The Best New Rock Music Is Now A Subculture Divorced From Industry and Institutionalization
This past week, an article written by Ted Gioia, Is Old Music Killing New Music appeared in The Atlantic. I wasn’t exactly thrilled by the simplistic title, but I thought I would give it my full attention to see why the musical sky was falling for new artists. Everything in the article was true. There were bar graphs, lots of data, and even the word algorithm was used twice. As a mathematician, one could suppose I found that interesting. A little. But, as a music lover, reading the article was like one long, cold shower. It’s like the article was peer-reviewed by marketing executives and statisticians.
By the way, I am 57, which technically makes me a baby boomer. And sure enough if you went through a part of my collection, you would see all those nostalgic favorites — The Beatles, Rolling Stone, Led Zeppelin, Hendrix, The Doors, Pink Floyd, The Eagles, Heart, Fleetwood Mac, etc.
But, the majority of music I listen to right now is what has been released in the last few years — Monolord, King Buffalo, All Them Witches, Emma Ruth Rundle, Low Rider, Monster Magnet, Samantha Fish, etc.
So, I was highly skeptical about an article that was lamenting a supposed demise of new music at the hands of old music. Let’s be clear here though, the “new music” doesn’t include the bands listed above, and the “old music” doesn’t include artists like Atomic Rooster, Pretty Things, Sir Lord Baltimore, Cactus, etc.
The reference to old and new in the article pertains to music is one that has mass appeal, automatically defaulting to music which has a comfort zone of little to none experimentation/expansion of sound.
Again, I can listen to something like The Eagles New Kid in Town — a staple of 70’s FM radio — with a warm, nostalgic glow, but I also want my head blown off by something that is happening now. There’s buckets of great new music out there, it’s just not for the ears of the mainstream public that desires a comfortable derivative of what they listened to in high school.
The problem is not the lack of new music. It’s the lack of interest in it from the mainstream, who ironically, are the ones that regulate the currency of what is good and what is not as good. And, of course, there is that thing called The Grammys.
And sure enough, there it was. Sitting smack dab in the middle of article, occupying the bloated space that it always has — The Grammy Awards. If Trivial Pursuit came out with a Grammys edition, and I played it as a drinking game when you get wrong answers, they would be pumping my stomach in a hospital in 2 hours. The Grammys might be a metric for musical relevance for millions, but for a sizeable population it also represents everything inherently shallow and superficial about music. I am hoping nobody has forgotten when Jethro Tull beat out Metallica, AC/DC, and Jane’s Addiction in 1989 for Best Hard Rock/Heavy Metal performance. I love Jethro Tull, and his album Crest of a Knave was pretty damn good, but that win nullified The Grammys as having a pulse on anything outside of cotton candy music. Nothing wrong with cotton candy. It’s just doesn’t last…
Again, everything in the article was spot on, but the only thing that concerned me was the effect the pandemic has had on live music and all the people associated with that. Other than that, knowing that the industry is “suffering” doesn’t emotionally register with me — especially since that same industry has been known to screw over many talented artists/bands because they wouldn’t kowtow to the self-serving, bottom-line edicts of record executives(deliver “hit singles”, etc.)
The best way I can explain my indifference to the FALSE claim about New Music dying is like if someone told me the Earth is on fire. Okay, I live on Mars.
And, in many ways, any new music in the sphere of rock music has been subversive, finding sizeable following in the underground sub culture — well beyond the detection/understanding of the greasy radar of the music industry.
Just look at these Festivals. How many bands do you recognize? Also, it’s not a coincidence that I all the Festivals I listed are in Europe. Another bias/blind spot for some folks is that North America is the locus for rock and roll. If you ask American bands like Monster Magnet or Fu Manchu, they will tell you a completely different story in terms of how European audiences are much better and knowledgeable about music — more open to experimentation.
I’ve been listening to music for most of my life. The whole explosion of music in the early 90’s around the Seattle music scene was an inflection in my life to…look for other inflection points, especially those that are off the beaten path. Sure enough, I can honestly say, that the music I have been hearing over the last 20 years in the loose genre of rock music has only gotten better and better.
Oh, I still love listening to my Elton John and Genesis. I just don’t pine for those days. One, those days are gone. Two, my current days are filled to the brim with listening to absolutely amazing new music…
The Age of Bowie is gone. But, we should take a leaf from his catalogue/personality and live, at least philosophically, in an age which champions his belief of stretching the vocabulary of music.
But, maybe, I guess we have to stretch yourself first…