Monday, 2 November 2015

10 Reasons Why Rock Music Might Be Dead

This could be what a new fan of rock music looks like. But who is it?

Last week found me sitting in a ubiquitous coffee chain in Central London talking to the Saul Galpern ahead of him guesting on the podcast. Saul was on to discuss the Mercury Prize and as we went through the nominees it was clear that there wasn't much in the way of guitar music represented. Saul was telling me about a recent conversation he'd had with the son of a singer from quite a famous band and how this young fella - himself a huge fan of music - uttered the immortal words, "rock is dead."

So while I don't necessarily agree with him, here are some reasons why he might be right. As my seven-year-old daughter would say, "Just putting' it out there."

Rankin took this picture. I'm undecided as to whether it does the album justice.

1) The Mercury Prize
There are only three Mercury music prize nominations which you could describe as guitar rock  but while each has its own merits, are any of them really taking the genre forward? In fact has rock been redefined by anyone since, say The White Stripes, Arctic Monkeys or The Libertines. Wolf Alice have got some tunes and good vocalist but there's something relentlessly ordinary about them.  I'm fond of Slaves, but it's a concoction which most people over 30 will be very familiar with. One disclaimer to this point might be that I am relentless old so I am clearly not the target audience. As Saul wisely said, if he was 15, he would never have heard Buzzcocks or The Fall so Slaves would be a clarion call. The third nomination is my favourite of the entire Mercury shortlist: Gaz Coombs' Matador. Arguably Coomb's has never wanted to break rock's mould but with this album he has definitely swerved off Supergrass Boulevard into something more interesting. Perhaps he could keep rock alive for a bit longer.

Sleaford Mods in their state of the art recording studio
2) Sleaford Mods
One band who are getting championed  as doing something interesting and showing genuine passion are Sleaford Mods. But these guys are almost old enough to remember punk rock the first time around. As a boy, singer Jason Williamson was a huge Jam fan, which led to his disillusionment with recent Weller output. As well as this, the audience at Sleaford Mods shows would appear to comprise of ladies and gentleman of a similar age to the band who have - like me, I admit - found angry kindred spirits in the band. Great, yes. Keeping rock alive by inspiring young kids? Not sure.

3) Archivisation
Dylan's label started this back in the 90s with the Bootleg Series, which is now on its 12th volume with The Cutting Edge, a trawl through the outtakes of his 1960s big hair period featuring, I kid you not, 20 versions of Like A Rolling Stone. Again, the old fellas like me, especially the ones who like packaging (again: me) will be adding this on their lists for Santa, but it's more nails in the coffin for the plan to convince 'the kids' that rock is about exciting, rebellious new things. Oh, and there's another Beatles package for Christmas too.

4) Bedroom Strumming
Bands are expensive. To keep going with no art school grants or any of the other financial support networks that used to exist (in the UK at least ) in the past is hard. Who pays Paying for rehearsals, equipment, petrol for gigs and all the other stuff you need to do to keep a band going? Clearly it's the greatest fun in the world playing in a room with other musicians but wouldn't it be quicker and cheaper to do it in a bedroom with computers and shit? Well, ask Ed Sheeran, Laura Marling, Villagers. And these are just names I'm plucking from the forefront of my brain. These days it's easier to cite solo artists or duos than bands. This doesn't necessarily make for less effective music - the previous three artists are at the forefront of my mind because I like them - but are they rock? I think the answer is no.

Sheeran archived.

5) It's Everywhere
How good do your favourite records sound after you've been starved of them? I remember coming back from holidays when I would only have so much room for CDs and experiencing the physical pleasure of satiating myself on missed music. Now we can take everything everywhere. And if that wasn't enough we're also exposed to it in shopping malls, hold music while your call is being valued, in taxis, and while we wait for planes to take off. Even when you're on a flight there is no escapge from Classic Rock - which now means Ride, apparently.

Virgin Atlantic's current choices of All Time Greats.
Incidentally, I just found a copy of There's a Riot for one dollar. Result!

6) Books Books! BOOKS!.
First sign of something being over is when it gets its own shelf of books. Books on Rock used to be tucked away in a corner of Waterstones. Recently in Foyles in London I was confronted with the sight of three bowing shelves full of rock minutiae. And still they keep coming. Peter Dogget has just written another 720 words about 125 years of pop music. Like so much modern art, I suspect the main achievement here is really to say I Have More Time Than You.

7) Brand extension.
My brother now has a pair of Motörhead headphones. Why not? The Motörhead logo is arguably the finest part of their legacy; it should be on more products. Extra Mature Motörhead cheddar, anyone? I'd buy that. Iron Maiden have just marketed their own beer Trooper which looks like this:

You can buy Clash notebooks, Sex Pistols iPhone cases, Rammstein steel lunch boxes and... well, I don't need to list them all here. You know what I'm talking about - and don't get me wrong, I am tempted. My favourite purchase is the punk rock coaster set:

8) Heydays
Think about classical music. Or Jazz. Every music genre has its heyday. Yes, classical is still immensely popular. But here the clue is in the name. Those going to a classical concert will more than likely be listening to music written hundreds of years ago. Just like those of us going to see Iggy Pop. As for Jazz, it's been a heritage industry for all of our lifetimes and is still going. Yes, practitioners still write new jazz music but it's the great artists and albums which attract young fans. Having just seen the movie Amy, it was clear that Winehouse was not queuing up to listen to Courtney Pine or John Schofield, she wanted Tony Bennett and Billie Holiday. So perhaps Rock will soon just be another canon of work which new artists interpret. But will anyone be reinterpreting Catfish And The Bottlemen in 50 years?

9) Reforming reforming.
Recently I saw a bunch of posters on a wall in a market in Bristol. For a moment I thought it was a collectors stall with lots of original posters from the late 70s: The Rezillos, The Ruts, The Cockney Rejects. Then it became apparent that these were freshly produced posters for artists who were on tour and playing at a nearby venue. It's now hard to pick a band from this period who haven't reformed. The original artists reinterpreting their old work. Can't see the kids queuing up for it.

10)  The ruddy music!
I'm desperate for a new innovative band to come along like The Libertines, Arctic Monkeys, The Strokes or The White Stripes. But they all emerged over 10 years ago. Yes, I am old and jaded and possibly not worth trying to engage with new music, and I know that it's the same for every music fan to chase the thrill of discovery first felt when they heard that band or that record for the first time. But I'm open-eared and I know lots of people male and female just like me who have not given up looking for new acts which excite them.  Please someone direct us to them!

So is it dead? I think I'm with Pete Townshend.

Oh yes, that new rock fan up at the top of the page. That's my daughter Maddy. She likes Rockaway Beach by the Ramones and Bad Blood by Taylor Swift. On vinyl of course.


  1. Wise words from my A&R man.

    1. Thanks, Diid. I'm glad you still think of me that way!

  2. If you say "I'm desperate for a new innovative band to come along like The Libertines, Arctic Monkeys, The Strokes or The White Stripes" you ought to check out an Australian band called Royal Headache. Great tunes, swagger and playing, they have it all!

  3. I will of course, check them out! B

  4. The thing about music is that opinion is always subjective. What’s sounds good to us might be an offence to your ears! All we can say is that the opinions and ratings provided are honest and not driven by any sinister ulterior motive. rock music