Friday, 1 April 2011

Why the history of music needs to be rewritten.

The story of the history of modern music is pretty straightforward right? The million dollar quartet, Elvis, The Beatles, Dylan, Floyd, Bowie, Punk, The Smiths, Madchester, Britpop, The Strokes/White Stripes, Radiohead, The Arctic Monkeys.


How about this for an alternate history? Robert Johnson, Hank Williams, Sam Cooke, James Brown, 13th Floor Elavators, Fela Kuti, Parliament, Kraftwerk, Patti Smith, Reggae, Kate Bush, Public Enemy, Detroit Techno, Drum n Bass, Massive Attack, The Beta Band, Daft Punk, Skream and Benga?

Ironically, the second list probably contains more people who can realistically be considered true innovators and musical genius in the world of music but you would never believe it from the coverage of music in the mainstream and musical press. Time and time again The Beatles and Dylan leap out from the shelf in WH Smiths and we are faced with the 100 greatest Neil Young tracks or another Radiohead feature.

This isn't to do any of these acts down, they are all great artists in their own right but the fact is they've been done. The public is aware of them and there is very little to say that hasn't already been said.

So, why do journalists and editors persist with the same old faces? The first reason is undoubtedly financial. Simply, The Beatles, Dylan and the Stones have huge fan bases that will buy anything featuring them. But how will we ever know if other artists could sell if we never give them coverage?

Secondly, it doesn't take a genius to work out that the music journalism industry is dominated by white, (increasingly middle aged) men. Many were from either the psychadelic generation whose foundation was the Beatles et all or from the punk years a decade later. Most simply write about people like themselves.

Its interesting to note any of the great acts in the second list were recognised retrospectively as great innovators long after the event. There was a collective sneering from music journalists against synthesized music in the late 70's/early 80's as this wasn't deemed real music compared to guitar music which was seen as more authentic. A similar situation was faced by Acid House, then Drum n Bass and most recently Grime. Journalists clearly don't like to think they were wrong at the time and so persist in extending these myths.

Actually, straight guitar music is extremely regressive. All musical innovation that is possible on this one instrument has probably been exhausted (having reached a creative apex in my opinion with grunge) and in fact the more interesting 'indie acts (Flaming Lips, MGMT, Radiohead) are the ones that embrace other instruments, electronics and styles or those that consciously embrace a retro sound as part of their identity (White Stripes, Richard Hawley).

The simple fact is that if a band like Pink Floyd or certainly Massive Attack was starting out today they would probably find it difficult to get coverage beyond the odd new artist feature. Few publications (NME possibly excepted) would stick a new band on the cover and certainly not one that doesn't fit the guitar band template. I think Madlib or Boards of Canada have done far more to warrant a magazine cover than The Vaccines or The Hurts and they've probably sold more records but they simply don't fit most magazines perception of what makes a marketable artist (young, white, male, guitars). The result is that conservatism is perpetuated with the majority of people who only have time to dip into music thinking that these are the acts to listen to. They are being duped without even realising it and it results in a racist, sexist, ageist approach to musical consumption.

If you write for a music magazine and read this do us all a favour - take a risk - find an act that are female or black or who use electronics rather than guitars and write about them. You joined this industry to write about the music you love so challenge yourself to find something really new and different rather than recycling the same old crap. Editors, employ more younger writers and be open to their ideas about the artists of now which are really going to leave a legacy. We'll benefit from a golden age of music I assure you. I thank you...

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