Prog, Still Misunderstood?

There’s a well-meaning but flawed piece in the Telegraph about Prog, probably inspired by The Chart Company’s launch of a new progressive music chart. It does namecheck a lot of the new generation of progressive artists such as Big Big Train and Steven Wilson, and make a number of positive points

But there are a few things that suggests he doesn’t know the subject and hasn’t really done his research. The fact that it appears not in the paper’s music section but in the “Mens pages” may be the root of the problem.

First he makes the bizarre claim that Prog originated with Frank Zappa’s 1968 album “Freak Out”, which is a new one on me. Now Zappa’s music in certainly progressive, but he was really a whole genre in his own right. To claim any American artist founded the prog-rock genre ignores the scene’s roots in late 1960s Britain as a generation of musicians wanted to move beyond the limitations of commercial pop music. Prog surely took recognisable form somewhere between The Beatle’s “Sergeant Pepper” and King Crimson’s “In the Court of the Crimson King”.

Then he claims that prog has been dismissed as “too white, male and uncool” for decades. Uncool, certainly, but it’s only in the past few years that anything whose appeal is disproportionately white and male has been regarded with suspicion. But it’s not as if prog has ever been a hotbed of white power anthems or awash with misogynistic imagery. The suggestion that women and non-white people aren’t interested in music you can’t dance to is itself a bit sexist and racist; I know plenty of dedicated female prog fans and musicians who would take great exception to that. And I can’t avoid another mention of the bill at this year’s HRH Prog, where half the bands on the bill had at least one woman in the band, and they were the better half of the bill.

And then there’s a commenter who claims Transatlantic aren’t prog. Where do these people come from?

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5 Responses to Prog, Still Misunderstood?

  1. Synthetase says:

    The guy seems to be good at setting up and then mowing down that ‘white men only’ straw man.

    Weird to say that as a sub-genre it’s always been uncool. Last time I looked, both Dark Side of the Moon and The Wall were in the list of top fifty best selling albums of all time – Dark Side being number three.

    Actually, come to think of it, the entire article is basically:
    “Prog – always known for ‘lazy cliché #1, lazy cliché #2 and lazy cliché #3. But is it really?”
    To which the answer is obviously “No. You’re using lazy clichés”

  2. PaulE says:

    The mainstream press is having difficulty putting the story of the re-emergence of Prog into context. It doesn’t fit into anything from Fashion or Youth Culture, nor does it fit with trends in technology usage like streaming, playlists or lots of people using shuffle mode.

    The one it does fit with is internet crowdfunding – it is where that started. While others still treat this as something of a novelty, it is tried and tested for Prog fans. I also believe it has influenced the fans thinking. A crowdfunding campaign makes it so obvious that there is a connection between the money raised and the music being made at all.

    If Prog fans have been more resistant to moves towards piracy or free streaming then their artists have been a bit less affected by the general downturn in sales. Maybe this is a story for the business section ? :-)

  3. Tim Hall says:

    Good point about crowdfunding. I’ve read too many articles that fail to credit Marillion for pioneering it.

  4. Tom B says:

    I think another important technological reason for the current healthy state of prog is another aspect of the presence of the Internet. Over the last few years I have stumbled across many bands via YouTube which I would otherwise be ignorant of. Some of these discoveries have lead to me going to gigs and buying albums – and I’m sure I’m not the only one. This exposure has thus enabled ‘underground’ bands to thrive in a way which would have been impossible even fifteen years ago. I can’t imagine how I would have discovered Scandinavian symphonic metal bands beforehand. Certainly throughout the eighties and nineties (and before) the general populace (including me) was ignorant of anything that didn’t appear in the mainstream media. The exposure through blogs such as this one is another invaluable source which just wouldn’t have been present previously.

  5. Tim Hall says:

    Very true, and the prog revival began around the same time (late 1990s) as the internet began to take off.