The Null Device

The Big Area

Artefact found in a record shop in London:
A snapshot of 1980s major-label rock at its most excessive, moments before grunge/alternative came along, doused it with petrol and threw the fateful lit match. This has all the maximalist, late-80s-high-tech sheen of commercial rock of the time: beds of digital synthesizers, sheets of chugging, flanged guitars, drums gate-reverbed to within an inch of their life, and expansive mixes as if bragging about the sheer number of tracks on the mixing deck at the studio that the label was hiring by the day (and remember, this was in the days before ProTools, when audio tracks were actual physical hardware that took up costly space). And yet, the music laid atop this gloss argues vociferously that, despite all the expensive digital gloss, it is Rock, in its primal, testosteronal sweatiness. The guitar figures in places aren't a million miles from Guns'n'Roses or Poison, in that post-Lynyrd-Skynyrd South-of-the-psyche that bespeaks rock'n'roll Authenticity. The subject matter is vaguely in the cars'n'girls territory of Rock. And above all are the frontman's vocals, hoarse and grunty almost to the point of ridiculousless.

This is late-80s rock as cyborg caveman, a Hegelian synthesis of the dialectics of high-tech polish and Rockist Authenticity. Not a particularly convincing synthesis, though, in hindsight, given the lit match that was tracing a parabola through the air towards it at the very moment it came out. Rockist Authenticity won out, through Grunge and retrostyled Britpop and the waves of three-chord alternative-rock bands which all sounded equally rough-hewn; this state of affairs lasted until people realised that, while there were ProTools plugins for grunging up an expensively recorded boy band, one could make smooth, polished music on a cheap laptop, and the equation between roughness and Authenticity was forever broken.

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