Written by: Robert Percy Updated: 21st February 2019
“How is rock music supposed to adapt, improvise and overcome in an environment where the industry seems to actively favour old bands rather than take a chance on a younger, newer bands?”
We’ve all seen the headlines. “Rock is dead“.
Gene Simmons (Kiss) said it back in 2014. Adam Levine (Maroon 5) and most recently Richard Z. Kruspe (Rammstein, Emigrate) joined him in this regard in 2018, saying that all the innovation right now is in hip-hop. Matt Tuck (Bullet For My Valentine, Axewound) recently said that modern metal is, in his opinion, pretty much all the same, using all the same techniques and the same riffs. Ben Bruce (Asking Alexandria) has said similar things too in response to the criticism AA got about their decidedly very pop and hip-hop influenced self-titled album.
I know what you’re thinking. “Boo-urns, they’re so wrong,” you think, “these old farts don’t know anything about rock anymore! They’re just trying to get attention!” But hold your horses there, guys. They might have a bit of a point…
When you look at a lot of the top bills at the big music festivals the last few years, you might be inclined to agree somewhat. It seems like all the same all male ‘dad rock’ acts who were last relevant in the 1980s and 90s keep getting all the top spots; spots that maybe deserve to go towards newer talent, perhaps? It does make you wonder.
Of course, like many things in the music industry, sales, in this case tickets, matter the most. As a festival organizer, you’re going to put the band that’ll sell the most tickets. It makes the most sense. At the end of the day, they’re running a business and making a profit takes the highest priority. But it begs the question – how is rock music supposed to adapt, improvise and overcome (I’m so sorry for the Bear Grylls reference) in an environment where the industry seems to actively favour old bands who are still a solid pair of hands than take a chance on a younger, newer bands with a newer sound who are doing commercially very well for themselves?
We all know the dangers of the ‘men in suits’ becoming obsessed with making sure artists look a certain way and sound a certain way to appeal to the market they are being projected into. It’s something that’s dime-a-dozen and quite openly so in the more ‘pop’ end of the industry, especially in places like Korea and Japan where pop stars are incredibly manufactured, to the point where they are put into a whole system of education designed to make them from scratch into the perfect pop idol.
As rock music pushes away from the fringes and further into the mainstream, the pressure to conform to a market’s idea of what your art should be something that can very easily transcend into our comparatively smaller world. The danger of rock music becoming too ‘manufactured’ is, I feel, a big reason as to why a lot of people are now thinking that rock is dead or has lost its innovation.
As Richard Z. Kruspe states in his reasoning, he feels like rock music is something that doesn’t annoy your parents any more. What annoys the millennial parents of today, in the context of Kruspe’s logic, is rap and hip-hop based music, especially the music of those of the SoundCloud generation such as Post Malone, the sadly departed Lil’ Peep and the late and very controversial XXXTentacion amongst others.
The 1980s and 90s inspired dreamy yet intelligent pop of bands like Pale Waves, No Rome, The Japanese House and The 1975 come to mind too, as well as the weird and jagged-edged musicality combined with a whacky, almost art-worthy performance, image demonstrated by artists like Grimes and Poppy.
Is the new music of rebellion not screaming guitars and angry vocals, but rather something completely different, and has this caused an intellectual dissonance with fans of rock music who have been used to their music being the music of rebellion for so long?
It’s hard to say really. Art and opinion are subjective, after all. But I do genuinely feel that because of rock’s shift far into the mainstream, to the point where it is a totally acceptable way of expressing yourself musically, there has been a big change. Whether it’s for the better or not is up to you.
Linked with Kruspe’s logic of rock no longer appearing to be ‘rebellious’ is the fact that more and more rock and metal bands are distancing themselves from the ‘rockstar’ lifestyle. Gone are the days of chugging alcohol, eating steaks, throwing TVs out of the windows and doing cocaine with strippers backstage.
Today’s rock bands are in the midst of, as somebody from The Times’ property section once said about Bristol, “vegan-fuelled organic overdrive.” To the old school rock fan and indeed to many rock bands of the older generation, this kind of drug free, animal free, almost party free lifestyle seems like an insult – the total antithesis of rebellion!
“Is the new music of rebellion not screaming guitars and angry vocals, but rather something completely different?”
It’s very easy to see this kind of thing in action and have the opinion that rock music is no longer rebellious when you’ve grown up in a certain era where the things you did to rebel against society were very different. However, as the times change, people’s’ attitudes change. What may be considered rebellious to you reading now may not be rebellious at all in 20-30 years time. That is just the nature of things.
If rock music is to stay rebellious, edgy and counterculture, maybe it needs to take on board what the act of rebellion entails in the late 2010s, not what it was in the late 1980s or 1990s.
But maybe the question is not whether the music business is the factor that is causing what appears to be a “standstill” in rock music. Maybe it’s not those in the suits, but those in the t-shirts. The listeners themselves. The people who actually buy and stream those records. What if they are actually the ones who are the most conservative and most narrow-minded in their outlook on what rock music ‘should’ be, how rock music ‘should’ present itself and, most importantly, who and what rock music ‘should’ associate with and be associated with.
The history of rock music has always been littered with bands who are derided by fans and, to a certain extent even us in the press, for daring to do something different. People raised more than a few eyebrows at Trent Reznor when he debuted his harsh, angular noise on the world. Slipknot’s masks and jumpsuits image combined with their ludicrous amount of members and their odd mashup of extreme metal riffs with classic rock choruses, blaring synthesizers and samples and overt displays of turntablism were met with a lot of derision back in the day.
There were people who outright laughed when the “ragga-metal-punk-hip-hop” of Newport’s Skindred burst onto the scene, with some in the press even joking that reggae metal just had to happen eventually. There was the backlash, too, from the recent very pop-influenced records from the aforementioned Asking Alexandria and Bullet For My Valentine, both of which drew heavy criticism because they were so poppy.
Furthermore, bands who have one or more female members, or one or more members who are not white, have been met with a lot of derision and sadly still do to this day, even with the ever growing numbers of women and POC becoming members of rock and metal bands.
“Maybe it sheds a light on the true fear of why rock musicians are worried… they’re worried about becoming irrelevant.”
The same is true for bands who have members who are LGBTQIA or transgender, even though again there are more and more of them getting involved in bands. There is also the elephant in the room of a lot of bands for certain subgenres and even members of certain well known, well liked and successful bands supporting outrageously Conservative viewpoints, even to the point of them aligning themselves with neo-Nazis, other types of racist and white power groups and organisations like the NRA.
Does this make rock music very appealing to anyone who isn’t straight, white, a man and a Conservative? I’ll leave it to you to decide.
As food for thought, I’d like to leave you with a little excerpt from Jamie Lenman’s song “Hell In A Fast Car,”. The subject matter of which was very much inspired by Lenman watching rock music evolve as he attempts to keep plying his trade and to carry on being a relevant force in the music industry. Maybe it sheds a light on the true fear of why rock musicians are worried – that, in changing times for the music they create and play to thousands if not millions around the world, they’re worried about becoming irrelevant.
But then again, as always, that’s up to you to decide for yourself:
“Rock and roll is all about the fresh and new.
Why would you do something someone else did too?
Stick those records in your open mouth and chew.
It’ll make you grow strong.
I put my contribution in,
Now I’m just food for children.
I have met my murderers,
Shook their hands said ‘thank you, sirs,’
Happy to be obsolete.”