The Null Device

Posts matching tags 'rock'


It is now looking increasingly likely that the age of rock music is over:

The percentage of rock songs plummeted from a sickly 13% in 2009 to a terminal 3% – far behind hip-hop/R'n'B at 47%, pop at 40% and dance 10%, according to figures from MusicWeek.
("Pop", here, meaning not light guitar-based ditties, nor any niche genre (the "twee pop"/"p!o!p!" in the Orange Juice/Field Mice/Lucksmiths mould favoured by indie kids (many of them well north of 30), or the "futurepop" favoured by Goths who code) but specifically music without guitars or live drums, assembled in a studio to a commercial template.)
The news that the best performing rock song of 2010 was Don't Stop Believin', a 30-year-old track from the veteran rock act Journey made popular by US television show Glee, added a further nail to the coffin. "It is the end of the rock era. It's over, in the same way the jazz era is over," declared the veteran DJ and "professor of pop" Paul Gambaccini. "That doesn't mean there will be no more good rock musicians, but rock as a prevailing style is part of music history."
The death of rock, or at least its death as the dominant musical genre, has been predicted for a while, and demographically makes sense. Rock was a product of the post-WW2 boom, and the rise, in America and the West, of large numbers of middle-class teenagers with disposable income and freedom from adult responsibility, which conveniently happened when recorded music was the most promising entertainment technology of its sort. (Television was still too expensive for teens to have their own sets, and cinema is a more rarefied pleasure; you can listen to a record over and over again in a way you couldn't watch a movie.) When the same demographic phenomenon happened in South Korea and China, the teens jumped right over recorded music and got into multiplayer video gaming; instead of youth tribes, they got gamer clans.

Anyway, the warning signs have been around for ages. Rock first started lumbering towards middle age in the 1970s, the age of prog, being revitalised by the rise of punk, which was, essentially, just 1950s-style garage rock with more focus on urgency and rage than on musicianship (in fact, being too good a player would have been a liability, as punk led in the cult of lofi-as-authenticity that stayed with us until it was dispatched by cheap computer-based production tools on one hand and commodified pseudo-alternative music on the other). Throughout the 1980s, the commercial end of rock was showing definite middle-aged bloat, no longer being the anthems of teenage hooligans but rather of working stiffs and mortgage holders. The last major strands of underground rock to emerge into the sunlight and promptly get picked over by the forces of commodification were the alternative music genres that entered the mainstream in the 1990s, leading to shitty nu-metal in America, three-chord JJJ grunge in Australia and dire lad-indie in the UK. Meanwhile, hip-hop (and R&B, i.e., electronically produced soul infused with some hip-hop street attitude) and electronic dance music were growing, and a generation was growing up whose early memories of pop music were not of guitar-based beat combos but of Michael Jackson and Madonna. And when they started making music, it was often easier to pick up a laptop than a guitar. Where once it was given that a group of kids with music to make would rock out, now doing so is a deliberate retro affectation.

Another factor in the decline of rock has been the aging of its cohort, both the audience and the makers of the music:

There are rock acts still doing well, but it is the old guard: there is now, it seems, little new in rock. Bon Jovi was the highest grossing live act of 2010, bringing in $201.1m (£130.7m) in world ticket sales. However, its frontman is 48, and according to a report by Deloitte, 40% of the frontmen of the top 20 highest-grossing live acts in the US will be 60 or over next year; almost one in five acts will be over 50.
The first generation of rockers, those who made the music in the 1950s, is long gone; the second generation is moving towards retirement age, as are their original fans. (Does Pete Townshend still sing "hope I die before I get old"? Does he do so with a straight face?) As such, it's quite likely that rock's time as the dominant form of popular music is in its twilight. Of course, rock won't go away, in the way that jazz or blues (or, say, calypso or rhumba) didn't. Elements of it will occasionally reappear in whatever follows, but rock itself it will become a distinctly antiquarian pursuit.

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Word of the day: "roentgenizdat": pirate copies of Western pop records made in the Soviet Union, using used X-ray plates as a medium:

Owing to the lack of recordings of Western music available in the USSR, people had to rely on records coming through Eastern Europe, where controls on records were less strict, or on the tiny influx of records from beyond the iron curtain. Such restrictions meant the number of recordings would remain small and precious. But enterprising young people with technical skills learned to duplicate records with a converted phonograph that would "press" a record using a very unusual material for the purpose; discarded x-ray plates. This material was both plentiful and cheap, and millions of duplications of Western and Soviet groups were made and distributed by an underground roentgenizdat, or x-ray press, which is akin to the samizdat that was the notorious tradition of self-publication among banned writers in the USSR. According to rock historian Troitsky, the one-sided x-ray disks costed about one to one and a half rubles each on the black market, and lasted only a few months, as opposed to around five rubles for a two-sided vinyl disk. By the late 50's, the officials knew about the roentgenizdat, and made it illegal in 1958. Officials took action to break up the largest ring in 1959, sending the leaders to prison, beginning an orginization by the Komsomol of "music patrols" that later undertook to curtail illegal music activity all over the country.
Crackdowns on illegal music copying? I guess some things never change.

And via this piece, a fascinating paper on the historical political development of Soviet rock music, and how the Communist state alternately shunned, attempted to coopt and suppressed rock and other popular music, ultimately coming off second-best:

Another problem the youth confronted when beginning to form groups to play rock 'n' roll, was the shortage of instruments and equipment. Electric guitars were almost non-existent in the USSR until the early sixties. Most instruments were manufactured in Eastern Europe and sold in the USSR in small numbers. The most notable were ten guitars that appeared in an East German-sponsored instrument shop in Moscow in 1966. All ten of the guitars were bought in the first hours that the shop was open and immediately resold at twice the price of purchase on the black market. Many groups were forced to make their own instruments or purchase copies of Western guitars that were produced by unofficial manufacturers. One of these manufacturers in 1969 managed to publish in a popular mechanical magazine a technique of converting an acoustic guitar into an electric one using a telephone voice coil, and shortly therafter there were reportedly no functioning public telephones in all of Moscow.
The Kremlin had very high-level meetings on how to approach the youth and address their cultural tastes with socialist didactics. It seemed that the Party was beginning to consider concessions to the youth, meaning to establish control over the musicians and fans. A "Beat Club" was established at the Melody and Rhythm cafe in Moscow, offering many activities to its musician membership, and applications which requested lots of personal data, flowed in by the hundreds. The club promptly closed down after receiving these applications and handed them over to the Soviet secret police, who now had dossiers on hundreds of Moscow's rock musicians.
At this point appeared the Vocal Instrumental Ensemble. The VIAs, as they were known, were required to register with the Ministry of Culture and "were urged to write and perform songs on topics wuch as space heroes or economic achievements." They followed the philosophy of Khrushchev's commentary on socialist art, "We are for music that provides inspiration, that summons people to exploits on the field of battle and in their work." The VIA represented on one hand, official Soviet recognition of rock as an art form, but on the other hand, a return to Socialist Realist didactics. The bands were named in accordance with the intended positive nature of their work, such as 'Singing Guitars,' 'Songsters,' 'Blue Guitars,' and 'Happy Guys,' harkening back to the Socialist literary prescription for 'positive heroes.' Comparing these names with those of some "unnofficial" groups of the late 60's renders an interesting contrast: Hairy Glass, Little Red Demons, Soft Suede Corners, Russo-Turkish War, Witchcraft, Fugitives from Hell, Midnight Carousers, Symbols of Faith, The Economists.
The best known of the VIAs was Happy Guys (Veselye Rebiata) who were "amply supplied with the best equipment through official channels, but [were] often instructed to add deadwood to the ensemble, giving jobs to the sons of cousins of official persons" who simply didn't plug in their instruments in performance.
An interesting phenomenon happened with the rock opera by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice; "Jesus Christ Superstar." It was smuggled into the USSR immediately after its release in USA in 1971, and immediately banned after its production in Vilnius in 1973. The opera was inspiration for many rock groups, and millions of fans despite its being banned, because unofficial rock groups performed much of the score at their shows. Performances occurred throughout the 70's and by the end of the decade, the signature theme song was adopted by the Soviet television news program "Vremya." A popular, religious rock opera had more weight than the dictates of the Soviet cultural bureaucracy.
In Estonia the situation was unique. Tallinn was a sort of Mecca for the Soviet hippies, and though there were Estonian VIAs, the number of unofficial rock groups did not drop significantly. Estonia gave Soviet rock as many talented musicians as Leningrad and Moscow combined. The Estonian branch of Melodija, being autonomous from the Moscow branch, even recorded some unofficial groups. Finnish television had been responsible for bringing televised music programs to the Estonians, whose language is similar to the Finnish language, and yet quite unintelligible to most Russians. The language barrier made possible the lyrics of many Estonian groups that were often anti-Russian. In later years this led to an enormous nationalist movement in Estonian rock, that republic being the first to declare national sovereignty in 1985.
Then disco made its appearance in the USSR, and a form of pop culture was much more readily accepted by cultural officials than ever before. The rhythm and inocuous lyrics apparently lulled the crowd and had little of the countercultural undertones and hooligan followers for which rock was notorious. Discotheques were seemingly ready made venues for both benign music and socialist indoctrination. Though this seems to be the ulimate in bad taste given the contemporary Western attitude toward the 70's disco, a national effort was made to assess the possibility of socialist didactic programs being mixed with the musical fare. Moscow registered 187 officially sponsered discotheques by 1978. Saturday Night Fever was released 1979, and John Travolta's character in the movie was appealing to the ideologues who were always looking for 'positive heroes' for the youth culture. At this time, Western recordings were being issued on Melodija, with the tremendously popular Swedish band ABBA being the first, with a manditory counterpart release in the West of a Soviet group.
In the early 80's Baltic punk rock was surfacing as another import from the West. Latvian discos became scene of unrestrained violence. Much of the vehement protest of the Baltic punks was against the inordinate amount of soldiers taken from those republics to fight in the war with Afghanistan. The independence movement there had some inauspicious beginnings, but their case was historically justified in their eyes.

(via Boing Boing) culture music resistance rock samizdat underground ussr 0


It looks like hopes for a reprieve for legendary New York rock venue CBGB were short-lived; the venue will now close on Halloween of 2006. The owners are planning to open a new venue in the Lower East Side some time afterward, and/or to devote their energies to the lucrative "CBGB's & OMFUG" merchandise business.

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Famous New York rock venue CBGB may soon be forced to close by rising property rents. Now where have I heard that before? (via bOING bOING)

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The Graun's Alexis Petridis looks at why the (ostensibly) mentally disturbed make such compelling rock stars:

According to Oliver James, a clinical psychologist and author of They Fuck You Up: How to Survive Family Life, the rise in numbers and popularity of emo acts may be linked to a rise in mental illness among their obvious target market of 18- to 24-year-olds (the age group most likely to be affected by psychological problems, according to studies published in Europe and Australia).
But if fans buy into it, that may be because rock music, unlike other art forms, is depicted as benefiting from being created by those with mental illness. Most critics would tell you Van Gogh's paintings are great despite, rather than because of, his psychiatric problems - but that's not true of the Beach Boys' Smile or Barrett's The Madcap Laughs or Nirvana's In Utero, for example, whose greatness is widely held to be inexorably entwined with their creators' mental problems.

It's the whole dionysiac genius thing; the myth, deeply ingrained in the Rockist mindset, that primal authenticity and true brilliance comes not from carefully honed technique, deep knowledge of the genre, cleverness or anything so square and totally un-rock-and-roll, but from abandoning oneself to the frenzy like a Viking berzerker. To give a topical example, crack-smoking, junk-shooting fuckup Pete Doherty is one of the greatest geniuses of our time, and his new band Babyshambles is ten times the band that The Libertines (who kicked him out) were, as the world would find out if he'd ever get his shit together for long enough to actually play a gig.

The article also mentions Ol' Dirty Bastard, as an example of the fine line between empathy and voyeurism. One notable omission, though, is Wesley Willis, described by Jello Biafra as one of the most punk-rock artists ever.

Of course, with the rising popularity of emo and various forms of fuckedupcore came a lot of opportunists putting on the "tortured genius" act, acting like caricatures of pissed-off, fucked-up, tantrum-throwing teenage nihilists and raking in the cash. Thirtysomething Universal Music executive and part-time teenage mook Fred Durst is one name that's mentioned there; and I'm sure you can think of other notable examples (anyone remember Vanilla Ice's reinvention as a tortured, angry-white-guy rap-metal mook? Or cyberpunk boy-band Information Society's post-Reznorian take-a-walk-through-my-nightmares industriogothic makeover?)

(On a tangent: Wikipedia's lists of songs about bipolar disorder and suicide)

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xrrf reckons that Jet are the Australian Oasis. And there I was thinking that Oasis were the Datsuns of their time. (via Graham)

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The oddly-named Cutie Morning Moon is a website chronicling the rise of garage rock (or "60s punk", to use a ghastly piece of retroactive categorisation) in the 1960s around the world. It has some interesting pieces on Chilean and Hong Kong beat bands and the teenage rock scene under the watchful gaze of Big Brother behind the Iron Curtain, and also links to this piece on the history of Australian rock. (It doesn't say anything about importation of electric guitars having been illegal during the Menzies era, so that particular factoid may be an urban legend.)

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An article from the Age about the resurgence of rock in the trendy clubbing precinct of Prahran. Venues best known for more types of house music than you probably knew existed are now putting on rock bands, because rock patrons drink more.

Of course, in the super-stylised $80-logo-T-shirt heartland of Prahrahran, the rock that's displacing some of the dance music is, as you might expect, the stylised back-to-basics rawk of The Strokes/Vines/Datsuns/whatever. There it's another label to wear; sort of like the "bogan rock nights" some club there had a while ago, where all the thirtysomething designers and advertising types put on their $120 designer-label flannelette shirts and went to get shitfaced to some Ackadacka with their fellow young professionals.

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A look at Burma's burgeoning rock scene, where bands with metal-sounding names like Iron Cross and Emperor perform Beatles covers and country & western numbers. Isolated totalitarian states sure are weird places.

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A number of scholarly (or perhaps pomo-wanky, or perhaps both) books are coming out looking at punk 25 years on. (via Rebecca's Pocket)

When punk emerged, it scrambled the distinctions between high and low culture even more severely than bebop jazz (whose practitioners sometimes wore "existentialist" goatees and horn-rimmed glasses) had in the late 1940s. The term "punk" had been coined in 1971 by critics who, disgusted by what they considered pretentious "art rock," were championing obscure American groups from the 1960s such as the Sonics and the Thirteenth Floor Elevators -- garage bands that made up in energy (and volume) what they lacked in instrumental finesse.
By the time newsmagazines and record companies were discovering punk, in 1977, a second generation of experimentalists had emerged, called No Wave, in which musicians abandoned rock primitivism for even more extreme musical experiments. (The feminist group Y Pants played amplified children's instruments, while the guitarist for DNA scraped and plunked on an untuned electric 12-string.)

Children's toys? Could those be the origins of Casiopunk?

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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)

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