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Rock is Dead?

July 15th, 2006 | 1 Comment | Categories: Musing on Music |

A fabulous post this morning by Jyoti on Why Rock Is Dead.

I emailed him about it, and it seems the tipping point for him was the same band that I was despairing at on the T in the Park coverage last night – WolfMother. How much more could they want to sound like Led Zep? How much more heinously anachronistic could it be to write ‘new’ songs like that in 2006? Is one of them about to buy Alistair Crowley’s old underpants, just to be like Jimmy Page? A really tragic show, and why on earth are they given such a huge platform?

Jyoti’s right – mainstream rock has become hopelessly derivative, retrogressive and stultifying, the record companies having latched onto a certain lazy section of the music buying public’s desire for perceived novelty and nostlagia at the same time. And it’s balls.

What’s worse – a thousand times worse – is that they’re rubbish. They aren’t even 5% the band that Zep were. None of these bands improve on the blue-print, none of them ever take a 70s formula and end up sounding like the greatest band the 70s never had. They just sound like a half-arsed tribute band with copyright issues. It’s balls.

I’ve always said that it’s more important to be good than to be original. But I’m not talking about slavish cloning. The desire for completely new music can be just as asphyxiating as mindless hero-worship, but to do either without coming up with anything worth listening to is the worse crime of all.

Mediocrity is the single most offensive quality in music. Bands that take risks and end up being appalling get my sneaking admiration. Bands that aren’t great, but are stretching towards something don’t sound mediocre, they sound interesting. To be truly dull requires a level of mis-placed self-satisfaction that stops you from ever looking for more, from moving forward, from building on the innovations of your heroes and finding your own space.

My music isn’t completely new – I wear a few of my influences pretty brightly on my sleeve, and am delighted when someone spots that John Martyn or Joni Mitchell or Michael Manring are in there somewhere. But I don’t actually sound like any of them.

The reason for this is pretty simple – I love Joni’s music. Think she’s pretty much perfect. But I don’t want to write music that sounds like Joni – that would be derivative in exactly the same way she never was – no, instead I want to WRITE MUSIC THAT MAKES ME FEEL THE WAY JONI’S MUSIC MAKES ME FEEL. That has that same sense of being spoken to, being taken on a journey, where the narrative and the music are married perfectly without ever feeling like either is being tugged in a wrong direction by some other unnecessary influence. Joni had her influences, from Dylan to Lambert, Hendricks and Ross. She started out as a folk singer. But she always had her own story to tell, and always sounded like no-one but herself.

That’s the plan. Is Rock Dead? I don’t see why the behaviour of ‘the mainstream’ should be allowed to be seen as killing of an entire genre, but the challenge is certainly there to avoid sounding like the new wave of ‘Stars In Their Eyes’ shit photocopies of 70s and 80s icons, and instead to take the language of rock into somewhere new and interesting, to tell a post-millennial tale, and sound track the current world paradigm, not the three day week, rolling blackouts and the rise of Thatcherism.

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One Comment so far ↓

  • Mike R

    Hmmm.

    I suspect the record companies have a lot to do with it.

    Bono recently said that a band like U2 couldn’t exist or start out today with the way the record industry is.

    I appreciate that another U2 isn’t what the world necessarily needs right now, but the point still stands. There isn’t the room to take risks now if you want to be a big band, because a band that wants to go far has to pretty much do what the company says.

    There have been some awesome bands that could have gone far, but have been dropped by the record company for absolutely no good reason.

    In U2’s case, they were fortunate enough to have Paul McGuinness as a manager who negotiated a great deal for them at the start – reduced the amount they got from sales, in exchange they could own their own tapes, and allowed them a creative freedom that many modern bands can only dream of.