Sunday, 30 June 2013

Nostalgia for an age that never existed

Being both a muso and someone who is getting on a bit one of the most frequent conversations I end up having with friends is about 'how much better music back then...', followed up by a dose of 'not like the junk that you hear now'. This is not necessarily a bad conversation to have with people as there has been a heck of a lot of good music in the past and there is a lot of bad music out there at the moment, however it does ignore one key fact: There has always been bad music (which, for the purpose of this post is defined as 'disposable pop-pap that no-one will remember in 6 months' ) and it has always been the majority of what you will hear in the 'general music listening land' of the general public and mainstream media.

If you take any period of time and actually look at what people were listening to you will discover that there was no golden-period of high-quality dominance and that the good to bad ratio was always relatively similar. The only two periods were there is any major difference is at the every start of the charts, where Pop was just getting established as a genre and not that many records being sold at all so the sales being split flatly across demographic and style, and the very recent years, in which singles sales have gone down as everything other than Pop has moved onto different sale streams. Everything between the mid-50's and the mid 2k's has had a mix of the good, the bad, and the utterly indifferent. The majority of 'amazing scene's' were never that above ground and only got the fame they did in hindsight by being distinct enough to be interesting and musical enough to stand the test of time. For the average person the 50s were dominated by Frankie Laine, not Elvis,  the 60's were more about light ballads than the Summer of Love, and as I always point out the 80's are best summed up by Ultravox being kept off the No.1 slot by Joe Dolce. The current dross is no different to the old dross, except that its got a bit more talent show orientated.

So why do people always look back at them and say 'ahhh, those were the days'? Well some of it is simple of when you are born, and how much time you actually have. When you are a teenager/young adult you have more time to go and find music to listen to, rather than being busy and just listening to whatever is on the radio. You also don't have a big stock of songs to listen to as you are still to find 'the love song', 'the party tune', or 'the breakup song' etc that will always be with you. Once you have a mental stock of a couple hundred songs you don't need to do much more hunting and you are going to have other things to do with your life. The average persons music collection will be dominated from songs that came out either when they were 15 to 25 or were played on a scene they were into at that time. The lack of 'bad' in that period is further explained by you simply not remembering it because you were too focused on the good stuff. The background dross was just background and is very similar in quality and quantity to the background dross these days, you just haven't heard as much of the good stuff that would normally balance it. If you scratch beneath the 'heard on the telly, on the bus, or in the chart store' surface then you'll find just the same amount of quality music.

You also have the media manipulation element, especially when it comes to retro shows. No one is going to watch a show called '10 most mediocre hits of the XXs', so they are trimmed down to either the very, very good or the very, very bad. You are also unlikely to get anyone making a film about a band or scene that they didn't find exciting and vital, which is why so much naff is glossed over. Then you have the 'cheap TV' element, with  the Old Grey Whistle Test  being a great example of this effect. The show is often rolled out as an example of the dominance of 'serious rock' in the 70's, even though at the time it had piss-poor viewing figures. Why did it exist? It was incredibly cheap to produce and was in a time-slot that no-one else wanted. Why is still shown? It was almost exclusively live performances from bands willing to sign any deal for some exposure so it's incredibly cheap to play again. Why is it watched so much? Curiosity combined with being told 'these songs are amazing' and muso's who find that kind of show exciting having spent the last 20 years saying how important and influential it was. The history of music has been cherry picked to hell & back so many times it has now been accepted as fact, especially because the guy on the telly has told us the same story so many times.

Music is always vital and developing, with great new stuff coming out all the time. It's just that you are not going to find it on a bus, on a shampoo advert, or in the Top Ten rack at Tesco. That is where you are going to find the filler tracks for peoples lives that are here today and gone tomorrow, as they have always been and will always be. And if you want to get back to a 'Golden Age of Music' then all you need to do is take yourself back to how you felt about and discovered music when you liked it the most, because your new favourite song is just around the corner.

Saturday, 22 June 2013

And the award for???

Due to punk rock in the UK (or globally for that matter) not having much truck with award ceremonies its around this time of year that the two major contemporary heavy rock magazines, Kerrang and Metal Hammer, decide to hand out some gongs. Whilst the majority of the awards are the tried and tested 'Best band', 'Best video', 'Best haircut' votefests there seem to be more and more strangely worded and badly defined categories going around. Of the 34 awards given out between each event (once you take out the non music related ones that Kerrang throws in to be hip with the kids) 11 leave me scratching my head.

On the Kerrang side we have the subtle distinction between being an "Inspiration" and an "Icon", as well as "Hall of Fame" or "Legend" (they got rid of the "Devotion" award this year, possibly because someone forgot what it meant). Somewhat curious but not quite as bad as Metal Hammer who have their own "Inspiration" and "Icons categories, a "Legend" and "Golden God" upgrade combo, and the frankly baffling "Metal as Fu*k" (their censoring, not mine, least mumsie finds you using rude words) vis "Spirit of Hammer" duo of dust-collectors. The 'Hammer' in "Spirit of Hammer" award is an abbreviation of the magazines name, which considering that it spends half the time claiming to be "Metal as Fu*k" (seriously guys?! Its almost as bad as buying a FCUK t-shirt at school to impress your mates) means that these are virtually the same exact thing. Although the "Spirit Of Hammer" award went to Brian Blessed this year as so I'm a bit confused as that surely means the spirit of Metal Hammer is guesting on one power-metal track and appearing in a movie that features the music of a band that inspired a number of metal bands to not really produce the same kind of music. Oh, and climbing up really big mountains whilst actually swearing.

Obviously in the alternative-culture world of freedom-loving self-expression there has to be a good reason for all of this (the alternative being that the journalists came up with a whole load of great ideas for names of the awards and they just didn't want to see them going to waste) and that reason is money, in two highly tempting and sellout forms. Firstly the bulk of these weirdly titled, mostly unvoted for, shelf-toppers has a lovely sponsors cheque associated with it. Yes, lifestyle marketing has come to Metal Metal Land and the blackclad disaffected youth are the targets because The Man(tm) is happy to take any ones cash, especially if they can convince you that buying their product is somehow sticking it to the system.

The second reason is that with more money up for grabs the award shows are getting more and more marketable as TV shows, and for that you need content and big names. Whilst you could put in more awards that reflect achievement in the field of contemporary heavy metal what you really want are well known names that look good in a 'soundbite' advert and that will get people watching (often out of pure curiosity to see that the band members are neither dead nor locked up) and for that you need some impressive thing to hand over to them. You also need consistency & predictability on who is going to win what so that more advertisers will buy into the show earlier, which is again why you are not going to get more awards going to new bands that actually could do with the recognition.

So expect more random awards with nearly pointless names to be coming along, the further dilution of such things into being a two-way split between utterly established acts being given "not dead yet" & "we know who sells out stadiums" lumps of fake gold and the latest flash-in-the-pan youth-rocking act that has enough social media savy to get its fans voting. Meanwhile music will carry on regardless, because everyone knows that outside of the carefully crafted worlds of these lifestyle magazines these awards don't carry half as much weight as they think they do.