I regularly post links to some related BBC shows that touch on the material we cover on the module or material that we don’t always have time to go into enough depth with. Here we have a celebration of the like of Martin Luther King in the 50th anniversary year of his death from Radio 4’s Great Lives series.
Actor Clarke Peters narrates a special edition of Soul Music marking fifty years since the assassination of the Reverend Dr Martin Luther King on April 4th 1968.
“If in doubt, pray and sing” an activist recalls how music was used as part of Dr King’s non-violent resistance movement.
This edition of Soul Music tells the stories of the songs behind the Civil Rights Movement including the spirituals and freedom songs that were integral to the struggle. In the 19th century, music became a tool for protest and resistance among the enslaved peoples of the American South. The programme hears the stories behind some of the most popular anthems and Freedom Songs that were later used as part of the civil resistance movement that eventually led to voting rights and desegregation. From Swing Low Sweet Chariot and We Shall Overcome to Amazing Grace, Strange Fruit and A Change Is Gonna Come, witnesses to and participants in the Civil Rights Movement recall how songs were such a vital part of the story.
Every now and then the BBC Great Lives series pushes out a musical cracker. Here we have Adrian Utley of trip-hop/electronica act, Portishead, explaining why Mr Davis is the one of the greatest jazz musicians to ever graced this planet.
Miles Davis – trumpeter, composer, bandleader – is championed by Adrian Utley of Portishead.
“He’s always been really important in my life, right from early on when my dad used to play him. It was part of the atmosphere of our house.”
From the early years with Charlie Parker and on via Kind of Blue to playing in front of 600,000 hippies on the Isle of Wight, Miles Davis was a musician who never stood still. “Always listen for what you can leave out,” he used to say, and Portishead’s seminal nineties album Dummy seems to have taken advice from the man. According to Adrian Utley, “The darkness and the sense of space is the thing that I have assimilated from Miles … he’s in my DNA.”
With Richard Williams, author of The Blue Moment: Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue and the Remaking of Modern Music,.
Presented by a sceptical Matthew Parris, and produced by an enthusiastic Miles Warde.
I’ve often found this BBC Radio 4 series to be a little bit hit or miss with regards to their episodes and their focus but there are some gems hidden away that you deserve to listen to. The episode below is from Series 25 and tackles the late Bob Marley classic ‘Redemption Song’ – one of the singer’s last (and finest) songs from the Uprising album. It features some heart-wrenching accounts of the song and its meanings that fans have attached
You can stream the show here and you can download the mp3 here.
“If you’ve never heard of Bob Marley then you must be living under a rock” – Neville Garrick, Bob Marley’s Art Director and friend.
At the time he wrote ‘Redemption Song’, circa 1979, Bob Marley had been diagnosed with the cancer in his toe that later took his life. It is considered one of his greatest works and continues to inspire generations of Marley fans across the world.
For Grammy Award Winning artist John Legend, it’s become an anthem for addressing the criminal justice system of America. ‘Musicians without Borders’ practitioner Ahmed al ‘Azzeh finds the song inspires him to work towards a better life in the Palestinian Territories. For Jamaican Poet Laureate Lorna Goodison, it is a reminder to continue Marley’s call to ‘sing these songs of freedom’ and for Bob Scott, it will forever be heard in memory of his nephew Dominick who lost his life during the 2004 Tsunami.
Featuring interviews with Neville Garrick and Wailers Guitarist Don Kinsley.
Disco is a genre that rarely appears to be taken very seriously and, in the present day, often seems to be disregarded as novelty music that people do not genuinely believe to be of supreme quality. However, during its emergence from the late 1960s to the 1970s, it represented a very important outlet for a lot of people who, away from the dancefloor, were the target of much discrimination at this point in history. As well as this, revisiting a lot of disco music is an enjoyable thing to do because, despite how it sometimes tends to be perceived today, it is a genre that produced a considerable amount of very good music. It went though something a crisis with the ‘Disco Sucks’ campaign and the film Saturday Night Fever, which seemed to ignore so many of the important themes that were at the centre of the disco movement but, through a retrospective look at the disco scene, it is clear that it deserves a lot more respect that people have often been willing to give it.
The origins of disco and its initial popularity are usually traced back to the DJ David Mancuso and his parties at The Loft in New York in the early 1970s. An Alex Petridis article in The Guardian after Mancuso’s death in 2016 says: “The crowd Mancuso’s parties drew were pansexual and racially mixed – about 60% black and 70% gay, according to one estimate – a gathering of ‘the disaffected and disenfranchised’”. This was in the wake of the 1969 Stonewall Riots, which had empowered communities who had been consistently targeted by police and oppressed for so long and had led to the formation of groups like the Gay Liberation Front. The music and nightlife were important as a means of exercising that liberation and as expression for racially and sexually diverse groups of people. Musically, what Mancuso played was dance music that had its origins in funk, with distinctive basslines and horn sections. These characteristics can be heard in songs like Manu Dibango’s 1972 jazz-funk hit ‘Soul Makossa’
Artists such as Donna Summer and Grace Jones emerged as standout stars of the genre. Particular highlights from their respective discographies include Summer’s 16-minute disco epic ‘Love to Love You Baby’ from 1975 and Jones’s irresistibly funky bass-driven 1977 reworking of Edith Piaf’s ‘La Vie en rose’ from her first album, Portfolio. The sexual liberation that disco fans were enjoying was reflected in the music. The lyrics to ‘Love to Love You Baby’ are punctuated by moans that are clearly there to emphasise the intensity of the sexual experience the song appears to be referencing.
The early years of disco were characterised by freedom and diversity, and also by musical innovation. Nicky Siano, a DJ who opened his club The Gallery in 1973, is acknowledged as the pioneer of various new DJing techniques, such as beatmatching and the use of multiple turntables. As an interview on the Vinyl Factory’s website highlights: “In the history of DJ culture, Nicky Siano’s presence looms large. His club The Gallery was instrumental in forging the disco culture of the 1970s in New York, while his technique on the decks helped further the art of mixing records as we know it.” In terms of the history of dance music as a whole, Siano’s innovation that was central to the disco scene in New York has been very influential.
It was not just in the USA where disco took off. It was also prominent in European popular music. Boney M, made up of four vocalists from the Caribbean but formed in West Germany in 1975, were particularly successful. Musically they had unmistakably disco elements but also took inspiration from reggae. Their live performances were characterised by the energetic dancing and costumes of Bobby Farrell and they enjoyed chart success throughout Europe with singles such as ‘Daddy Cool’ and ‘Sunny’ as well as the uniquely unforgettable 1978 track ‘Rasputin’.
ABBA were also involved with eurodisco and remain one of the most successful bands of all time. The disco tracks that these acts put out may be a bit poppier and perhaps less interesting than the music of Donna Summer and Grace Jones but they are still fun to listen to and the early days of disco were all about people having the freedom to express themselves and have fun in a way that had previously not been so open to them.
The release of 1977’s Saturday Night Fever, starring John Travolta, brought disco very much into the mainstream. However, what was represented in the film was not a particularly accurate depiction of the disco scene. It centred on white, heteronormative characters and was soundtracked by the Bee Gees. It would be difficult to describe it as a celebration of the racial and sexual inclusivity that was so fundamental to the development of disco music and dancing.
While Saturday Night Fever’s portrayal was perhaps unhelpful for how disco was received, the ‘Disco Sucks’ campaign, started by rock radio DJ Steve Dahl, was to prove more damaging. As a Hadley Meares article for Aeon describes: “Dahl saw disco as slick and inauthentic, and he took to playing popular disco tunes, only to ‘blow ’em up real good’ with sound-effects live on-air.” He had a lot of fans who agreed with him and the movement kept growing. This culminated in the 1979 public demolition of many disco records and subsequent riot at a Chicago White Sox baseball game. Dahl distanced the movement from racism or homophobia but it did involve many young white men who appeared to find the disco scene, which welcomed so many marginalised people, threatening to their notions of constructions of masculinity.
Disco did slow down and the scene became less prominent into the 1980s but it is impossible to deny the influence that it has had on popular music styles since then. It undoubtedly deserves to be loved and appreciated for what it represented, and for the joy and freedom that the music communicated.
After the dust cloud of the Sex Pistol’s implosion had settled, there was no time for Punk’s eulogy as our dear music culture at the time wasn’t particularly into grieving for the era that has just been and gone. And so with that mentality the music scene had decided that an almost page-one-rewrite was needed for the coming era.
Gone was the righteous hegemonic masculinity of punk rock where men were Neanderthals in expressing a deep rooted rage at the establishment and everything it stood for. These punk rockers were unprepared for the likes of Joy Division and the kind of earnestness that Ian Curtis would bring to dark dystopian guitar work and tribal drum beats figuratively exploded the heads of those who once engaged in the slamdancing and spit fights of the mid-to-late 1970s. Where punk had been the liberation of a generation, post-punk was the rising of underground music to a mainstream that needed a new direction.
The post-punk moment in music was one which ignored the doctrine of the time before it and raided the pre-punk chest of the whole of prog rock, the androgynous sexuality of Roxy Music and perhaps most importantly balls-to-the-wall all out craziness of Captain Beefheart. While this type of music had been viewed as stale when the likes of The Ramones and The Clash set fire to them in the mid 70s, it was the new pioneers of the Talking Heads and The Cure who found in this the key to a new future. Whether it’s David Byrne reciting Captain Beefheart’s ‘Well’ or getting former Roxy Music member Brian Eno to produce the pivotal post-punk album Remain In Light, it is easy to find the fingerprints of pre-punk all over post-punk.
While 1977 had been the year that gave us Never Mind The Bollocks which had become the holy scripture that the Sex Pistol’s brought down from the mountain top of counter-culture, David Bowie and Brian Eno were putting out what Bowie described as “new language” what was particular interesting, about these release in hindsight is how the experimentation of Low and Heroes had been unprecedented. On one hand it was being described as “alienating” by a Dutch journalist and on the other was being regarded by the New York Times as “a strange crossbreed of Roxy Music, Brian Eno’s own solo albums, Talking Heads and an Indonesian gamelan”.
With this response to Bowie’s Low, it is easy to identify how post-punk was melting the minds of a music audience whilst feeding them the conventions of the early 1970s rock music which punk had attempted to erase from the archives of popular culture. While we could of course talk at great lengths about the krautrock influence on David Bowie’s work in Berlin and how he appropriated the sounds of Neu, Can and Kraftwerk for his very western and very large cult following, it is important to accept that David Bowie is to this day being cited by contemporary pop artists such as; Lady Gaga, St. Vincent, Calvin Harris and Lorde and it is this period of work that is time and time again referenced as his greatest imprint on music.
There is also a separate discussion to be had on Brian Eno’s influence on the colourful landscape of modern music.
Whilst Brian Eno began his career as a producer by working on the various cornerstone records of post-punk and new wave, it was from this that he became the master of turning big bands into great bands. When it came to U2, he turned them from the biggest cult post-punk band into THE biggest band of the late 1980s and 1990s. This was evident in the various reinventions in U2’s career that begun Eno-produced The Unforgettable Fire and had continued through until the late nineties. U2 of course also being a product of early post-punk influences courtesy of the sounds of CBGBs with Television and Talking Heads having a large influence on the Irish band along with the dystopian experimental sounds of British bands Joy Division and Wire. Then there is the sequel to U2; Coldplay who enlisted Eno as producer on their Viva La Vida and Mylo Xyloto which spawned a variety of anthemic pop songs that topped worldwide charts. None of this could have possibly happened without Eno’s beginnings as a member of glam rock outfit Roxy Music and the subsequent genre fusing that led to post-punk.
Of course there is the highly influential feminist post-punk bands such as; Au Pairs and The Raincoats who can share the acclaim of heavily influencing nineties alternative rock acts such as; Nirvana and Pixies. It is documented that Kurt Cobain had high praise for The Raincoats and went as far as to listing their self-titled debut in his top 50 albums of all time as well as being credited as being a reason for their mid-nineties reformation. The Raincoats’ amateurish punk sound had been the framework for the sound of Nirvana, not only in its bare bones approach to a defiant rock sound, but in its both personal and often self-celebratory spirit which is reminiscent of the few and far between almost joyous moments of Nirvana’s short career, a key example being ‘Silver’ and ‘Been A Son’.
So while it is only quietly, you will find admission of post-punk’s wide ranging influence on the music of today and a lot of what has transpired since it faded into the early 1980s, once David Bowie’s work with Brian Eno is considered as being a sort of genesis for post-punk and those whom took influence from Low and Heroes in this period, it is easier to find how the roots of post-punk led to a portion of the popular music of today. And perhaps the most key example of this can be found here
They used to be bland and boring, now, they give it all for an adventure of a lifetime
For a newly upcoming band in the alternative rock spectrum, it’s quite difficult to make everyone instantly like you. For Coldplay, their music was arguably non conformist to the alternative rock ‘n’ roll stereotype, much to the extent that many people sought to reject their musical style and seek something…let’s just say, a bit more “rebellious”.
Since then, the band have faced mass amounts of scrutiny from fans of the genre for their lack of rock ‘n’ roll significance, going as far as branding them as being very bland.
Why, you might ask? Rock bands such as Rage Against the Machine use their songs as platforms to voice their opinions of society. Listening to Coldplay, there’s no underlying issues raised in their work.
What does ‘Fix You’ mean? Are they voicing their opinions on the political, economic or societal state of the world? No, they’re singing about love. Richard Bradley, a writer for the Huffington Post, argued that Chris Martin’s ‘songs ought to be more political, less personal.’
Take this into account and substitute the “in your face” guitar distortion that is often associated with rock, for sweet melodic piano driven relaxation vibes. Subvert the riotous singing for calm undertones of a peaceful serenade from a leader that in the eyes of Andy Gill thinks is, the ‘world’s least impressive rock star by virtually any criteria connected with rock’n’roll’ and you get an alternative rock band that isn’t really much of a rock band at all…or at least, perhaps one without a cause.
As sad as it is, people actually use that about Martin as an excuse for disliking him and the band, and arguing how dull they can be…truth is, if they were really that boring, then why is it that they are still relevant sixteen years later?
According to Forbes, the band earn $88 million as the eighth highest paid celebrity in the entertainment industry, having apparently sold over ninety-three million records with seven incredible albums, by which, according to Official Charts, all reached the number one
spot in the UK charts.
For the decade of the noughties, Coldplay released Parachutes,
Rush of Blood to the Head, X&Y and Viva La Vida. Ultimately Coldplay are known for their consistency within albums. Even though X&Y was least favoured by some as Adam Silverstein demonstrates, it obtained the number one spot in the UK Official Charts for four consecutive weeks, containing top notch singles like ‘Fix You’ and ‘Speed of Sound’.
A collaboration with Johnny Cash, having only made it to the written stage as he unfortunately passed away before recording could be done. This was a major victory for Coldplay because if they were so tasteless, then why would one of the most iconic figures from rock ‘n’ roll history want to collaborate with them?
In fact, why would artists like Beyoncé, Jay Z, Rhianna and the Chainsmokers, want to collaborate with artists that had a reputation for being uninteresting? How would this profit themselves? Yes, so Beyoncé may have turned down a song before and said it was ‘awful’
but every artist has the occasional bad song but lets not forget she did collaborate with them for their newest album, A Head Full of Dreams, lending her vocals to ‘Hymn For the Weekend’ – they must’ve done something right?
Coldplay have blossomed in the spotlight; by embracing their blandness critiques, they’ve managed to constitute it for a more emotional performance. So much so, that having been emboldened to try new things, visually and sonically, came with great success and relevance throughout the years.
Although they have no political stance, they’re admired by fans around the world for being different. Martin himself has stood his ground for over a decade cultivating a genre that was full of stereotypical madness.
Even though some lyrics may be considered border-line cringe – singing about generic love and loss (lost in translation to someone who’s tired of hearing those things, yes, it can be a little boring) but, the music is expressive.
The emotion in Martin’s voice, the soul in the music; how it can make you smile, laugh and cry, all at the same time reflects all the attributes of an amazing artist and experience.
Despite whatever criticism Coldplay have received in the past about their songs, their performances have been beyond a dream, enough to have millions of fans worldwide eagerly wait on the edge of their seats for tour dates and tickets to be released.
Following the release of their newest album, A Head Full of Dreams, on 4 December 2015, the same album which won Best British album of the year at the Brit Awards in 2016. Touring started near enough immediately, having first appeared at in Buenos Aires, Argentina on March 31 2016.
Still performing around the world just over a year and a half later, there’s no denying the band’s determination is inspirational. Aol reported back in 2016 that, a ‘second round’ of dates had to be ‘added across Europe’ because the 2017 tour had ‘sold out in minutes’. At present, Coldplay are still adding tour dates on thanks to the major stadium sell outs and the cry for more dates.
No one can argue that their journey from Starfish days, singing in local pubs to global sell out stadiums has become anything but an adventure of a lifetime. They’ve provided their fans with enough memories in one night, to last them a lifetime – I’m sure of this because I still remember
July 16 2016 at Wembley Stadium like it was just yesterday – firework and confetti explosions, inflatable surfing, laser beams, illuminous colour changing bands that lit
BBC 4 has a 3 part series on air at the time of writing that fits in with some of the content we look at in the first couple of weeks on the module. Psychoactive drug experiments by pioneering psychologists and starry-eyed kids combine to create a movement quite unlike anything that came before it.
Here’s the show notes for Episode 1:
The first episode looks at how ideas, music and lifestyles from Asia, Europe and the American Left became entwined in California. It traces the roots of the hippies back to a 19th-century German sect of wandering naturalists called Lebensreform who brought their freethinking ideas about nature to California after the Second World War. There they merged with a growing interest in Eastern mystical concepts of human nature imported to America by maverick British thinkers like Aleister Crowley and Aldous Huxley. Add to this mix a wonder drug first developed by the CIA called LSD and a wave of student activists and anti-war protestors agitating for revolution and you have the astonishing story how these forces came together to give birth to the Summer of Love in San Francisco, 1967.
If that sounds good to you then you can click through this link to watch via the BBC iPlayer.
The second episode can be found on this link. Show notes below:
The second episode explores how the Summer of Love of 1967 set in motion an era of social upheaval that pitted America’s youth against its elders and how the American government responded with a series ofbrutal crackdowns. The hippies failed politically, but their cultural influence changed the world. Everything from the environmental movement to the explosion in alternative health practices to the birth of feminism all grew out of this moment. And most surprising of all, we trace how hippie ideas first imagined on LSD went on to shape the information age itself.
The song ‘Who Knows Where The Time Goes’ is a beautiful and whimsical folk track that was written by Sandy Denny (prior to her brief stint with Fairport Convention), when she was only 19 years old and it betrays a much older soul. Her life was tragically cut short, aged only 31.
The tune is the subject of the BBC Radio 4 series, Soul Music, this week and it’s one of those hauntingly beautiful tragic songs that warrants a half hour deep dive. Click this link to go to the show or download an mp3 (26.9mb) by clicking the image below.
Here’s the show notes:
Sandy Denny was just 19 years old when she wrote ‘Who Knows Where the Time Goes?’, her much-loved song about the passing of time. Soul Music tells the story behind the song and speaks to people for whom it has special meaning.
The record producer Joe Boyd and founder member of Fairport Convention Simon Nicol remember Sandy and her music. We speak to musicians who have covered the song, including folk legend Judy Collins and the singer Rufus Wainwright, about what the song means to them. And we hear from people whose lives have been touched by the song, including the singer-songwriter Ren Harvieu, who suffered a back break in a freak accident and found strength in the song during her recovery. And neuroscientist and best-selling author David Eagleman explains why the years seem to fly past ever more quickly as we grow older. Also featuring contributions from Sandy Denny’s biographer Mick Houghton and Dr Richard Elliott, Senior Lecturer in Music at Newcastle University.
Producer: Mair Bosworth.
The track has been covered extensively. You can find some of the covers referenced in the show together with a few other notable versions in the playlist below
Back in September 2016, Square Sounds Tokyo held its annual gathering for musicians from around the world to come and perform ‘chipmusic’ live. This genre, more commonly known as ‘chiptune’ (which is how I’ll be referring to it hereafter) or ‘8-bit’, refers to the creation of electronic music using sound chips commonly found in vintage computers, game consoles and arcade machines. If you need an example, think of the original ‘Super Mario Bros. Theme’. That’s chiptune before ‘chiptune’ even really existed as we know it today.
Upon watching a performance from Irish musician Chipzel (Niamh Houston) at Square Sounds, I began to wonder why so many people, including myself, enjoyed listening to music from this relatively niche genre. It seems odd, as a society, to have made so many technological advancements in music and sound quality over the past few decades and yet still occasionally rely on creating music through this method that existed purely due to technological limitations.
Let it be clear that this is not a ‘new’ genre. It has existed since the early 1980s, ever since equipment such as personal computers and video game consoles became outdated and hence more accessible to creative individuals who wished to use them for sound or art purposes. The reason I think many people see it as a new genre is because it sticks out like a sore thumb now more than ever because of, as I say, advancements in technology, as well as the simplistic nature of the sounds used in chiptune. Most people associate this genre with the soundtracks of video games in the ‘70s and ‘80s, such as Super Mario Bros., Tetris, Sonic the Hedgehog etc. The fact it has made a comeback from the 2000s onwards is bound to confuse many who didn’t think there was a market for ‘video game music’. With the release of consumer software (such as LSDJ, a GameBoy cartridge created specifically for creating chiptune music on the console) from the late 2000s-early 2010s, there has been a sharp rise in the number of people utilising these old-school sounds, including popular mainstream artists.
For enthusiasts, it likely elicits a very strong sense of nostalgia. It takes them back to a time where they were playing video games as children. In this sense, they experience a sense of loss – a longing to return to this simpler, worry-free time, and the consumption of this music genre helps to bridge that gap. It sounds odd that a certain genre could achieve this. Nostalgia is usually specific – associated to a specific artist, song, phrase or lyric – but chiptune is such a distinct and recognisable genre that it can be linked to almost any video game from the ‘70s and ‘80s. Keiji Yamagishi, composer for Ninja Gaiden, chimes in on the appeal of chiptune, and states that “it’s difficult not having any limitations. I feel like I was being tested.” It’s an interesting concept – having technological limitations could actually make you feel less pressured to outdo other artists or create something incredible – it gives you a sense of focus. This familiarity would understandably benefit both composers and listeners.
But technological advancements in music and music production have not been lost on some chiptune artists. While some do create ‘pure’ chiptune tracks, using nothing but these old-school sounds for every instrument, including drums, bass, keys etc., the majority incorporate chiptune sounds into other styles of music. This creates many different subgenres of chiptune, including one that I found particularly interesting – Nintendocore. Yes, you read that right. Take a listen to ‘Four to Six‘ by Math the Band. They have found a way (and they are not, by any means, the only artist to do this) to combine punk rock and chiptune. Two genres that are very different from one another, but they somehow work. Other examples include EDM mixed with chiptune, courtesy of the aforementioned Chipzel (which, as a sidenote, works wonders live) and even orchestral rock (Curious Quail’s Rallying Cry). I’m not sure why any of these work, but they do. I’m the last person to be listening to punk rock, but throw some chiptune in there and I love it. It brings that sense of nostalgia and familiarity to any genre it’s paired with – it’s hard to explain
However, the (potential) problem with chiptune is that it generally doesn’t have lyrics. Much like the video game soundtracks it emulates, chiptune creates its melodies through instrumentation rather than vocal work. This makes it harder to break through into the mainstream, which is why many notable songs that feature chiptune (such as Ke$ha’s ‘Tik Tok’) simply sample it and use it sparingly as a background instrument rather than the main focus. A few artists, however, have created chiptune-centric tracks with vocals, such as the Somerset-based duo You Love Her Coz She’s Dead. These artists, however, very rarely see mainstream attention. Perhaps the most mainstream artist who can be considered ‘chiptune’ would be Crystal Castles, but even then, it seems to take a back seat to EDM in their songs.
This, ultimately, leads to it becoming a very niche genre, and seen by many as ‘hipster’ music because of the fact it is a fairly-recent trend that is outside of the mainstream. And the fact it is so niche is amplified whenever someone claims to have done this technique for the first time. This happened as recently as February 2016 when Killscreenran a story about a musician who had used a Sega Genesis sound chip to create a remix of some music from Sonic the Hedgehog. He said he believed he was the “only producer within the contemporary music platform that’s using that sound chip.” Needless to say, this pissed people off – so much so that they had to change the article to account for the massive amount of chiptune artists who pointed out the obvious oversight in Killscreen’s reporting (and the man’s ability to perform a quick Google search).
Maybe it’s an acquired taste. I know plenty of people who describe chiptune as simply “noise” and don’t see the appeal, which is fine, I see where they’re coming from to a certain extent. But in the right hands, these simple sounds can be a very powerful tool. Take a listen to the Spotify playlist and see what you think. There’s a wide variety of different chiptune tracks there for you to make up your mind about this relatively unknown genre.
Whether you love it or hate it, just don’t try and claim you invented it.
[[SOUND OFF]] is a series of student-written features on artists/albums/music worth checking out
When discussing genres, music critics love a good death metaphor – and it’s easy to see why – as a general theme around which to centre a review or think piece there’s so much room for witty, clever and entirely non-derivative turns of phrase that seek to illustrate to the reader the sombre truth that we, as a culture, have suffered a tragic loss. A music genre is no longer as popular as it used to be. A moment’s silence please.
A notable victim of music journalism’s psychopathic serial killer streak is Rock music, with scores upon scores of articles being written every year that mournfully state as an unequivocal fact that rock music, if not stone-cold dead, is barely hanging on to life – conjuring images in the reader’s head of a hospitalised middle-aged white man, R. Music, connected to machines by tubes and wires after being involved in a tragic (but totally rad) high-speed crash while thundering his Harley Davidson down Route 66. His leather jacket lies in tatters next to his tin pail of Jack Daniel’s and book of LaVeyan scripture.
The main problem with this ‘rock is dead’ narrative (aside from the obvious factual inaccuracy that we will get on to later) is that so many reviews of contemporary rock artists’ work is viewed through this lens, and not only is the rhetoric dull, tired and repetitive – but it places a severe amount of undue pressure on upcoming bands that presumably just want to play some music and not be tasked with the daunting challenge of striding purposefully into R. Music’s death bed, looking at his chart, and giving him the life-saving treatment he desperately needs in order to get back on his Harley and head out onto the open road.
Take, for example, this piece in NME where The Nicest Man in Rock™, Dave Grohl, singles out Bristol-based duo Royal Blood as being a good band – not a particularly sensationalist statement – and there are certainly no insistences that we have finally found the fabled saviour of our resident over-extended metaphor R. Music. This then gets picked up by another website under the considerably more hyperbolic title of ‘Dave Grohl reckons Royal Blood will save rock ‘n’ roll’, an article that impressively even links to the original piece where the Foo Fighters frontman explicitly does not say that. Then of course when the album is reviewed – it is seen at least partially through this lens, whether they think the album is good or bad . There have been many bands that this claim has been levelled at over the years, such as The Strokes, The White Stripes, Gaslight Anthem and many, many more – so many bands, in fact, that one might begin to question whether rock is actually even dead at all!
To be fair to music critics, they are generally not the ones who have written the obituary – they seem to be just part of a climate where it’s essentially regarded as received wisdom that rock music is dead and as such, it’s convenient to proclaim that any fellas with a guitar and some good tracks will be the ones to save the genre. The people we truly have to blame for this questionable received wisdom are, bizarrely, rock musicians themselves.
Roger Daltry, Flea, Gene Simmons, Bob Dylan and Joe Perry have all recently been quoted in articles as saying that rock music has died. What’s particularly irksome about the incessant claims from these musicians, is that after they were all tearfully huddled around R. Music’s bedside during his final moments, they will have left (presumably on Harley Davidsons) to play sell-out stadium tours with their respective bands – disproving their own point and earning millions of dollars collectively by playing rock music.
So that point is obviously not entirely fair, all of the aforementioned musicians are already established (bewilderingly, in the case of Gene Simmons) as rock legends and, as they come from a time before the supposed tragic demise of rock music, they are still able to find huge audiences and rake in the cash. This is where the ambiguity of the term ‘dead’ comes into play – if we’re to assume that a ‘dead genre’ is one that is simply not currently the most popular in the world then sure – forget all the snarky bullshit I’ve spouted over the last seven hundred words; rock music is dead – I’ll do a reading at the funeral. However, if we’re to assume that a ‘dead genre’ is one that is creatively and artistically spent – that there is nobody doing anything interesting within the confines of the generic conventions of rock music then I am delighted to announce that reports of its death have been greatly exaggerated.
The reason I think the distinction between the two different possible meanings of ‘dead’ is an important one is that the popularity of the genre should have no impact on and is of no relevance to the critical discussion surrounding the actual music within the genre, which is why it is infuriating to see articles that proclaim new bands to be the saviour of rock, or to hear old musicians claiming that the genre is dead.
Artistically, rock music has been doing just fine for decades – it may not be the biggest genre in the world any more but that doesn’t matter, there are still great bands doing great things and it’s okay that they’re doing them to moderately smaller audiences. So when a website runs an article with the headline ‘Gene Simmons: “Rock is Dead, It Was Murdered”’ it may as well read ‘BREAKING: Old White Man Thinks Things Have Changed Since His Day and Boy is He Angry About It’.
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