Friday, May 3, 2013

The State Of (Indie) Rock

I read a piece a few weeks back that I thought was bang-on about the state of indie rock, whose bottom line was ''it has no balls'' compared to any other meaningful rock movement before it, and you can use your imagination to remember the impact Chuck Berry's feet and Elvis Presley's hips had, to The Rolling Stones and The Animals and Cream in England to Bob Dylan, even, in folk, to the heavy-band music of Black Sabbath and Deep Purple, to punk rock to post-punk to Guns N' Roses to grunge to techno (both the Detroit revolution and the mid-1990s U.K.-based boom) to hip hip - from Afrika Bambaataa to Public Enemy to N.W.A. to Wu-Tang Clan to Outkast.

The article itself blamed blogs, namely those who keep bringing the same crowd-pleasing faux-indie acts to the spotlight, and he used the following top-10 to drive his point home:
  • 01: Of Monsters and Men – My Head is an Anima
  • 02: The Lumineers – The Lumineers
  • 03: John Samson – Provincial
  • 04: Mumford and Sons – Babel
  • 05: Sufjan Stevens – Silver and Gold
  • 06: The Walkmen – Heaven
  • 07: Beach House – Bloom
  • 08: Matt & Kim – Lightning
  • 09: fun. – Some Nights
  • 10: Jack White – Blunderbuss
I agree that, apart from Jack White, there's nothing worthy of a top-10 list there. And he lost his indie cred to most people (not me) because everything he touches turns to gold he made it big repeatedly.

And it ends with with this firecracker:
In 1992, when Donita Sparks of L7 pulled out her tampon and threw it at the crowd at the Reading Festival, she didn’t do it to create a YouTube sensation or to make a Pitchfork top 10 list. She did it in a moment of genuine defiance and frustration at a crowd flinging mud onstage. She knew what was between her legs and she wasn’t afraid to use it. And by that, I don’t mean a bloody tampon; I mean a serious pair of balls. She had more balls than the members of Fleet Foxes can ever hope to have. And that kids, is what rock and roll is all about.
And I tend to agree - both with the state of disposable music, and that rock (and most music, actually) should have a rebellious energy.

My friend, sometimes band mate and at times Voice Of Reason John 'Triangles' Stuart took offense to most of what Ms Kitty Vincent wrote in a well-written piece of which I will quote the following:

For someone who came of age with first wave punk and hardcore, grunge, as I perceived it was the last, pathetic, gasp of the dying 80’s punk scene. Yah I know Sonic Youth calls it ‘the year that punk broke’ but really it was more like the year that punk died. I mean can you actually believe that grunge isn’t watered down vaguely Black Flag/Sabbath/ Husker Du/ Grand Funk Railroad.  Anyone not living in the Pacific Northwest in 1991 probably heard Nirvana et al from MTV. Good old underground MTV, they never tried to shape anyone’s taste, especially when they were airing Smells Like Teen Spirit every 18 minutes. (...)
More mindfucking is that she just instructed people not to buy records by indie artists.  I suppose they should just stay home and listen to Geffen Nirvana box sets while watching VHS recordings of Lollapalooza. (...)
Another problem is that apparently these kids aren’t angry enough – because you know anger is the only authentic emotion. Well, aside from Rage Against the Machine and some riot grrrls, I can’t really think of too many political grunge bands. Soundgarden? Ooh that’s some heavy angry political shit eh, just like Gang of Four or the Au Pairs, or The Style Council and the Red Wedge tour. Grunge was not a political scene, sorry, Amnesty pamphlets at some fucking festival with fat-ass corporate sponsors just don’t cut it. Wearing a “corporate rock sucks” t-shirt on the cover of Rolling Stone? No, saying fuck off to Rolling Stone & MTV would be more like it.
Good point about grunge being mostly non-indie, but I have to take points away for the political thing: bands like Pearl Jam said no completely to RS and MTV, supported Ralph Nader's two runs for the Presidency (and went on the Vote For Change tour), fought Ticketmaster's monopoly and exorbitant surplus charges in court and accompanied women into abortion clinics (the reasoning behind that is that one is less likely to kill a rock star than a single, teenage mom). Also, again: Fuck Soundgarden.

For me, it's probably just more where I'm at in my life at this exact moment, and what I'm most in the mood for. And that with Ben Gibbard being in tons of projects (the best of them being Postal Service and Death Cab For Cutie, of course), he's already flooding the scene with (fine) soft songs, I don't need a hundred imitators to sound exactly like him on the radio, on TV, in Festivals and in ads.

I need some diversity, I need originality, and above all, I need to feel what I'm listening to is real. Anyone who doesn't hear that The Lumineers is watered-down Arcade Fire needs to be tied to a chair and taught some serious lessons.

I'd start with Classical (Baroque, Classical and Romantic), move to tribal African or middle eastern, then move onto the blues (early 1900s, then Delta, Memphis, Detroit, Chicago, New Orleans), touch on jazz and the history of Montréal during prohibition until the mid-1960s, then the blues-inspired (mostly British) rock, then hard rock, funk, punk, post-punk, hair metal (a.k.a. 'cock rock') for a few laughs, the ''good'' bands who wore make-up (half the lesson on The Cure, of course), GN'R, grunge, metal, how truly great Rage was and the unfortunate shitty bands they inspired (from Korn to Deftones, but mostly Limp Bizkit and Papa Roach), a two-part class on how rap started as having a message and split into one faction that was all about 'the bling' while the other more about abstract poetry, and electronic music, from house to industrial to drum-and-bass and how the fuck it ever got castrated enough to end up on Madonna records.

And we're back to the balls. Half of AC/DC's songs are about balls. If it was all about the testies, though, I'd be the most successful artist on the planet, and yet, I'm among the poorest fucking saps currently owning a guitar on the planet - whether that's a testament that they don't matter or they're just not fashionable these days isn't up to me to judge, but that's a fact.

However this turns out in the end, though, I will be comfortable knowingly having become a cynical bastard, listening to shit I like, not giving a fuck about the shit I hate, biding my time until my brand of entertainment comes to me and going back in my cave when it leaves. Just like I have since age 10.

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