At the beginning of this month a band that I followed avidly in my late teens released their latest record. In fact it was their fourth release. They recorded two albums in the early 90’s and they released their third in 2010. Basically they had a long break. What has surprised me in their reforming is that they have simply picked up where the left off. They make the same type of music that I loved as a teenager, and that still resonates with me today. I think everyone loves the music of their youth, but this band…I was surprised that their new music was so good. Then I realised how little rock music is around now in popular culture. You have to seek it out.
So what I am pondering is what has happened to music in the last 20 years? Specifically what has happened to rock music? Huge bands like the Foo Fighters, and the Red Hot Chilli Peppers still sell loads of CD’s and rack up plenty of downloads whilst also filling up stadiums. Yet new bands with similar sounds are getting into the mainstream. Indie rock, and niche metal bands have replaced rock music. So I began to think about this in relation to Midway Still, my old and continuing favourite band. A friend posted a comment on a forum asking “why don’t kids like this stuff…they prefer their indie dirge.” And then I read a review of their new album and it questioned how the band would fit into the contemporary music scene. But the biggest question of all is why in an era of extreme musical eclecticism, has rock music fallen by the wayside? Listening to Abba, Brahms, Jay-z, and Hendrix back to back is arguably considered the height of cultured engagement. But why has rock music become so peripheral?
So turning to Bauman’s critique of modern liquid life we can explore the notions of culture in a more considered way. Bauman writes that in the past culture was separate, it was high (going to the opera) and it was low (betting on greyhounds) and they did not mix. Culture had demarcations and part of knowing what to do was also knowing what not to do. Contemporary culture is omnivorous, sticking to one fashion, one ideal, one conviction is perceived as a cultural death sentence. Instead high culture has transferred to the essence of malleability, change, and progress. With it the caprices of modern life lay waste to a series of cultural artefacts, fashions, hobbies, and diets that speak of no particular conviction other than mobility.
So what of rock music? Why has that not been incorporated into the smorgasbord of ecletica that litters modern cultural life? Perhaps it makes less accessible ring tones, perhaps it simply isn’t as accessible as other forms of music. If we consider one old rocker, Chris Cornell, who has shed the shackles of his genre we can see an artist who has flittered between different musical roles, lead singer of an iconic rock band, solo artist, lead singer of engineered rock supergroup, soundtrack artist, solo electronic artist. Even Bob Mould has reinvented himself and continues to enjoy wide recognition. In fact there has been so much rebooted rock that it has perhaps smothered the success of other rock bands, or even as this article suggests new music in general.
A recent news report shows concern that too many small music venues are closing across the UK. What this means for new talent is all too obvious. But there have also been optimistic reports that rock music is in its first steps of a new resurgence.
But still my question persists. What is it about our contemporary attitudes to music that have meant that the genre of loud guitars and loud drums has fallen so dramatically out of popular favour. And by this I am questioning why it hasn’t been consumed so egregiously as other musical tropes in the mashup of contemporary popular culture?