Pride in new rock and roll seems to have sunk somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean, why else would we care so little about discovering our own great bands? For years I have been discovering the best new North American bands in British magazines and it doesn’t seem right or logical. This isn’t a slight at North American music fans but rather at our music industry consisting of magazine, TV, radio, and record labels who consistently wait for NME, Q, Uncut, and various other British magazines to tell them who our best new bands are. When was the last time you saw a new American band on the cover of Rolling Stone or Spin before they have been on the cover of NME? Actually, when was the last time you saw a decent new American band on the cover of RS at all (I am purposely forgetting Fall Out Boy and Panic At the Disco! being on the cover of RS last year because I don’t want to bring back painful memories)? The culture of discovery in North American music has dwindled because of a lack of support in the industry.
What I am getting at is that North America is sorely missing a major music magazine, radio station, or label that takes pride in discovering new rock and roll bands. There are countless small and independent magazines around that do a fine job of promoting new bands but they don’t reach a large audience the way NME does on the other side of the pond. Every month NME is putting bands on its cover that haven’t even released a full album yet but have a devoted and enthusiastic following. Sure the British music press has an old habit of building up new bands just to tear them down the minute they realize they aren’t going to being on the walls of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in thirty years (think Razorlight) but at least they are attempting to find the next Oasis themselves and aren’t waiting for Sony to tell them who it is. However, whether it’s acting, music, painting or any other form of art, for every diamond that is discovered there are a thousand chunks of coal that are discovered, looked at, and thrown away. Nonetheless, if no one is willing to show you the coal then you will never find the diamond.
Just look at the popularity of some the best American bands in Britain compared to in their home country. Kings of Leon have sold out an arena tour of Britain in a matter of hours but are playing the Kool Haus when they are in Toronto. Their album came out last month and is still in the top forty over there but has long been off the Billboard charts here. The same can be said of the White Stripes, BRMC, The Strokes, MGMT, and Arcade Fire who have reached a level of stardom in Britain that eludes them in their own countries largely because of a lack of mainstream support, whether in magazines, on the radio, or on TV. This is not to say that they aren’t popular here, surely the White Stripes and The Strokes have had a few hits here and are considered popular acts but the level of respect granted to them is not comparable. As well, with all of these bands, they made it big on the other side of the ocean before anyone in the American press gave them any notice and only did so after they sold out tours of England.
This is a shame and can be blamed on a number of aspects from the death of independent DJs who are now given the playlist they must put on the air to the music editor who is told what act to put on the cover because they will sell the most issues. There is no room for innovation and discovery because every dud that makes it on the cover cost some corporation money. Recorded music has always been a commodity but for awhile, namely the sixties and early seventies, the true music lovers within the machine were able to fight back enough to make the good bands also the popular bands. What happened to RS being the place you would go to discover the next big thing? Now you have to already be the big thing before you can get in an issue. Yes, they will occasionally have a piece on “bands to watch” but that is far from being in every issue. NME, on the other hand, only require that your band has created a stir in some bar in some part of the country before they put your name on their pages. They clearly take pride in discovering new bands, including our new bands, so that when these bands make it in North America the British fans and writers can stick their nose up and say “we’ve had them for years already”.
I suppose this can’t all be blamed on the laziness and greediness of publishers and editors, since part of it can be chalked up to geography. If a great band in Vancouver or LA is creating a scene, they can’t very well pick up and go play a show in Toronto or New York overnight. In England where you have a population greater than Canada’s stuffed inside a space the size of Ontario, thus creating a cauldron of creativity, it makes it easier for a band to make a name for itself and be discovered. The sheer density of the English population makes it easier for bands to become popular through word of mouth but websites such as Myspace are breaking down these barriers. However, this doesn`t explain why those in the North American music industry lack the zeal for discovery that their British counterparts seen to have, maybe the corporations’ shadow is blocking the light. Also, the lack of a national radio station that plays home-grown rock and roll is nonexistent in America unlike Britain where there is BBC Radio 2 as well as TV shows such as Later with Jools Holland that are geared toward the alt rock crowd. Both of these were essential to the success of bands like Oasis and The Libertines and no such support system exist for new bands here. American bands only get on the TV and on mainstream radio once they have already proven they can sell records and tickets which creates a catch 22.
The fans aren’t blameless either though. The producers of Radio 2 and Later with Jools Holland did not keep these programs on the air because of an altruistic love of alternative music, they kept them on the air because people watched, listened, and made them money. If there is one thing the American entertainment industry takes pride in it is making money and they will air a program consisting of people playing the guitar with a carrot if people watch.
If you have been following me, the point I have tried to make is that there seems to be a lack of pride in the discovery of new bands in North America. Sure there are fans who love finding new bands, I wouldn’t be writing this if there wasn`t, as well as people within the industry with the same passion, but the numbers are too few and the support too weak. We need major magazines, radio stations, TV programs, and record labels that are willing to take chances with new bands in order find the ones that will line the walls in Cleveland in thirty years’ time.