s a surprisingly useful tool that happens to also yield an endless, exciting feed of new combinations of lights, music, and lizard-brain stimulation––all in a nonhierarchical community free of bickering, hot takes and purity tests.
There’s something admirable about dance music fans, who go to events and listen to mixes not in spite of, but because of the fact that they’ll mostly hear songs they don’t recognize. It’s nice to believe that an unhealthy appetite for new music means my entire personhood isn’t yet hopelessly calcified. Here, I watch dodgy videos of dance music posted by people who don’t know the names of the songs they’re posting. I try to help. And sometimes they help me.