The Rock Scene Worldwide

In the last month I’ve been travelling a lot. First I went to Germany for Oktoberfest (and boy, am I still hungover… don’t know how they do it every year!) and then went off to France, and then London.

I’ve gotta say, there’s nothing quite like travelling after a few years of being at home. The new sights and sounds and smells are just so invigorating. Germany’s bread and beer are just amazing. France’s wines and cheese – out of this world. And in London you just can’t beat a traditional pub lunch.

I had a great time.

But one thing that really stood out to me in each place was that there is a thriving underground music scene.

In Berlin, they’re celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Wall coming down. What an incredible moment in their history. And it shows, this momentous occasion, in how the people carry themselves. The energy of that city is palpable. The people are tough as nails, defiant and ready to challenge you on everything… but once you’re a familiar face, they become really hospitable, and take you in as one of their own.

Their music has that same raging energy… with the undertone of a shared experience, a common enemy and a cause to live for. It’s invigorating.

In France, there is still a surprising amount of racial tension. Africans and Middle Eastern people struggle to be accepted by the French community, and the dissatisfaction from both sides is obvious to see.

And again, it comes out in their music.

There’s so much anger in the rap music being played, and such frantic desperation in the rock and traditional genres.

People are letting all the uncertainty, fear and rejection wash out of them through their music, and it’s fascinating.

London, once the capital of the world, has really become subdued in recent years. While it’s still thriving – it always will be – the music scene has become much more inclusive than it once was.

Where in years past you would never get into secret venues if you didn’t have a mohawk and multiple facial piercings, nowadays everyone’s welcome.

And while I was a bit nostalgic for the anti-establishment raging of the 70s and 80s, it was great to see young people getting in and experiencing something different to their usual musical fare.

It was an eye-opening trip, and I’m encouraged that the future of music is not as bleak as I’d been worrying.

The State of Music Today

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the state of the music industry.

Over time, it seems to have become more and more synthetic, more and more controlled with every passing year.

Fad styles of music seep in for a couple of years, and are then replaced by some new trendy auto-tuned alternative.

And you know what? I actually don’t even care anymore.

It used to be that as a die-hard rock music fan, I would loudly scoff at anyone who listened to pop music, or who wasn’t game to come to a live show. I thought people who listened to jazz were highly suspect, and that anyone who liked musicals or opera must be 100% lame.

I was a ultimate rock music snob. I loved rock. I still do. In my youth I practically lived for it, skiving off work and skipping family gatherings to go to shows – even if I didn’t know who was playing, or the band wasn’t a particular favourite. I just couldn’t get enough of the vibe, of the energy, and I was constantly on the lookout for the next act I could really get into.

But after many, many years of this singular focus, I started to feel tired. Exhausted, if I’m honest. Looking down on people for their music tastes takes a lot of energy. Keeping at the forefront of the scene takes a lot of time and dedication, and often doesn’t deliver anything great back to you for months at a time.

I realised as I’ve gotten older that I just don’t care that much any more.

If kids these days want to listen to Taylor Swift and One Direction, who am I to judge them? Just because I think they’d get more out of listening to AC/DC and Iggy Pop doesn’t mean they should have to listen to an old man ranting about it. In fact, I’m not even sure that AC/DC and Iggy Pop would be relevant to them.

We came up in a different time, when politics were about the little guy beating back the establishment… not about bombing the living hell out anything that moves. Kids these days are growing up in a dark, ominous world, where their freedoms are increasingly being taken away. It’s hardly surprising they just want to hear songs about easy love and fun parties.

Who can blame them for that?

Why the U2 Stunt is Good News for the Music Industry

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard that Apple added U2′s latest album to all iTunes account as a publicity stunt for the unveiling of some of their new toys. Many people felt like this was a violation of their choices, but there is some good mixed in with the bad.

Since it’s already been written up succinctly, I wanted to share this article from Pando Daily with you:

Last week, amid the frenzy over new iPhones and smartwatches, Wired’s Mat Honan wrote a truly excellent requiem for the humble iPod. While reading it I felt like I was 19 again, using birthday money and cash from a summer job to buy my first Apple-adorned mp3 player (it was a 3rd generation). I remember experiencing that “new Apple smell” for the first time, wondering how a $300 device barely came with any instructions, and acclimating myself to the oddly soothing “click-click-click” that would follow me everywhere throughout the better part of my young adulthood.

The line that truly hit home for me was when Honan describes how this tiny device, which is now quickly approaching oblivion, changed the way we think about music, identity, and each other:

Looking at someone’s iPod was like looking into their soul. In their music you could see who they were. You could tell if they were sophisticated or rough. You could see in their playlists the moments they fell in love and the moments they fell back out again. You could see the filthiest, nastiest hip hop in the little white boxes of the primmest people, and know their inner lives a little better than you did before.

I know how he feels. I remember trading iPods with friends whose tastes I admired, furiously scribbling down every album and song I had never heard. If I ran across something like, say, Garth Brooks on a device belonging to an ardent hip-hop head, the person would simply shrug and say, “What can I say? I like him.”

Despite the fact that we lose our minds sharing and oversharing all day on Facebook and Twitter, we’re losing that window into the idiosyncratic soul of a music fan. As the iPod phases out andstreaming continues to replace iTunes like iTunes replaced CDs, how does one measure a listener’s collection and all of the personal statements that come with it? You might stream the new Miley Cyrus song out of perverse curiosity, and Spotify or SoundCloud or Rdio will be more than happy tell every one of your Facebook followers that you did it. But if you allocated a few precious megabytes of storage to that Miley Cyrus jam on your iPod? That meant something.

Today, however, everything is in the cloud — disposable — and that’s got many worried that the value of music has become as fleeting and intangible as the stream over which it’s delivered. It’s what happens, says ex-Smashing Pumpkins drummer Jimmy Chamberlin, “when every part of your life has a capacity to be vaporized.”

It’s amidst this disposable culture that Apple took the unprecedented move of adding U2’s latest album, “Songs of Innocence,” to half a billion iTunes users’ libraries. People were pissed. I’m talking some truly next level Twitter outrage last week. You’d think Tim Cook had penned a Peter Shih-style Medium post about how much he hates poor people. Industry analyst Bob Lefsetz said it was “no different from a rape or a murder, but with even less legs.” iOS developer Dan Wineman* was more subdued, tweeting, “Evolution of music sales: 1. Pay a lot 2. Pay a little 3. Pay anything 4. OK fine, just pay once a month 5. Fuck you, now you own a U2 album.”

I’m empathic toward the outrage — I just didn’t feel much of it myself. And it’s not because I like U2 (I don’t). To me it wasn’t so different from when that doofy David Byrne song “Like Humans Do” came pre-loaded on every Windows computer in the early 2000s. Maybe if Apple had forced an album on me from a band I hate more viscerally (like the Eagles) I would’ve cared more. But to be honest, the real source of my apathy was that I couldn’t remember the last time I even opened iTunes, on my computer or on my phone — like many Americans, I use streaming music services almost exclusively. Of course, there are still gigabytes upon gigabytes of music on one of my external hard drives. But who has the need or space to have all that on a phone or computer?

After reading Honan’s piece I began to understand why some people were outraged. The iPod is on its way out, and the entire album format may not be far behind. And yet, people still care about having a self-curated library of songs. They still think of it as a reflection of their identity. Otherwise, the feeling of betrayal at having a corporation slot an album into your music library against your will likely would not have been so palpable.

In reading Honan’s elegant description of the iPod revolution, you get a sense of the power that expressing your personal tastes through a music collection has — and that’s not going to go away. First it was a shelf of vinyl records, next it was a CD rack, and then it was an iPod library. We’re still figuring out what it’s going to be next — it will likely take the form of playlists or even custom remixes and mashups of popular tracks — and the streaming music services are tinkering with the best ways for listeners to share these playlists with one another.

This is all good news for musicians like Chamberlin who worry that the actual product of music, now that it’s ubiquitous, effortlessly accessible, and even less tangible than an MP3, has become little more than a commodity. That people were so outraged that their music libraries, and thus the very core of their identities, were sullied by a lackluster offering from an aging rock band, is proof that fans still have an intimate relationship with their favorite bands (and an active distaste for their least favorites). They may not express it by buying an album or a T-shirt anymore. And for many, live shows have become more about the drugs and the culture and the lightshows than the artist onstage.

But fans still feel it. Now platforms just need to figure out how to harness it.


The State of The (Music) Nation

Once upon a time, launching into a career in the rock music industry had pretty good odds of setting you up on a very comfortable financial cushion.

Even if you never really hit the big time, there was plenty of room for radio fodder. Studios had rosters full of B-list artists that they could trot out at any time they needed to fill a slot on a radio program, talk show or even to cover a live event.

Those artists weren’t making the big bucks, but there was enough for everyone to get by.

These days, even some of the biggest names in the industry are struggling to get by. Record deals are no longer the lucrative cash-cow they once were, and the royalties paid by radio stations and online music players are little more than a pittance.

To replace their ever-dwindling traditional income, the high rollers are turning increasingly to live music for their bread and butter.

This, however, presents us, the music fans, with a dilemma.

While it’s fantastic to be able to see our favorite artists more frequently, and in a more diverse range of venues and types of concert…

We are increasingly aware that WE are the commodity – not the artists.

This has become blindingly obvious, with many bands being brazenly sponsored by energy drinks and the like, their performances peppered with subtle-as-a-sledgehammer references to their sponsors and their products.

More and more, live music has simply become a vehicle for artists and big businesses to make more money together, while delivering a less authentic and less enjoyable experience for the people actually coughing up the dollars.

Until record companies, the online music stations, festival organisers and the artists can come to a workable agreement for all, this commodification of the art form will go on, cheapening it and damaging the very prospects they are looking to grow.


Glastonbury: The Holy Grail

Glastonbury has become the world’s most famous music festival, and with damn good reason.

It always has the best lineup of any festival, ever, and despite the insanity of 200,000 people, incessant rain, churning mud, and no sleep for 3 days, it’s an experience you’ll never forget.

This year was no different. There was a formidable lineup, including many artists that are now a chance in a million to see live:

  • Metallica
  • Arcade Fire
  • Kasabian
  • Dolly Parton
  • Jack White
  • Robert Plant
  • De La Soul
  • Pixies
  • Interpol
  • Bryan Ferry
  • Jurassic 5
  • Mogwai

This is just a tiny selection of everyone who was playing – and going to Glastonbury without losing your mind is a practice in the art of choosing.

There’s simply no way you will get to see everyone you want to across the course of the weekend. You’ll have to make a choice – have you seen them before? Will you ever get to see them again? Have you heard rave reviews from people who have seen them previously? Will their set have that special magic you can never quite capture elsewhere?

This year, there were a few acts I decided on ahead of time.

Where previously I’ve just turned up and gone with the flow, I’m older and wiser now. I brought proper boots, and we even took an RV rather than messing around with trying to camp.

On Day 1, we made a beeline for The Kaiser Chiefs and Interpol. Rodrigo y Gabriela were an unexpected – but fantastic – addition to the day. Day 2’s priorities were Robert Plant, Pixies and Bryan Ferry. All these old rockers were just phenomenal, really amazing to see. Finally, Day 3 rolled around and Dolly Parton and Kasabian closed the festival with absolutely cracking performances.

Going to Glastonbury is always a bit like taking your life in your hands. It can be nerve-wracking, but it’s so exhilarating that it’s always worth the downsides.

The Rock ‘N’ Roll Lifestyle

Real rockers just get away with the most outrageous behaviour – stuff that would get most mere mortals thrown directly into prison.

There seem to be no limits to what these larger-than-life characters can get up to. And what people will forgive them for! They seem to have no problem breaking the law, taking their life into their hands, taking other peoples’ lives into their hands, or alienating all the world. It’s like the risk just doesn’t register.

A site about rock and roll is simply not complete without a little homage to the most notorious hell-raisers this checkered industry has seen. So without further adue, let’s pay them their dues.

Ozzy Osbourne

Most famous for: Biting the head off a dove in a board meeting, bit the head off a bat on stage, trying to strangle his wife.

Keith Richards

Most notorious for: Being tried 5 times on drug offences, falling out of a tree and breaking his head.

John Lennon

Most notorious for: Staying in bed for a week to campaign against the Vietnam War, being such a threat to Nixon that the FBI tried to deport him from the US.

Johnny Rotten

Most notorious for: Calling Bill Grundy a ‘f*&^ing rotter’ on UK live TV, very public criticism of political leaders

Pete Doherty

Most notorious for: Dating Kate Moss, amounts of drug use that would kill several elephants

Of course, there are many, many rockers who go down these wild paths and never return. Amy Winehouse, Jimi Hendrix, Sid Vicious, Kurt Cobain… the list goes on and on. It’s not a healthy lifestyle.

Which is why the survivors typically try to swear it all off. They go green, become activists, have regular reiki treatments on their personal massage tables and take up meditation. It all seems a bit odd.

But when you look at it, it makes perfect sense. These are some of the most extreme people the world has ever seen. It stands to reason that no one can maintain the manic, explosive energy over the long haul – especially not when it’s being channelled into destruction.

They’ve got to put their considerable resources towards something productive. I guess it’s the full circle of the rock and roll lifestyle.

The Roots of Heavy Metal

At about the same time that Iggy Pop and The Stooges tore onto the stage in the late 60s with their uproarious early punk, heavy metal was also emerging as a force to be reckoned with in the rock world.

Heavy metal, or just “metal” boomed in the United States and United Kingdom in the 1970s. With its huge sounds, amp distortion, mind-bending guitar solos, crashing drum sets and intense aggression, metal was never for the faint of heart.

First through the gates into the metal scene were bands like Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and Black Sabbath. Like all the forerunners in the wider world of rock, these pioneers copped a lot of flack from critics and naysayers. They were often looked on with bewilderment and disgust from the establishment, but that only added fuel to their fires.

Soon other bands were emerging to take this sub genre even further. The infamous Judas Priest stripped away the influence of earlier rock and just went straight to the hard stuff. Iron Maiden and other ‘headbanger’ groups soon appeared. The transformation continued, as these metalheads grew their hair to wild lengths, dressed in black and chains, but was stayed the same was the time honoured tradition of violent, virulent music.

Metal has undergone many iterations since it first burst onto the scene. Like most of the other genres, it became commercialised in the 80s and 90s, with band like Mötley Crüe and Poison taking some of the sharper edges off the sound.

Soon groups like Metallica, Slipknot and Megadeth were household names, with teenages in the first throes of rebellion looking to these musicians for leadership in a world they perceived as soft. Despite the fact that ‘metal’ as a genre of rock has softened and sometimes become indistinguishable from other types of music now, its history is long and checkered and one all rockers can be proud of.

The Emergence of Punk Rock

Towards the end of the 1960s, yet another new page was turned in rock’s colourful history. The Beatles had not long burst onto the scene, and in recent years, rock music had become a vehicle for messages – political, social and individualist messages.

In 1966 the man who would become the infamous Iggy Pop heard a record – the Velvet Underground & Nico – at a party during his time in college. While he hated it at first, he was drawn to it, and over the next couple of months became a fully-fledged convert of the raw, edgy style of music he had heard.

Launching his legendary band The Stooges in 1968, Iggy became an icon of the punk rock movement. The wild, unpredictable and often violent shows marked a true deviation from the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle up to that point, and it’s been argued that Iggy Pop & The Stooges were the first true punk rockers.

For them, and many of the bands that would follow in the genre, punk rock was a way of crushing their boredom. Bored with the vanilla day-to-day of life in the ‘burbs, the outrageous antics, dress and sound of punk rock was a way to shake it up, to find some excitement and to shock all the ‘sheep’ just drifting through their lives to wake up and do something.

Since then of course, punk has become a pillar of the rock world, having been accepted and popularised by the ‘mainstream’. Bands like Blink 182, Green Day, Good Charlotte and Fall Out Boy toned down the violent edges while maintaining the confronting look of punk, making it more accessible as time went on.

Rock In The Rollings 60s

In the 1960s and 1970s, rock was undergoing something of a transformation. The music that had started as a way to have some fun on a Saturday night, to blow off some steam and dance with a pretty girl was quickly changing its tune.

The world was in turmoil – the 1960s are now commonly remembered as some of the most tumultuous years in recent history when it comes to sociopolitical upheaval.

There was a revolution afoot among the common people, who were tired of simply accepting what they were being told by the political and economic elite, and who wanted to carve out a place for themselves in the world. Major shifts in thinking happened around what was right or acceptable in terms of education, gender relations, race, drugs, dress and formalities.

The Vietnam War raged throughout the 1960s, and was arguably one of the most influential factors in the changing face of rock music. The Bay of Pigs threw the underhanded dealings of the US government into high relief, while there were wars of independence erupting all over Africa, and tense conflicts simmering in the Middle East.

While The Beatles were taking the Western world by storm at this time, causing millions of young women to go weak at the knees and causing endless logistics problems every time they went anywhere, there was something much more subversive going on in rock music as well.

Rock music became a political vehicle. It became the soundtrack to the protests that took place that decade, to the rebellion, to the conscientious objection, and to the uprisings. It became the sound of freedom, the sound of throwing off your shackles, of claiming your place in the world among the giants.

A Brief History of Rock Music

Rock music originated in the United States in the 1950s. Early rock music drew heavily on the rhythm and blues and country music that had become so popular in the 1940s. Over the next 15 to 20 years the genre blossomed, expanding into the United Kingdom outward into a variety of styles and sounds.

The earliest form of rock was what we would now refer to as classic rock. Based on a couple of guitars – electric and bass – with a drumkit and maybe a keyboard. As the 50s drew to a close and the crazy era that was the 19060s rolled in, rock exploded. The Beatles held down the fort on the classic front, but soon the world was seeing a huge diversity within in the genre.

Some of the biggest, most notable developments were psychedelic rock, progressive rock, glam rock, heavy metal, punk rock, grunge and indie rock. While these developments were gradual and happened all over the world, the music scene would never be the same after rock emerged as a real force.

While it has been met with strenuous opposition – from moralists, politicians and alarmed parents – rock has always been an unstoppable force. Often used as a vehicle for political or social statement, it has transcended all the boundaries we humans are so good at putting up against each other.

It’s also become a symbol of counter-culture thinking, non-conformity and anti-consumerism for many people. Modern thinkers might consider the true art form of rock to have been diluted beyond point of being useful, but many of the freedoms they enjoy today are owed to the rockers who have gone before them.