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Saturday, 4 June 2011

Music's last rites

“The night is young, we are not”, says the 103-year-old* lead singer of pub-punkers Armitage Shanks during one of their recent gigs.

(*OK, not that old).

Before I grow old and die I wanted to say the following …

Rock and roll is decrepit and on its deathbed but it just won’t expire. Please bring in a R’n’R Jack Kevorkian to administer a gentle needle.

Actually, wrt to Simon Reynolds’ Retromania book, I find myself in a tizz about the music biz. I’m a regular Reynolds reader but, from what I’ve seen and heard of his Retromania thesis, I’m just not buying it. He’s basically peddling a pop-will-eat-itself theory that, here in the late noughties early teens, musicians are obsessed with music’s past and are not producing anything genuinely new.

Hmm. Far be it from me to question Reynolds on innovation and music given his credentials (that voluminous knowledge of post-punk, rave, D’n'B, dubstep etc), but wasn’t it ever thus? In the 70s and 80s you had masses of backward-facing music as well as new stuff. Reworking heritage material is exactly what music’s always done, isn’t it? From early blues re-using plantation and frontier songs or whatever. Musical magpies decorating their pretty little nests with stolen trinkets. Nostalgia for an age yet to come, recycling as creation.

Granted, his point about YouTube making the “archive” more immediately accessible is right, but I don’t think that’s fundamental. In the pre-internet age people passed on records, tapes or caught stuff on the radio. Further back they heard other people playing and borrowed (stole) the riffs and lyrics.

OK, it’s probably speeding up now, but the merry-go-round is still producing innovation. “Grime” is the default answer to Reynolds, but surely it’s more than that. Much of breakcore and some of its bewildering variants are so mind-bogglingly on-the-edge-of-the-world new and strange that I think you could spend the rest of your miserable, lonely lives exploring just this. It might not be an out-and-out revolution, but is it ever so? We’ve got weird E. coli-like mutations going on all over the place and that’s equally interesting.

In my other blogger life I was just pontificating about dinosaur rockers like Pink Floyd and recalling the appeal of whatever’s new in music. I still get that. Give me new every day. If it’s made by some unknown kids on the scruffier, less-monied side of the music block, then great.

But old fogies also hit the spot as well, depends how they do it. I’m not sure how old they are (they’re not young though), but for example the Belgian noise merchants A Clean Kitchen Is A Happy Kitchen are pummelling sound into some pretty interesting shapes.

Is that settled then? Age is no barrier. Music’s still mutating nicely.

But, oh no, look over there! They’re mouthy, young, fresh-faced and on the cover of NME. They’re THE NEXT BIG THING.

Spare me. Where’s that syringe again?

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