No, Guardian, “anti-riffs” are not a thing.

This week’s Guardian Music Blog clickbait is “What are the best anti-riffs in rock”, a piece bemoaning the fact that a Radio 2 poll on greatest riffs is full of classic rock rather than the sort of music the writer likes.

It’s true that the original list is so predictably dull it deserves to be mocked mercilessly. If it was any more musically conservative it would be called “Noel Gallagher”. It feels like it was voted by people who’s knowledge of rock is limited to a compilation “The Best Classic Rock Anthems.. Ever” bought at a service station on the M1. As other commenters have noticed, The Rolling Stones seem glaringly absent, and aside from Slash there no guitarist there who isn’t white; No Hendrix, no Chuck Berry. And they’ve clearly never heard Black Sabbath’s “Symptom of the Universe“. Or realise Deep Purple’s “Burn” is infinitely better than the lumpen meat-and-potatoes of “Smoke on the Water”.

But the suggestion for “Anti-riffs” is no better. It does make me feel that the author hasn’t got over ending up on the losing side of the punk wars, and resents the fact that 60s/70s classic rock has stood the test of time while the scratchy C86 style stuff John Peel used to play late at night hasn’t, and means little to people who weren’t in their late teens at the time.

No, an “anti-riff” is not a thing. But here are a some great pieces of guitar work that don’t fit the conventional blues-derived classic rock formula.

  • Opeth’s “Windowpane“. The evocative rippling guitars are a thing of beauty. It took some nerve to open with this when Opeth played the Metal Hammer stage at High Voltage in 2010, but that’s exactly what they did.
  • Chic’s “Le Freak”. I’d rate Nile Rogers as one of the greatest rhythm guitarists of all time, and rock fans who ignore his music are missing out. This one’s the Whole Lotta Love of funk.
  • A lot of the Alex Lifeson’s playing on Rush’s classic “Grace Under Pressure”. It feels like he was constantly thinking “What would a classic rock guitarist play here?”, and played something altogether different and better instead.

What are your suggestions?

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4 Responses to No, Guardian, “anti-riffs” are not a thing.

  1. I’d say pretty much anything by Opposite Sex ( They’re hard to describe – noisey, punky pop with a guitarist who sounds like he’s playing a jazz-fusion/folk-jazz band.

    This: and this: are pretty good examples of them doing their thang.

  2. PaulE says:

    “Anti-riffs” ? Is that the best the journalists can come up with ? They’ve had a few decades to define it better than that – whatever it is that they prefer. It seems that they are far more certain about what they are Against than what they are For. Which is a poor way to define anyone’s taste. Not to mention being overly concerned with fighting old battles. This is going to carry on and on. Watch out the Nursing Homes of the future. :)

  3. PaulE says:

    The full Radio 2 list is here

    A panel of “experts” selected the songs and then voting took place. It is quite clear that only one song per artist was allowed. Many of those you listed as omissions are in the longer list. And Chic is there as well.

  4. Synthetase says:

    What is an ‘anti-riff’? Seriously, I have no idea what he’s talking about. Please don’t tell me these guys get paid to spew this nonsense onto the internet…

    I love Windowpane – love the whole of Damnation, actually. I saw Opeth in Melbourne a couple of years back and had to dodge the ‘favourite album’ question so as not to be thrown to the floor ;) Damnation gets regular spins at my place as the whole household likes it.

    If they want anti-riffs, how about Beethoven’s 5th paino concerto?