The way forward is without guitars

Almost exactly a year ago The Guardian wrote an article about “rock’n’roll” being dead. Today, they had a new article where they say that “indie rock” is dead, citing disappointing sale figures for the genre, and the fact that no new major stars are coming out of it. I will argue against this new article on two of its points, but first we need to understand what “indie rock” means. For the author of the article it encompasses anything that has guitars in it, and happens to be coming from an independent label.

The fact that no big arena stars are coming out from the indie scene is not a bad thing. The sales speak for themselves, the numbers are down for guitar-based music. And that’s for a multitude of reasons: Britpop-style or alternative-rock-style music had its time in the ’90s, and these days are now over. Another reason is that there are over 100,000 albums coming out every year, so sales are divided more now, rather than having a handful of embraced artists selling millions of records and then having the rest selling almost nothing. Being a musician is just a job now, only the best ones will be able to make a buck and go by. Don’t expect Hollywood villas, and Rolls Royce anymore. I’m personally content with that reality. It’s for the best, as we’re maturing as a society. More people are doing art, resulting in more radical art, and that art becomes less commercialized since it usually comes from musicians that don’t even have a label contract. My prediction is that as artists lose their “star” status, and as art becomes more democratized, more radical art emerges. The winners will be artistry itself, and our society as a whole.

Secondly, I don’t get what the big deal is about guitar music. Like all the other kinds of music or instruments, it had its time as a center-stage sound. It’s being in the fore-front for 50 years now. Whatever kind of melody/harmony a guitar can produce, it has already been done. There’s very little to explore, musically-speaking, via a guitar anymore. It’s time to move to naturally-impossible, more interesting sounds, sounds that can only be done via computers/synthesizers. This is not to say that guitar sounds don’t have to be used anymore. I mean, we still use pianos, or violins, or other older instruments to enrich our modern sound. But the difference is that these sounds are not at the center stage anymore, they’re there as part of the whole, they don’t overtake the whole arrangement.

I know that I will take shit for saying that stuff about guitars, but it’s only natural musical evolution. Times change, people change, music changes. It’s inevitable, and I have no recourse but to embrace that change. I personally find modern electronic music (e.g. Nightlands, Washed Out) way more engaging, unpredictable, and atmospheric than acts like Wilco, or The Black Keys. And even if you’re more into rock than electronic, the truly modern rock bands, like Phoenix or Yeah Yeah Yeahs, use the guitar as a secondary or equal element to synthesizers. That’s the way forward: No guitar, or a guitar that blends with modern instruments and doesn’t overpower.

8 Comments »

Jim wrote on January 16th, 2012 at 5:50 PM PST:

Eugenia, the only thing consistent is change. Motown and soul music used to be a big deal, then Jimi Hendrix hit and they had trouble getting a job at the corner tavern. Many interviews where they talked about paying dues for yrs and then bam unemployed. A friend of mine yrs ago talked with Jay of Jay and the Americans, my friend asked what happened, jay replied that Jimi Hendrix happened and that he went from $100k a night to full unemployment. I have been following rock music since before you were born and no style of music remains in the public eye, not even Elvis. What is happening is that rock music is dormant and in hibernation, but no doubt a new generation will discover it. However, all though the music industry will generate some stars. I think the star power of Elvis, Prince, Madonna may be gone for good. One of the great things as the power of stardom fades, so do $400 a seat ticket prices. I think that greed and a music industry staffed by bean counters has caught up with them. Due to the availability of music, their ability to control access and force feed music to the masses is diminishing and so all kinds of music is available and affordable. People doing it for the love of it. In my life, I have been interviewed 3 times about my participation in the Seattle music scene (before grunge). The last time was last summer. Seems strange to me that people are talking to me about stuff that happened 40yrs ago. I would just as soon talk about the music I am making today.
So, I think the gimmicks today (like auto tune effect), rap, rock will all have their day, hibernate and then be rediscovered and reinvented.


hulu wrote on January 16th, 2012 at 7:32 PM PST:

You suck


memsom wrote on January 17th, 2012 at 2:30 AM PST:

Firtsly, when a British person says “Indie” they mean the genre, not “from and independent label” as you do in the US. Indie music is a specific style of guitar based music, the artists don’t *have* to be on an independent label (as demonstrated with the Britpop movement, where half the artists were on majors but were still described initially as “indie” till someone coined the “Britpop” label.

Guitar is not dead. What is dead is the idea that a garage band can make it big and sell records. A guitar based band requires a minimum of £1000 to start up, unless the members already have their own equipment. A drum-kit alone is going to set you back a quarter of that money, unless you go cheap. Guitars will cost around £150 – £200 each for bottom of the line semi pro models and a bass will cost a little more. Amps will cost from £200 each and a PA (which not necessary, per se, but is often required in smaller venues) will blow the budget. Add on to this transport, hire of practice space (£10+ per hour) – it’s NOT cheap. This is before you’ve made any money. I’ve been there. Borrowed amps, scraped together enough to buy an absolutely bottom rung kit, begged to borrow back rooms at pubs to get free practice space. It was a constant battle.

On the flip side, starting out in electronic music is a whole different game. Electronic music is pretty synthetic and easy to produce (like, *really* easy to produce) with little more than a laptop and a cheap/free DAW with a few free plugins. Anyone with the talent to write music could do it.


memsom wrote on January 17th, 2012 at 2:46 AM PST:

You also have to take in to account acts like this:

Cinemechanica http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MDGEs0eVCAE
Battles http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1LLAN29W-4w
Brontite http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O6lvuWDZpPA (who I’ve seen live – all looping is done live, 1 guitar, 1 bass, 1 drummer, no DAT or extra kit just loopint pedals and delays.)
Don Caballero http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DWPUYlzNwsU
Chavez http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bKr45j6S_qQ (possibly the weirdest video I’ve seen in a while)

To me, these are all exciting. Some old, some new. Elecrtonica is the type of mainstream crap I grew up being subjected to in the UK and I just don’t, won’t and can’t ever get behind it whole heartedly.


This is the admin speaking...
Eugenia wrote on January 17th, 2012 at 9:28 AM PST:

Memson, the guy really talks about rock essentially. The new article is not different than the one they had last year.

I don’t think it’s money for equipment the problem. The problem is that guitars can only do so much, while computers can do more. Artists (and there are many of them now) want to explore new sounds in order to differentiate. With the guitar you can only go so far.

From the bands you linked, I only liked Battles and Brontite, which they don’t play “classic” rock, but a more experimental, twisted version of it. The rest, sounded crappy or old to me.

As for electronica, I do NOT like the kind of ’90s club electronica either. I like ’80s electronic music (e.g. Depeche Mode, synthpop etc), which in my mind is different than trance/techno/eurodance/house genres. I don’t like most of dubstep either. Basically, anything that has to do with club-dance electronica, I don’t like. This is the kind of electronic I like.


This is the admin speaking...
Eugenia wrote on January 17th, 2012 at 1:21 PM PST:

>hibernate and then be rediscovered and reinvented.

Jim, you said it right. As long as the human brain remains similar through the ages, the substance of the music will change little (because otherwise we wouldn’t recognize it as music). We re-dress certain themes using newer tools, and we push it a little bit forward. Like the song I linked right above, it’s basically classical music, but in a modern setting, with synthesizers. But the construct/sound, feels very classical to me. Love it.


Jim wrote on January 18th, 2012 at 8:38 AM PST:

My world of music includes many hippy bands like quicksilver messenger service, Jefferson Airlplane and blues like Robben Ford. It is a combination of old and new music, but altho the individual bands are shared interest with others, when viewed in totality is very individual to me.
When I was performing, if I had an audience of one or forty thousand (the biggest live crowd). I gave my all to entertain and to do all the things that music does for us. To me if one person is moved emotionally, spiritually, politically or entertained by guitar music. Then it is a viable art form and alive.
I think what this discussion has more in common is the marketing of music. Manipulating sales, pushing music, popular music. At this time is that a person with loops and a computer can bring their music vision to life and maybe a few family and friends download the music, but taken in totality with all the others doing it as well similarly, is that it creates an indie beast that is swallowing the commercial music industry.
Back in the day, you went no where riding the current wave, but you had to predict the next one. Predicting the next wave was quite an art in the music industry. At the same time most people only had 3 or 4 broadcast channels to choose for tv. As the point I made in the previous post is that as soon as you climb the mountain of bodies to then top, your wave has crashed and you are no longer struggling, it is even worse, you are irrelevant.
What I like to do is to get off the bus of popularity.
I am going to put on my Mexican Serape, burn some incense, put on “Season of the Witch” by Donovon, look at my lava lamp and groove.
Life is good
I suggest you do the same.
Find some good music and trip the light fantastic


Spencer wrote on January 18th, 2012 at 7:32 PM PST:

Eugenia, you are a little heavy-handed and inflammatory here, methinks. Music is an incredibly personal thing and what you know and love others might hate and fear. And vice versa. As a guitar player, I create sounds that make me personally happy and also give many others a similar feeling. You may find it boring and that’s fine too. My guitar (with very little manipulation) can make synthesized sound which is indistinguishable from the creations you like.

What is “rock” anyway? I think the death of the CD and “sold + marketed” music is a good thing because today’s rock music is finding an outlet in performance which is where it began and where it naturally exists.

As a musician, I like deeply complex music like jazz and true classical music more satisfying, but you will have to find your own gratifications. A lot like sex!

BTW, I came to you for your wonderful insights on video, initially on AVCHD. Thanks for those….and for thought provoking articles.


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