The Greying of Rock Fandom?

The Mentulls

Some thoughts struck me about the Cambridge Rock Festival back in August, which saw some discussion on Twitter.

There were one or two very young bands, such as The Mentulls, playing music in a very traditional classic rock style dating from before any of them were born. But the audience was overwhelmingly middle-aged, old enough to remember the heyday of blues-rock and prog from the first time around.

You see a lot of this in the progressive rock world. There are plenty of young bands like Haken, Maschine or Synaesthesia. Maybe it’s just an artefact of the festivals where I’ve seen them, but there don’t seem to be many of their own generation in the audiences. And the blues-rock scene is even worse. It’s as if anyone under the age of 35 who actually loves “old” music is already in a band.

As the existing audience continues to grey, who will replace them when they’re too old and infirm to get out to gigs?

Maybe I’m just being pessimistic here. Perhaps the bands would rather establish a niche than compete in a much more crowded market playing generic contemporary indie or pop. And maybe an audience of fiftysomethings whose kids have grown up and left home will actually age out more slowly than an audience of twentysomethings most of whom will drop out of music fandom when they get married and have kids?

What do you think?

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7 Responses to The Greying of Rock Fandom?

  1. Synthetase says:

    The audience make-up is a bit different in Melbourne. When I go to our local festival, Progfest, most of the people there are in their 20s and 30s. However, the scene here seems to be a little more hard-edged (more Voyager and Caligula’s Horse, never seen anyone remotely like Mostly Autumn or Panic Room) and than what you often write about. Of course that might just be selection bias on my part.

    Most of the people who went to the last Steven Wilson, Anathema and Opeth gigs here were of the same 20s-30s age group as well.

    As far as blues rock goes, I don’t really know, but I think it is generally an older audience.

  2. I think it’s different everywhere, and the UK scene is the exception. Iamthemorning have said that they played to people their own age in Russia, and couldn’t understand why their audience in the UK was all middle-aged men. When I saw Flying Colors in London, half the audience was half my age — and every young person (and incidentally every female) I heard talking had a European accent. Every British accent belonged to a middle-aged bloke.

  3. (New comment because it’s a different point.)

    It’s not just [prog] rock. We’re in the middle of a folk revival at the moment with a lot of young bands around, and when I go to their concerts the entire audience is old enough to be their parents (plus a scattering of young people who go in carrying their own fiddle cases — anyone under 50 who loves folk music is in a band!).

    But the classical music scene has been holding serious, hand-wringing discussions for decades about how you attract listeners who are not pensioners. And yet, miraculously, the grey-haired audience for classical music keeps renewing itself, and has done for decades. Nobody’s quite sure how.

    Maybe a certain audience would automatically gravitate to classical music anyway, but for some not-understood reason (my theory it that it has to do with peer pressure, and at a certain age you don’t care about peer pressure any more) they wait until they’re 50 before they say, “Beethoven, I’ll give that a try…”

    And maybe the same thing is going to happen to rock music. It’s not old enoughto know yet, we need the current grey-haired generation to literally die off before we’ll see what happens next.

  4. Tim Hall says:

    One thing prog, folk and blues have in common is they’re more or less invisible on the mainstream media; you won’t see or hear Iamthemorning or Chantel McGregor on something like Later with Jools Holland, as far as the producers of that show go, if it’s not indie it doesn’t exist.

    The media environment in other countries may be quite different.

  5. PaulE says:

    So, after decades of rebellious pop/rock music, I can predict who is in the wrong queue at a live music venue based on age. So much for individuality and maverick choices if people are so predictable.

  6. Tim Hall says:

    Were you at Panic Room in Birmingham last year? ;)

  7. Tom B says:

    When I first saw Curved Air about six years ago my mate and I were the youngest people in the room (early forties and mid forties respectively at the time) and every year since the audience seems to have dwindled (dying off?). I’ve seen people in their thirties at Mostly Autumn gigs but generally youngsters seem to be non-existent (with the exception of a Magenta-mad teenager I know).