My local record store used to have this great poster on the back wall that explained how several dozen British indie bands from the 80s were all linked together through their various group members. The title of the poster was something like “Why All These Bands Sound the Same” and it was clearly a tongue-and-cheek slam of the gloomy post-punk sound of musical groups like Bauhaus and the Smiths.
I loved the design concept and looked for the poster when the store finally went out of business a few years ago. Although I never found it, it occurred to me recently that I might be able to reconstruct the graphic using some modern tools and data from the online music site AllMusic.com.
AllMusic is an outstanding musical resource and their meticulous site formatting allowed me to write a program that would crawl from page to page gathering information about interrelated bands and band members as it went. I decided to use the group Joy Division as a starting point because I liked the movie Control and had a vague memory of that particular band name appearing on the poster. The program ran over night … evaluating 37,538 separate pages before it completed its run.
Using the IBM visualization tool, Many Eyes, I created a network diagram of the bands that are within six steps of my “seed” group. The full interactive results are at the end of the post (worth the effort if the Many Eyes site is working) but here is a detail:
The Joy Division Network
At nearly 38K records, this particular musical network covers a huge swath of Anglo-American rock-and-roll and includes almost all of the major groups in the Pop/Rock genre. What’s perhaps most interesting about this massive network is the fact that Joy Division is only linked to two bands directly, the acclaimed New Order (formed in 1980 after the death of JD vocalist Ian Curtis) and the Manchester supergroup Freebass (formed in 2004). All other connections are indirect, with a total of 20 degrees of separation between Joy Division and the most distant band in the network, post-grunge Los Angeles outfit Open Hand (formed in 2000).
Other Thoughts on the Data
The first odd thing I noticed about the network was that, by focusing on the relationships between bands, the network excludes a lot of well-known solo artists. Even when these musicians joined a band, their independent careers limited these associations to one or two instances. The best example of this situation would be someone like Elvis Presley or Johnny Cash. Both of these artists were loosely linked together through a glorified hootenanny called The Million Dollar Quartet (along with Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis). The only other bands in this network are The Offenders and the Cash-related groups The Highwaymen and Johnny Cash & the Tennessee Two. Some of the other solo artists in this minor network are household names (depending on the household, of course), including Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson, and Willie Nelson. Three bands, a half-dozen stars and a lot of hits … but no direct connection to the huge Joy Division network. Many current rap artists seem to fit this mold as well.
On the flip side, progressive rock groups like King Crimson had members who were in dozens of other bands. These social connectors can be seen at the center of a huge spider web of interrelated groups in the network diagram. Bands like these are often experimental in nature, with talented musicians putting their stamp on a number of different side projects. Some very influential artists can be spotted in the midst of these groups, including — using King Crimson as an example — famous journeyman players like Robert Fripp, Adrian Belew, John Wetton and Greg Lake.
Finally, although I distinctly remember the band Bauhaus and its associated constellation of bands (Love & Rockets, Tones on Tail, The Jazz Butcher, etc.) on the poster, they were not within six degrees of separation of Joy Division in the network data (they were about eight links away). This exposes an issue with my data gathering methodology because it doesn’t take into account other relationships between artists such as mentors, guest musicians, common producers or other ties. Still, it was an interesting exercise with fruitful results.
Additional Interactive Charts
Bubble diagram of musical styles (full band network):
Network diagram (six degrees of Joy Division):