Dom Lawson has noticed there’s a lot of ‘Rock Is Dead’ hyperbole doing the rounds at the moment, and he’s got something to say on it.
So, the big question of the moment is this: is rock dying? I read Scott Rowley’s thoughtful and eloquent blog on the subject earlier this week and, if I’m totally honest, found myself agreeing with most of it. Rock isn’t dying (or dead) – it’s changing, and despite the many dilemmas facing the music industry, there is more than enough great new music out there to keep “rock fans” (whatever that means) happy and plenty of reasons to be cautiously optimistic about the future. All good.
Of course, if you’ve read Scott’s blog there’s a good chance that you will also have read Terry Bezer’s response. Again, there was much to agree with in that: the music media should take more risks, embrace more new bands, spend less time recycling and exploiting the same old easy nostalgia and pay more attention to what’s actually happening in the world of rock. Anyway, here are a few vaguely related thoughts on the whole thing. Feel free to ignore me, obviously.
My main problem with this “debate” – and it’s worth noting that I generally ignore this kind of stuff because it smacks of the music industry muttering to itself in the corner of a pub while everyone else is having much more fun elsewhere – is that I find it hard to get excited about the issues involved. I don’t, if I’m honest, identify myself as “rock fan” in the first place. I’m a music fan first and foremost and then, if you point a gun to my head and demand that I pledge allegiance to one subculture or another, I’m a metalhead. I don’t even know what “rock” means these days. To a massive amount of people, U2 are a rock band. So are Coldplay. It seems ridiculous to those of us who grew up listening to AC/DC and Motorhead, but that’s the reality of the mainstream marketplace. Even if I ignore that uncomfortable truth and focus on the rock-that-actually-rocks world, I find myself struggling to find anything in mainstream rock music to get excited about. I agree that festivals, magazines and radio stations should probably take a few more risks and rely a little less on the same creaky and long established main stage stalwarts, but I struggle with the idea that there are loads of amazing new mainstream rock bands out there, redefining the genre for future generations. But despite my reservations, I try to check out as many new bands as possible. In fact, I’m confident that I spend more time listening to new music and frothing about it than anyone else I know. I’m more engaged with new music at the age of 41 than I was 20 years ago. And I defy anyone to prove otherwise. The issue I have is that virtually none of the new music that gets my synapses crackling and sends my adrenalin levels through the roof comes from “rock”.
I don’t see any great difference between the bland, sanitised, lowest common denominator chunterings of Nickelback or Bon Jovi and the bland, sanitised, lowest common denominator chunterings of Young Guns, You Me At Six, Halestorm or Paramore. None of it exhibits a shred of imagination or even the tiniest hint of danger or rebellion and none of it makes me want to shout preposterous declarations of enthusiasm from the rooftops. Each to their own and all that bollocks, but if glossy pop-rock is the best that the modern scene has to offer, I’ll stick with brutal death metal, avant-garde prog and The Algorithm, thanks very much.
That said, I am aware that, as far as the average punter at a Bring Me The Horizon show would be concerned, I’m a doddery old elitist metal twat. So be it. I’m quite happy to admit that I do judge bands on how they look and make all kinds of assumptions as a result, long before I ever hear a note of their music. I’ve even got a system! Here’s how it works: if more than two members of the band have got those stupid Hitler-in-a-gale haircuts, I won’t like them. Yes, I’m terribly narrow-minded and should be ashamed of myself. The problem is, my system works more or less every time. Like most people, my relationship with music is more complex than a simple matter of asking ‘Do I like this song?’ I identify myself as a metalhead because I feel a strong affinity with metal’s culture and aesthetic conventions.
That’s not to say that I don’t like plenty of music that has nothing to do with those aesthetic conventions and I’m all for people fucking with established orthodoxies, but I spend enough time thinking about what I like and don’t like to know that, 99 times out of 100, a band that look like Sleeping With Sirens are going to do absolutely nothing for me… in much the same way that a lot of Sleeping With Sirens fans would look at Finntroll or Behemoth and think ‘What the fuck have they come as?’ Incidentally, I checked Sleeping With Sirens out and they’re fucking horrible, just as I predicted. My system works again!
The thing is, judging bands on their appearance is nothing new. We all do it instinctively, even if we’d prefer people to think that we’re prejudice and snobbery free. It’s part of the process, whether we like it or not. It’s human nature. And no, it’s not fair. Tough shit. That’s how we roll. And you know what? Black Veil Brides knew exactly what they were doing when they conceived their image. Andy Biersack is a smart cookie: he knew that most Lamb Of God fans would hate his band and he didn’t care. He doesn’t court that audience. If, like Robb Flynn, a few people suspend their prejudices and discover, to great surprise, that they actually enjoy BVB records then that’s great. But the fact that many won’t doesn’t necessarily mean that people are being narrow-minded pricks. We make instinctive aesthetic judgements, both visual and musical, primarily based on past experiences. Generally speaking, I don’t like bands with Hitler-in-a-gale haircuts because, in my experience, the haircuts usually point to a musical mindset and aesthetic choices that I can’t relate to or get excited about. Okay, so not everybody thinks about this stuff as much as I do, but then most people aren’t quite so tragically obsessed with music as I am.
Frankly, I find the idea that bands like Sleeping With Sirens or Bring Me The Horizon should receive more support from the rock media a little ludicrous. Both bands are doing really well. BMTH were firmly plugged into the hype machine long before they were any good, and (initially at least) largely because they looked the part: the perfect band for a scene that is just as guilty of having an established uniform and set of aesthetic conventions as silly old traditional heavy metal ever was. They’re headlining Wembley Arena in December. They neither need nor deserve my help, not least because I have no interest in supporting bands that I think are rubbish. Should we put Oli Sykes on the cover of Metal Hammer? I don’t think so. There’s scant evidence that our diehard readers like his band or that BMTH’s fan base would be engaged by Hammer’s ‘Heavy Metal Bible’ remit. Are BMTH a metal band? Musically, kind of. Aesthetically? Not really. They have a place in Metal Hammer’s world but it’s peripheral. They have other magazines showering praise on them on a regular basis and, fittingly, they get played on Radio 1. I wish them all the best and I totally get why people got so excited about Sempiternal, but it does absolutely nothing for me and I can’t relate to it on any level whatsoever. Is that because I’m an old fart? Is it balls. There are countless new and new-ish bands out there, from numerous points along the heavy music spectrum, that I will champion with every ounce of energy that I can muster. I just have no interest in that scene, with only very occasional exceptions, and I know that a massive number of my fellow metalheads (old and young) feel the same.
Should more mainstream rock fans give those bands a chance? Probably. But if we’re looking for bands to replace the Metallicas, Iron Maidens, Aerosmiths and AC/DCs when, inevitably, they start dropping like flies, I’m not convinced that they’re out there yet. Personally, I don’t really care either way. There aren’t enough hours in the day to listen to all the amazing new music I’m exposed to, so I’m pretty happy about how things stand.
As far as the potential demise of rock is concerned, it certainly doesn’t help that, as Scott Rowley deftly explored, the way people consume music has changed irrevocably over the last 20 years. The mind-blowing ease with which we can access music has had the weird dual effect of making people’s tastes more eclectic and their relationship with music more transient and superficial. Curiously, as it turns out, the iPod generation seem every bit as likely to wallow in nostalgia as those of us who grew up in the pre-Internet age. Ooh, Linkin Park are playing Hybrid Theory in its entirety at Download! Whoopee-fucking-do. I’d rather watch my testicles burst into flame, but there you go. Horses for courses.
Anyway, have a sweeping generalisation: most people are lazy and lack imagination. I can spend all day ranting about how utterly dull most rock radio is, but sadly there is a huge audience out there that genuinely does want to turn on the radio and hear Paradise fucking City over and over again. Rock radio in the US does little more than that for the most part. It’s fucking awful. I stopped going to rock clubs a long time ago because I got so bored of hearing the same 25 songs on an endless loop. Not everyone cares that much about new music and although, yes, those of us in the media have a certain responsibility to tell people about all the great new tunes we’re lucky enough to be sent for free, the majority of “rock fans” (again… whatever that means) seem to be fairly conservative and happy to be spoon-fed the same old shite. If there is to be a revolution that propels loads of new rock bands to the forefront and ensures that festivals in 10 or 20 years are headlined by names that, perhaps, we haven’t even heard yet, I’ll force out a hearty cheer… but only if their music isn’t timid and dull. Sadly, the music business is a business: it’s about money. Whether it’s new bands or old, timid and dull generally sells a lot more than exciting and brave, and the days when major record labels had the money and patience to nurture the careers of genuinely groundbreaking acts are long gone. If you want rock to flourish and have a glorious future, you may have to get off your arse and do something about it yourself.