A while ago I wrote a massive article on music, and the current state of it. As part of this article I interviewed a number of people about their tastes, and what they think is on the horizon. I think we’ve started to see the turning of the tide.
The article was never published despite promises. The joy of having my own website is I can write what I want. Here it is:
In the last five years the volume on amplifiers seems to have been turned down. Overdrive has fallen out of favour and instead we are faced with a wave of electronica, of synth beds and computer-based production of music. This is not to say there are not incredible bands making incredible music out there, more that we appear to be at a low point for the rock guitarist.
These things come in waves. As part of the research into this article I spoke to a number of people about what they make of the current trends in music, their thoughts on what will happen this year and whether live music still prevails in a world where venues are closing left, right and centre and charging bands to perform. One of the key pieces of information I was given was these things come in cycles or in waves, which makes perfect sense, even on a grander scale than the music scene. We are experiencing a massive 80’s resurgence.
Yuppies are trotting about in their patent leather shoes with no socks, spunk in their quiffs, body warmers, outrageously big mobile phones and wraps of cocaine lining their pockets. Teenage girls are donning washed out denim cut-offs, making collages of androgynous boys they fancy and drinking garish alcoholic concoctions. Music is more image than substance. Teenage boys are pawning their Fenders for Korgs. The more you think about it, the more parallels there seem to be and the more depressing it all becomes. To quote Tame Impala, one of the few bands of the last couple of years still flying the flag, ‘it feels like we only go backwards’.
Is there really that much difference between Duran Duran crooning and swaying on a yacht in the video for Rio (boats and hoes) and A$AP Rocky bragging about his bank account figures? Is Rihanna glamorising sex any more than Madonna ever did?
A decade ago there was a resurgence of British guitar bands. It felt like a scene, and while it was quite short lived and was never really given a tabloid-friendly title beyond ‘new Brit-Pop’ it was an exciting time for British music. Radios and charts were full of clever lyrics, battling guitars and skinny white boy attitude. There are still bands of that wave riding along and they are to be applauded for it. Suck It And See was arguably Arctic Monkey’s best album to date while In The Belly Of The Brazen Bull saw The Cribs return to lo-fi form, yet there is no real collective nature to what is going on.
The worry when I took this article on was the fact I am invested in the last wave. I wanted to be a part of it. They were my formative years. I was in school, in college, at university and beyond when The Libertines, The Strokes, Franz Ferdinand and the like were pummelling pop with a righteous uppercut. I decided to open my inbox to others to see if I was taking the whole issue far too personally.
James claimed “Miles Kane is single-handedly keeping guitar going at the moment” saying he expected it all to “pick back up this year, whatever that means”. Whilst interviewing him he mentioned a number of different artists due to release new albums this year. Amongst those listed were Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Atoms For Peace and Kings Of Leon “but that’s just wishful thinking” he added of the latter. The thing I took from speaking to him is we are reliant on pre-existing and established bands to keep the whole operation on the road. There are not many up and coming guitar bands.
During the period of my research I was amazed by the amount of people who commented on the state of ‘manufactured’ music, especially the attempts by shows like X Factor to branch out with ‘winners’ like Matt Cardles and James Arthur who can hold a guitar. It’s hard however to maintain respect for anyone when you can see the price they were bought for.
The joy of listening to a band or musician is to hear the progression they make form the first album where they don’t get the full works in terms of production, when they are seen as a risk. The songs they produce for the first album are the hard work, them honing their craft and finding their way in the world. The ones who make it to a second or third album and indeed beyond are those who have a gift for songwriting. The stories you have to tell once you have ‘made it’ are seemingly not as exciting and involving as the freshman effort, and that is where many meet their maker. With manufactured artists everything is thrown at them, a team of songwriters, top producers, radio play, total exposure, and you don’t get to enjoy the journey of it all. Seeing them break down over the loss of a childhood pet who always believed in their talent is just not the same thing.
In terms of the way music is now being produced there were a mixture of opinions from people. Ariel, who works for New Jersey radio station The Core said it “doesn’t make any difference to her” how an album was recorded as long as it is bearable to listen to. “I don’t mind if it is in a fancy recording studio or in someone’s garage”.
Meanwhile Lottie said “the best records in my mind are often (but not always) those that are simply recorded, and are always those that are not overproduced… if a band aren’t honest with how they sound then it almost defeats the object”.
Ariel also said she had noticed there was a blurring of the lines between alternative stations and pop stations. While this can be seen as a positive as it gets a greater listenership and the opportunity to influence more young people to pick up instruments and try and make something meaningful, it also taints the music and the artists for those who sought it out and for who it was made special. While investigating the matter I received some flack for trying to drum up a redundant argument. I was told to seek out great music rather than accept what is offered to me. I try to do both, but it feels there is very little powerful music being created at the moment. I am open to being corrected, open to recommendations and a severe telling off.
Janelle said she was simply too lazy to “Dig through the horseshit” to find new music. She complained it had got “terribly bleepy-bloopy”.
Singer-songwriter Sam Sexton said some of the blame lies with the music venues themselves. “Good new bands find it hard to come through. 20 years ago live music clubs were ubiquitous, now they take a backseat and there is no good outlet unless you have the ability to market yourself”.
This brings out another interesting discussion. It seems bands need to be able to package and develop themselves over the Internet in order to reach the people, rather than building a fan base in the traditional way of gigging as often as they possibly can.
Florence & The Machine and Two Door Cinema Club were given radioplay following their BBC Introducing pages. Lily Allen was considered to be a MySpace star. Arctic Monkeys first EP was ripped and shared over the Internet to gain buzz. It seems increasingly if you want to get ahead as a band you have to put the hard work in yourself in terms of social networking. The problem is everything is trying to do this. In the same way all bands start out trying to emulate a hero’s sound, all bands try to emulate the success of YouTube or BandCamp sensations. In many way we are saturated with music. Before Internet downloads there were only the CDs you could afford to buy or burn copies of from friends. Before that there were only the tapes you could copy songs from the radio with or buy. Before that there were only vinyl.
I spoke to my own father on the subject, who brought me up on a steady diet of T-Rex, David Bowie and Led Zeppelin. He plays in a 60’s and 70’s cover band. He said when he was a teenager he could only afford to buy one record a month and he would listen to it non stop and know every lyric and every guitar part through. That’s something we have lost.
In a world where you can carry 8,000 songs around in your pocket, and have access to Spotify, YouTube and however else you choose to listen to music there is a big wall for artists, and the money is spreading thinner each time.
Danielle commented “the likes of EMI, Sony BMG and so on need to start listening with their ears and not with their bank accounts”. This is all well and good in theory, but so is Communism. In practice we are looking at a business, and the aim is obviously try and make as much money as possible.
I asked a lot of people if rock was dead. It is possibly the most cliché question I have asked anyone in two years but that is often the best way to get a response from people sometimes. I believe for the most part it is dormant. It is rare to hear a recognisable riff in music today. Those that spring to mind come from the likes of Band Of Skulls, St Vincent, Jack White and The Black Keys, bands who are known, are established and are keeping the flame burning.
There seems to be an essence of laziness to music today. It seems anyone can sit at a computer and throw something down, and I state that whilst spanking myself with a paddle for committing exactly that sin.
We should be more concerned about the callouses on our fingers than the squareness of our eyes.
A part of the problem is education. Music isn’t seen by the government as being important, despite David Cameron’s insistence that he loves The Smiths. A statement which moved Johnny Marr to ban him from listening to his music.
I gained a lot more from music between the ages of eleven to sixteen than I ever did from maths. It’s a wider problem as well. The worlds of art and drama are sidelined for what are considered to be the core subjects. I don’t know why any school child would need to learn German unless they wanted to translate the complete works of Rammstein but I’m not in government and therefore obviously aren’t as savvy to the world as they are, from their ivory towers, with their two homes and fraudulent claims and benefits.
To return to the idea of cycles, in theory the next phase we repeat should therefore be the early nineties. Freelance writer Rob Thomas said “people will get fed up of bumf dink weeble weeble music and want more guitar based music… I think music has a cycle of about 25 to 30 years”. As far as I can see this will only be a good thing. Imagine if the ‘soft grunge’ fashions of the last year give rise to a resurgence of grunge music. The kids who tire of the current scene will dip back to Sonic Youth, Husker Du, Pixies and Nirvana. At the time it was a complete sub-culture and a complete fuck you to record companies and prancing about to backing tracks. It was gritty and it was real.
It won’t be anything new in the immediate sense of the word but as Ariel commented “new music must always be compared to already existing music in order to fit into a category or several. Any new music will inevitably be stuffed into a genre, keeping a genre ‘alive’ in a sense… it seems critics and listeners are much more likely to smash twenty genres together to create an artist, rather than creating a new genre’.
I’m reminded of a quote in Chbosky’s Perks. It was said no band could ever be as big as The Beatles because they gave the whole thing a context. Anybody following from that point is just emulating and that’s how sub-categories begin. Arguably Helter Skelter was the start of metal.
There is always the hope something will come through and completely change music. As Kate said ‘rock never dies, it just goes underground it’s off the coke and ready for a comeback’. I read recent dub-step was the music of our generation, but if that’s the case I think I’ll sit this one out.
I can’t predict the future. If I could I wouldn’t have included quite so many maybes in this article. What I will say is the floor is wide open for a new scene or culture or sub-genre of rock bands to come forth. It has been long enough. You may be reading this article with a guitar cradled in your lap. You may be planning on meeting up in a practice room or a garage with some friends, but there is no reason you couldn’t take what you are doing and blow an awful lot of turgid driftwood and shit clean out of the water.