On my old RateYourMusic account I used to have a customised zero to five-star rating system.
The site would let you assign words and phrases to your ratings and, because it included half-stars, there were ten options to fill in.
Across the site people got quite creative and meta with these. Some were deadly serious. Others would knowingly poke fun at numbered rating systems all together. (Pitchfork still haven’t got that memo.)
Someone might order the films of Steven Spielberg, for instance, from golden to trash, and use them as markers for the albums they would rate on the platform, adding an extra layer of fun to think about why someone has given Can’s Tago Mago a rating of E.T. The Extraterrestrial or Sonic Youth’s Daydream Nation a Jaws out of five.
I had an idea for one that I thought was pretty inspired: medical conditions. I thought why not assign every rating between zero and five stars with a different disease or syndrome and use that as my marker for whether an album is good or not. I thought it was funny, if a little darkly so, and the spectrum was certainly one of extremes.
Five stars was, obviously, synaesthesia. If there’s any medical condition you’d want to have, surely that’s the no-brainer choice?
Four point five stars, the next step down, was Jumping Frenchmen of Maine. Weird, a little esoteric maybe, but a mental image that brings joy. I thought that made sense at the time.
Zero stars was the Ebola virus.
The middle ratings were kind of hard to make a decision on. Something not life-threatening but maybe just a bit irritating or inconveniencing or temporarily mildly debilitating.
I remember that three stars was the common cold. Everyone gets it, there’s a season when it’s all the rage, but it’s hard to enjoy and probably only lasts a couple of days. The dead centre, however — two point five stars — I’d decided would be diabetes.
I didn’t really put that much thought into it the other ratings. It was a gag. Maybe in poor taste but thankfully there are very few albums that I’ve heard in my life that I thought were as bad as the Ebola virus or cancer. However, there have been plenty of middling uninteresting releases out there, and one day my indifference to one release would get me into a bit of trouble.
In 2014 there was this guy, who should probably remain nameless, who released his first EP. It was talked about by everyone all over the music press and was totally caught up in the “deconstructed club” hype machine. I remember Boomkat had it as their recommendation for the week. FactMag too maybe. It was everywhere and had this mad cover art that someone threw a big-name graphic designer at and they were being heralded as the next big-deal underground producer.
I didn’t get the hype, personally. The EP in question was of the sort that you hear ten a penny of these days. Half-ironic trance-inspired post-dubstep whatever, and it’s meant to be for the club maybe, but whoever deconstructed it just took all the soul out and then just said it was post-industrial to justify the monotony.
I didn’t say any of this online at the time, of course. I just logged it in my RYM catalogue with a two point five “meh” and left it at that. Diabetes.
A couple of days later I got an email in my inbox.
It was the guy who has put out the EP and he wanted to know why I said his EP was “diabetes”.
I was mortified. I tried to explain it was just a joke and how the customisable rating systems on the site worked and why I’d chosen mine. We had this awkward back and forth where I tried to play it down and I’m nobody anyway so don’t worry about it, mate. I didn’t mean anything by it. I didn’t like the EP, sorry, but the “diabetes” thing is just an arbitrary thing. Honest. No offence intended.
The more I tried to explain it the less funny it got and the more awkward. He wasn’t satisfied with any of my (admittedly poor) reasonings.
“Yeah but why diabetes though?”
I didn’t know what else to say. I had no reason to justify saying this guy’s first EP was like a lifelong condition of glucose imbalance. It just seemed like the most “meh” of medical conditions to me at the time — a bit shit but you can live with it. Imagine putting up with the monotony of daily injections and having to tell yourself no, you can’t have an extra biscuit.
But he kept persisting and, as our emails went back and forth, me feeling like I had a pile of embarrassment bricks in my stomach, I kept trying to explain my lack of thinking and it was just an irreverent thing. (“Shitposting” wasn’t a thing back then.)
In the end all I was doing was adding salt to a wound and I was running out of ways to politely reiterated the fact I thought the EP was dull and even started to eat my words, saying things like, “anyway maybe I just need to listen to it a few more times. No hard feelings, dude.”
But still he was persistent and he was starting to come across as a little unhinged. But then that became more and more clear as I thought about the situation. My mortification was wearing off and I started to wonder why he’d contacted me in the first place — and how!? I was some nobody workaday very online guy living in Cardiff with no social life or media platform. Just a random RYM user. Why was he emailing me? Surely his skin wasn’t this thin? Was I the only person not to like it? All the other reviews had been pretty glowing…
Then I remembered that my email wasn’t even attached to my RYM profile. He’ sought me out and must have done a fair bit of digging to get to this point. And then he said:
“Yeah but why diabetes though? I’m diabetic and no-one outside my closest mates knows that and I’m touchy about it so how is it that you know I’m diabetic when I don’t know you?”
It was hard to know what to say to that. I don’t think I said anything at all. I did the internet equivalent of backing away slowly but still probably tweeted about it. He might have threatened me with violence at some point, I’m not sure. But in the end, the whole thing blew over and so did he. I don’t think he’s put anything out since. Maybe a disappointing follow-up but then they fell off the map completely.
Hope you’re well, mate. Wherever you are…