Thursday, January 13, 2011

Everything is Dead

Peter Robinson, the man responsible for one of my favourite websites about music- Popjustice!- wrote a piece for the Guardian yesterday about how rock music is dead (it's here). Now, I think we can all agree that that is a massive sweeping statement, right?

A sweeping statement from a man not afraid of making other sweeping statements, like boybands aren't fashionable. We could just wait 3 years for his statement to be proved wrong, but alas, this annoyed me a bit.

The piece was filled with lots of criticism about how rock bands aren't selling. I would mention all of the acts who are brilliant in the underground but Robinson has very much framed the debate around sales. And one can't argue with the fact that, yes, rock singles simply aren't selling very well. One could argue that rock n roll "Is about the music, man". But that got nipped in the bud by:

"Given your average rock act's incessant bleating about how their art has nothing to do with record sales, you might not think they were worried about this, but it's interesting how many guitar acts, from Editors to Kele from Bloc Party, have "gone electro" in the last 18 months."

Right, we've all taken that in? Good. Now let's decide just how nonsensical that is.

From how that's phrased, the notion of a rock band picking up a synthesiser is a rat leaving a sinking ship. Forgetting of course that synthesisers aren't the sole property of electronic bands and have been part of rock for years. In fact, rock music has given us some of the best known synth lines in history (evidence and evidence).

Also, pop music is very known for borrowing from other genres, yet I doubt Mr. Robinson would criticise Rihanna for aping rock in "Rockstar 101" (a song featuring Travis Barker from Blink 182, for REAL rock credentials). So how is Editors incorporating the traits of another genre a sign of the shakiness of rock, yet Rihanna incorporating rock music into her style (quite bluntly) isn't her losing faith in pop?

Fergie did a terrible country song. Is she making a break into a new genre? Britney's new song features dubstep. Is she no longer pop?

Robinson apparently finds a mixing of genres fine when it's done by singers and groups already firmly in the pop camp, whereas indie and rock bands have to play with a limited set of toys, otherwise they are somehow "betraying" the genre in its death throes.

What annoys me, is how the multitude of different successful sounds of the year are gathered under pop where as if an "indie band" don't sound like either The Strokes or Arctic Monkeys they need to be put somewhere else.

Then again, even stuff in the realms of traditional indie have thrived in 2010- though mainly in the album chart. The Arcade Fire had a number 1 album! Vampire Weekend became the first artist on a British independent label to top the American album chart in 19 years! Not to mention that Kings of Leon have rarely been out of the top 40 (at the time of writing they have TWO albums in there).

Though mainly, I think it comes down to a difference in perceptions. The National have had, I would say, an amazing year, releasing "High Violet"- a brilliant album- and selling out venues the size of Manchester Academy. That constitutes an AMAZING success for an indie-rock band.

However, if, after going away to work on a new album, The Wanted (for example) then released a single that only charted in Belgium- like The National did- and played venues of The Academy's size, it wouldn't be long before they were dropped from their label.

Rock isn't as popular as pop. But it doesn't need to be. Rock 'n' Roll bands can get by on the occasional top 30 album and small-to-medium size venue tours. By measuring a rock n roll bands success against the likes of Take That and Lady Gaga, would be like complaining that your school bake sale doesn't sell as many cakes as Greg's does.

In short, rock n roll isn't dead. Rock n roll is where it normally is. In the album chart and on tour.