Is Rock Dying?

Fozzy at Reading Sub89

In the editorial of Classic Rock Magazine, Scott Rowley asks “Is Rock Dying

“Rock’n'roll has died,” former Buckcherry bassist Jimmy Ashhurst Facebooked recently, “and nobody’s really that pissed because we caught it in a box and can look at it whenever we want.” Ginger Wildheart posted similar sentiments days after the Sonisphere headliners were announced. “It would appear that rock music is finally on the machine that goes bing,” he wrote. “The revolving door of (fewer than 10) worthy festival headliners indicates, to me anyway, that we have outlived the era of ‘big rock’.”

The cracks aren’t just beginning to show, they’re as wide and deep as the lines on Keith Richards’ face. The legends are getting older and, let’s face it, dying. In a decade’s time, can we reasonably expect to see tours from Bob Dylan (aged 72), the Rolling Stones (oldest member: 72), Motörhead (Lemmy is 68), Lynyrd Skynyrd (Gary Rossington: 62) or ZZ Top (Billy Gibbons: 64)? Who will fill the country’s stadiums, headline our festivals and fill our arenas then?

One problem is that many classic rock fans are just too conservative, expecting pastiches of their old heroes rather than giving bands with a newer sound a chance. Another is a “mainstream” pushing too much watered-down mediocrity and calling it “rock”. And the rock/indie tribal divide has a lot to answer for as well. How many of the people complaining that rock is dying also insist that Muse are not a rock band?

If rock is to have a future, it won’t sound like copy of its past. I’m sure that there’s a place for exciting new rock bands who have ambitions of being more than glorified Thin Lizzy tribute acts. When I hear young bands such as Haken, I’m sure rock does have such a future.

Whether any of these bands will be part of the mainstream in the same way Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd were in the 1970s remains an open question. Artists like Steven Wilson, Opeth and Nightwish can fill venues like The Royal Albert Hall or Brixton Academy, but their music is probably too dense and sophisticated for the average daytime radio listener. Do they not represent the real present and future of rock, free from having to confirm to mainstream fashion?

In the end, if ambitious and creative bands can find a big enough audience for them to continue making music on the scale that they want to make it, does it actually matter whether it’s on the mainstream radar or not?

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18 Responses to Is Rock Dying?

  1. The Other Tim Hall says:

    Rock. It’s the new jazz. ;)

  2. Tim Hall says:

    In 13/8 time as well….

  3. Serdar says:

    Jazz has gone into its own niche and become the domain of the reissue factories — which is great for newcomers who have never heard most of that material (like me!). The very few new artists, relatively speaking, that have made any kind of splash have been people who have moved the domain of jazz outwards — John Zorn, for instance, who’s used his outlook and heritage to do as much in his own way for jazz as Miles did in his funk/electronics period.

    As for rock — well, I think a part of the problem is that for a lot of people there’s no “rock” anymore. There’s just “music I listen to” and “what’s in my playlist”.

  4. Tim Hall says:

    And just like the conservative classic rock fans who think music was perfected in 1974 and it’s been downhill ever since, there are the old-school jazz purists who dismiss most contemporaty jazz for equally bogus reasons.

  5. Serdar says:

    Exactly. I admit to being tainted with some of that myself — e.g., I thought Wynton Marsalis doesn’t bring anything really new to the table (small wonder when Miles’s rep at Columbia Records called Miles up and asked him to with Wynton a happy birthday, he hung up on him). And a lot of old-school rock fans are stuck in the mindset that somehow the same old firehorses can continue to be inventive and new — or maybe not even that, just continue to be the same old firehorses.

  6. Chris Hall says:

    “Jazz has gone into its own niche and become the domain of the reissue factories?”
    Sons of Kemet, EST, Kit Downes…. I could go on

  7. Serdar says:

    Forgive me if I was imprecise, but my point was that it’s really a far cry now from when it was in its heyday in terms of mainstream awareness and popularity. There’s stuff going on, you just have to dig far harder to find out about it.

    (Also: Bohren & der Club of Gore, Mike Patton’s own work with and without Zorn, etc.)

  8. Ian Almond says:

    Hard rock, heaven metal , prog rock or whatever you choose to call it was a phenomena created in the late 1960′s and 1970′s so the truly great rock bands are either long gone or way past their creative peak.
    Since then there have been many variations on the theme with hair metal, Aor, grunge,etc, however, the law of diminishing returns inevitably means these bands are becoming ever more poor reflections of the 70′s giants.
    Students I teach seem to have little interest in modern rock but love going back to discover the likes of Yes, Genesis,Deep Purple, Led Zepplin and will quite readily agree that these bands are far superior to any thing on offer today.
    So perhaps mainstream rock has run it’s course, however there is in my view more good music around today than there has been since the early 1980′s you just have to look a little harder for it and be prepared to be open minded about new music.
    When I was in my 20′s I doubt in would have thought my favorite band would in years to comebe fronted by a female singer,be influenced by folk and Celtic music with flute solos.

  9. Serdar says:

    If I had to say what the big difference between bands-of-then and bands-of-now was, it would be songwriting. Not showmanship, not musicianship, but songwriting; it’s the single most consistently underappreciated musician’s skill out there.

  10. Ian Almond says:

    I just think that when new genres of music appear there is a release of creativity but over time you get the copy acts that simply try to cash in by producing music for money without the creativity.
    when indie music emerged in the late 1970′s you had amazingly inventive bands such as Joy division/ new order, the cure, wire, talking heads, teardrop explodes, echo and the bunny men, early rem and the smiths.
    Thirty years on we have corporate indie with dross such as the script, Coldplay,Snow Patrol dominating the genre aiming to sell dull safe music to dull people.

  11. PaulE says:

    To some fans “bands with a newer sound” means something fashionable that they don’t like. Is it possible to get away from that in a genre called Classic Rock ?

  12. Tim Hall says:

    All depends on what you mean by “Fashionable”. I’ve cited bands like Opeth, Nightwish and Haken as having a newer sound. Not sure if you’d describe them as fashionable, but they don’t sound like 70s/80s rock, with things like cookie-monster vocals and lead singers who aren’t blokes.

  13. Ian Redfearn says:

    I don’t think rock is dying. In actual fact I would go as far as saying it has never been stronger. There are a large number of quality bands playing styles ranging from folk rock to death metal. The problem is that with all the diversity in music that society is still trying to monitor the trends of music through chart systems and radio play. The airwaves are jammed with soulless X factor corporate music (not much different to the corporate rock of the late 70s early 80s). Away from the mainstream there are still bands who have large fan bases and can sell out tours as well as smaller bands with loyal followings. The revolving door of bands at rock festivals is more a reflection on the organisers than the rock scene itself.

  14. PaulE says:

    When I said “fashionable” I was thinking of attempts to create crossover genres by mixing classic rock influences with something fashionable at the time. This and a linear view of the development of music causes people to have cut-off dates. The linear view is incorrect thinking as far as I am concerned, but all too common it seems.
    The genre name “Classic Rock” also seems to imply a golden age in the past.

  15. Tim Hall says:

    @Ian

    Indeed. The “Rock is Dead” idea seems to be based solely on the fact that all the really big “household name” bands are growing older, and there aren’t any newer bands operating on the same scale. Rock has fragmented into multiple overapping niches, and bands that get big within those niches can’t cross over to the mainstream.

    The same fragmentation means that the bands who do cross over tend to be a far lower common denominator than the bands of a generation ago. One thing I’ve noticed is that the corporate indie festival scene (Glastonbury, Reading, V) seems to have the same revolving door of a dozen or so headliners as the rock and metal circuit.

    Festivals shouldn’t be all about the headliners anyway. The best festivals ought to be the ones with a depth of talent right across the bill. Do they really need some aging has-been at the top?

  16. PaulE says:

    So, the question is : What can we do about it?

    I guess that anyone motivated to read Tim’s blog or Classic Rock Mag is probably already buying plenty of music, going to gigs and generally supporting their favourite bands. (if not, then start with that !)

    A greater willingness to try other bands ? In my case there is a queue of things I haven’t got around to yet. A queue which is about to be held up by a release from one of my favourites. There is only so much time for listening.

    An internet campaign to demonstrate how many rock fans are out there ? The trouble with this is that choosing to all buy one track will inevitably lead to the choice of that track being an old classic from the 70s – or arguments about which sub-genre to choose :)

  17. Tim Hall says:

    Actually I wonder what proportion of readers of Classic Rock are actually buying music by newer bands. Suspect too many of them are buying endless reissues and boxed sets of music recorded 30-40 years ago.

  18. Red Death says:

    Part of the problem is there are far too many similar festivals all competing for people’s cash, so the sure fire winner is to sign up “big” headliners who will attract the masses. The problem being that there are only so many of the “big” headliners in any genre to go round hence you get a lot of repetition. Despite being a Metallica fan I would be quite happy not to see them for a few years!

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