Music Opinion Blog

Opinions and occasional rants about the state of the music scene. The views expressed are entirely my own, and do not represent those of any artists or publications with whom I may be connected.

Zero-Sum Fanboys?

Why do some many people put so much energy into hating things that simply aren’t for them rather then in celebrating the things they love?

Do they believe everything is a zero-sum game?

You see this in metal fandom every time Babymetal get mentioned. They’ve not to everyone’s taste, true, but the whole concept can be enjoyed as something entertainingly silly. But some metal fans seem offended by their very existence. You’d have thought the metal world was big and diverse enough to have room for Babymetals as well as Dimmu Borgirs and Napalm Deaths and Nightwishes and Opeths. But no, it seems one person’s entertainingly silly fun represents an existential threat to everything they hold dear. Why? It’s not as if they’re receiving massive and undeserved media hype that might otherwise have gone to Pig Destroyer.

There are parallels with the culture wars over the new Ghostbusters remake. But do we really want to go there?

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Haze – The Final Battle

You want some folk-prog featuring a twin-neck guitar and a Northern Rail Pacer?

Haze will be headlining the Classic Rock Stage on Friday at this year’s Cambridge Rock Festival

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What happens when you don’t pay your writers?

Flume SkinEither I’m an old man yelling at clouds, and this is a “Kids get off my lawn” moment, or The Independent’s review of Flume’s ‘Skin’ is deep in Poe’s Law land

Let’s first talk about what kind of music this is. If you don’t like electronic beats and you’re coming into this with a closed mind, leave now, take your fake Fender clutching-ass back to the campfire so you can sing Jack Johnson and Dave Matthews to your beloved. Now let’s get into this review.

It goes on like that, at great, great length.

Twitter seems divided over this review is actually for real, or it’s a very clever parody of a certain immature and narcissistic style of music writing many of us both recognise and loathe. If it’s a troll, are the Independent trolling their readership, or is the writer trolling whatever passes for a music editor at the site?

One or two Guardian critics I won’t name have suggested this sort of thing is what happens when you don’t pay your writers.

Now, Flume’s Skin might be a great record, even if it’s not quite as good as Panic Room’s album of the same name. But it’s almost impossible to tell from that review.

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Christina Grimmie

It’s been overshadowed by the terrible nightclub massacre in the same city just a few hours later, the enormity of which is still hard to take in. But the murder of singer Christina Grimmie while she chatted with fans and signed autographs after a gig struck terribly close to home. Especially when I read that there were about a hundred people at the gig, which makes it the sort of gig I’m very familiar with, and there are many, many times I’ve chatted with band members after a such a show. As a female games journalist said to me on Twitter, the fear of this sort of thing lurks in the back of the mind of anyone with any kind of public profile.

I am fortunate to live in a country that isn’t awash with guns.

At the moment we know next to nothing about the killer or his motivation, but the probability that he was some kind of obsessive stalker is quite high. It’s why you don’t make tasteless jokes about the subject; because stalking is really no laughing matter. It’s also why can’t dismiss online threats out of hand either.

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The Great Musical Divide

Iron Maiden Book of SoulsA couple of tweets from an acquaintance about the ubiquity of Iron Maiden and other classic rock and metal bands as background music in bars in Romania shows how mainland Europe has a quite different relationship with rock and metal compared to indie-dominated Britain. An equivalent bar in Britain would be playing Oasis or Ed Sheeran.

Especially in Eastern Europe, how much is this down to former Communist countries first encountering the music in a completely different context, such that it doesn’t carry the same cultural baggage as it does in Britain?

I know this is a recurring theme for me, but a big problem with British music is a critical establishment that defines every kind of popular music in terms of its relationship towards punk. A handful of snotty three-chord bands, or rather the pseudo-intellectual scribblers who worshipped them ended up casting a long shadow over everything that happened not only after 1977, but the years before. A lot of the narrative is revisionist nonsense, but it’s become the orthodoxy, endlessly repeated by those two young to have been there at the time. Anything that doesn’t fit the narrative risks being written out of history.

Eastern Europe experienced none of that. The fall of the Berlin Wall bought a flood of Western music, such that the cheesiest hair-metal of that time is revered in the same way the 1960s British Invasion is revered in America. Songs like Europe’s “The Final Countdown” and The Scorpions’ “Wind of Change” have a status that’s hard for people in Britain to imagine.

Although this doesn’t explain the huge popularity of metal in Scandinavia. So perhaps there’s another explanation?

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On Springsteen, Mostly Autumn and Panic Room

Good piece by The Guardian’s Michael Hann on the appeal of a Bruce Springsteen show

I can understand people who just don’t like Springsteen. I was well into my 30s before I could even tolerate much of his music, let alone adore it. And for a first-time attender, a Springsteen show can be a little like attending a meeting of some religious sect – intriguing at first, then slightly terrifying as you realise quite how long it’s going to last. But once the rhythms of the night seep into your soul – as you understand how you are going to be swept up, then brought down, then lifted again; as you come to understand your part in the liturgy – it becomes hard to resist.

I’m not a Springsteen fan myself, but that paragraph somehow sums up what’s so great for me about seeing bands like Mostly Autumn and Panic Room live. Some people wonder exactly why I’ll travel considerable distances and stay in sometimes dodgy B&Bs to see a band they’ve never heard of play before a couple of hundred people.

The comparison with religion is spot-on.

There have been times when I’ve seen Mostly Autumn and been on a high for the rest of the week, to the extent that work colleagues have noticed. It’s not quite the same as Springsteen’s universality, of course. Sometimes it’s knowing more about the backstories of deeply personal songs about love, loss and bereavement than has ever been put in the public domain that gives the music such a powerful emotional punch. And the dynamics of a small intimate club gig where you frequently get to meet the band after the show is different from the electric atmosphere of an arena show. But the parallels are still strong.

What about you? Who is your Sprngsteen, or your Mostly Autumn or Panic Room?

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The Reality of Music Outside the Commercial Mainstream

Anne-Marie Helder guesting with Halo Blind at Bilston Robin 2

The last couple of days have seen two good articles on the reality of making music outside the commercial mainstream. First, Rhodri Marsden in The New Statesman writes about the joy of being in a part-time band, which describes the reality for most bands I know. I can think of at least one musician who’s on record as saying the stability of a day job to pay the bills gives him more creative freedom as an artist.

Second, this piece in The Guardian, Teleman’s 10-step guide to succeeding as a modern indie band. The headline is misleading, since it has nothing to do with “indie” as a genre of music; most independent prog bands do all or most of the things in that list.

The comments against the latter do betray the sheer levels of ignorance out there when it comes to the realities of music at grassroots level. There’s the numpty who implies they’re an industry insider who claims it’s impossible to write a great song without agents and talent scouts beating at the door. If you’re under 25, conventionally pretty and willing to work within the narrowest of commercial formulas, maybe. In all other cases this person is speaking unadulterated cobblers.

Then there’s the twit who claims that anyone who doesn’t aspire to headlining stadiums shouldn’t be making music, mocking those who play “300 seat clubs”. Perhaps if you attended a few club gigs you might discover what live music is all about? And maybe the reason some artists don’t aspire to be the next Coldplay or Adele is because they don’t want to water down their music until it sounds like Adele of Coldplay? Or just maybe not everyone who wants to make music wants to be chewed up and spat out by the celebrity fame machine?

Too many people have bought into a rock’n'roll mythology that was never an accurate reflection of reality even in past decades when the music business had money to throw around, let alone now.

What is “success” for a musician nowadays? From my perspective it’s the artist being able to make the music they want to make on the scale they want to make it, and to attract enough of an audience to be able to continue doing so. That doesn’t have to mean headlining stadiums. It doesn’t even have to mean being able to quit the day job. It means being able to play with a full band rather than a acoustic guitar and a laptop, if that’s what you want to do. It means not having to water down your sound to fit someone else’s formula. It even means being able to play your own songs rather than covers.

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What is your album of the year so far?

We’ve approaching the mid-point of the year.

2016 has been a terrible year for deaths, but it’s also been a tremendous year for new music. The underground progressive rock scene has produced many great albums from bands as diverse as Mantra Vega, Knifeworld, Haken, Iamthemorning, Purson, Frost* and Big Big Train. The mainstream has come up with some impressive prog-friendly records too, with David Bowie, Suede and Radiohead amongst them. And that’s before we even start on what’s come out of the world of metal.

So, what’s you record of the year so far? What other records have impressed a lot?

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The Sound of Corporate Beige

This video, which appears in Alexis Petridis’ splendidly snarky two star review of their album, seems to epitomise everything that’s wrong with the mainstream music industry.

It’s what passes for “rock” nowadays; but to anyone who’s old enough to remember bands like Thin Lizzy, it’s just laughable. It’s the sound of nothing, corporate beige music which apes the shape and form without any of the substance.

The “Music Industry” whines that there’s no talent out there. Yet they give their hype to dross like this when acts like Panic Room or Halo Blind or Mostly Autumn or Chantel McGregor or Karnataka exist, all completely off their radar. The only rational response is hollow laughter.

This is why the major labels need to be burned to the ground. Kill it! Kill it with fire!

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Disco and Cultural Envelopes

In an interesting post by Serdar Yegulalp on how the cultural impact of music scenes is often only apparent decades later, he talks about the impact of Disco in the late 1970s.

In the 1970s, disco culture was pooh-poohed because it was seen by rock fans as straight America’s attempt to be hip. The way it legitimized gay culture went almost totally unseen at the time, in big part because gay culture itself was unseen — and, in my opinion, somewhat deliberately, by a lot of rock fans. I remember how Queen and David Bowie were, for a big part of my youth, seen by my compatriots as campy weirdos (read: “fags”), but then folks like Prince came along and pretty much knocked everyone’s sensibilities on that score into a cocked hat.

Nowadays the reaction against Disco is generally painted as a racist and homophobic backlash by straight white male rock fans. But that’s a revisionist narrative as well, playing today’s identity politics with the music of a generation ago, over-simplifying a much more nuanced reality.

As Serdar says, the urban gay subculture was hardly on anyone’s radar screens at the time, and Disco frequently came over as a corporate commodification of black soul and funk, which were seen as legitimate genres in the way disco wasn’t. And many of the disco era’s worst crimes against music came from white rock musicians who should have known better; Rod Stewart, I’m looking at you.

Today the tides of time have washed away the dross and we only remember the good stuff, like the funk of Nile Rogers and Bernard Edwards, now deservedly recognised as every bit as talented musicians as any of their classic rock contemporaries. Or the things so exuberantly cheesy they get filed under the ridiculous label of “Guilty Pleasures”, like Boney M’s gloriously silly “Rasputin” which get covered by Finnish folk-metal acts.

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