Archive for January 16th, 2012

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.