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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4 Responses to The Great Musical Divide

  1. Tom B says:

    I think you’re spot on Tim, about encountering the music in a different context without all of the cultural baggage. Another factor which might also help to explain the popularity of metal in Scandinavia is that Scandinavia and especially Eastern Europe have little ethnic diversity. It’s probably too much of a generalisation to say that “black artists produce black music for black people and the same goes for white artists/music/people” as we all know of people from one background who like the ‘other’ type of music but I think there’s an element of that going on in Eastern Europe and Scandinavia if only for the reason that those areas have relatively few home grown ethnic artists.

  2. Tim Hall says:

    Think ethnic diversity is probably a bit of red herring here. I’m not sure you can blame black audiences for the inexplicable popularity of Ed Sheeran or the hype given to insipid indie bands like Catfish and the Bottlemen.

    And the whole concept of ethnic diversity leading to poorer quality music; no, we really don’t want to go there.

  3. Tom B says:

    Hi Tim,
    I agree, it doesn’t explain everything, but I think it is a contributory factor in the musical output of those countries. And I never said anything about poorer quality music. At least I think I didn’t, and if I did that’s not what I meant.

  4. Tim Hall says:

    Sorry if I was reading too much between the lines there.

    I think those long, dark winter evenings, and a different approach towards music education in schools may be a factor in Scandinavia.