The Null Device

Black rock

The pendulum swings both ways: while the teen-rebellion industry fuses rap into hard-rock, a new generation of black musicians in America, disappointed with the limited scope for expression in hip-hop and so-called "R&B" are picking up guitars and turning to rock.

Their sound is most often a deeply soul-inflected rock reminiscent of the mellower moments of Jimi Hendrix, Prince and Parliament Funkadelic rather than the full-on guitar assault of Fishbone or Living Colour. Much of this rock is difficult to distinguish from soul music, but the musicians use the word rock to distance themselves, they say, from the overly produced treacle that passes for modern soul.

(Meanwhile, commercial R&B producers such as Babyface have recently been knocking off '90s alternative-rock sounds for some of their projects (such as the very aptly named Pink).)

"Vulnerability doesn't work at all in hip-hop," Mr. Luther said. "You don't want to expose a weakness in that arena. Rock 'n' roll has no boundaries. You can talk about your dreams, fears, all kinds of things."

Though the black-rock movement faces serious barriers in the formulaic world of American radio/TV, not fitting into either black/"urban" formats or the predominantly white world of rock/alternative music. I.e., Clear Channel probably won't play it; though maybe it'll flourish in the MP3 underground.

Rock, they say, gives them the freedom to express their own ideas. Santi White of Stiffed said: "There's a Smiths song that I love that says, `Hang the D.J. because the music he constantly plays says nothing to me about my life.' And that's how I felt. So I said, `Fine, I'm going to find some music that does say something about my life.' "

Funny that they should mention that, as that quote is sometimes cited as an argument for Morrissey being racist. Though what would that make the equation of skin darkness with dance/club music? (via FmH)

There are 6 comments on "Black rock":

Posted by: GJW Mon Aug 12 00:11:29 2002

I've never heard of the "Hang the DJ" lyric as being regarded as racist; especially since at the time (mid 80's) he was very obviously referring to club DJs in the UK playing crappy New Romantic / synth pop. I can't believe anyone would think he was referring to black Hip-Hop DJs. The "Panic on the streets of London...Panic on the streets of Birmingham" makes me think of the 70s race riots in England, so if anything the song is anti-racist and supportive of initiatives and music that reach all cultures. [/wank]

Posted by: acb Mon Aug 12 01:43:46 2002

I've heard it mentioned in relation to Morrissey's comments about what constitutes Englishness as proof that he is contemptible racist scum; the assumption there was the dichotomy between white music (guitar rock) and "black" music (dance/hip-hop).

One could just as easily draw a dichotomy between footwear, with Doc Martens-wearing indie types (and skinheads) on one side and Nike/Fubu-wearing black-identified hip-hop/club kids on the other. And it would probably be just as useful.

Posted by: Buster Hihmenn Mon Aug 12 20:31:08 2002

Incredibly, this poor excuse for an article left out Stew and The Negro Problem. It's like writing an article about Aussie bands and leaving out Midnight Oil.

Posted by: GJW Tue Aug 13 00:01:46 2002

I was going to say that Morissey couldn't be racist if he tried...BUT I can see that there is potentially a lot of hate hiding behind those NHS glasses and that hearing aid. Especially since Johnny Marr is now such hot property and Moz' is relegated to late night Channel 4 variety shows.

Posted by: acb Tue Aug 13 00:34:45 2002

"See the life I've had could make a good man bad"

Which variety shows are these? There was a magazine interview with Moz last year which had him living in Los Angeles, alone, with an album's worth of new songs and nobody to sign him to record them. And, being the conservative sort of chap he is (Jon Savage said that The Smiths are largely a lament for the loss of the old England that disappeared in the late 50s/early 60s when Moz was growing up), he scorns alternative models to signing to a label, such as MP3s or online distribution.

Posted by: GJW Tue Aug 13 02:51:39 2002

I don't know what it was called, I just came across it one night on Foxtel. The show featured some English piano rocker who was probably quite popular in the '70s (I recognized them, but can't remember their name now. Somewhat further down the ladder than Elton John) and Moz + band as musical guests. Moz sang some fairly bland song, then did a short interview in which he looked extremely uncomfortable. The host was a generic balding glasses-wearing British variety show host (somewhat futher down the ladder than Parkinson).