It’s only March 2009 but I feel it’s time to start making premature judgments on the decade in music. After the horrid 1980s and the relatively weak late-90s, this decade has rejuvenated rock and roll for a new generation. The likes of The Killers and Coldplay have topped the top-forty and a multitude of smaller bands such as the Black Keys have dominated the college radio charts. I have been unable to keep up with the surplus of bands that have made it onto the pages of NME, Q, Spin and the rest of the major music publications. However, I don’t see this decade as defining a genre or music scene of particular importance. Instead I see a decade that will be defined by its technological contributions to music.
From 1998 to 2001 it seemed like rock and roll would never come out of its tailspin. Grunge was long dead and Britpop had run its course and become a catchphrase rather than a thriving music scene. Boy and girl bands smiled at you from magazine covers with nauseating regularity. Nu-metal bands such as Limp Bizkit and Korn went platinum singing about breaking stuff and hating their parents. In this four year period I was introduced to The Beatles, The Stones, Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix and the countless others who made the 1960s a time of immense musical importance. I was left wondering what happened to my own generation and why the girls were content dancing to manufactured pop and the boys head-banging to teen-angst ridden nu-metal. I love Oasis and The Verve but by 1998 they had been swept away on a cloud of cocaine induced overindulgence. Meanwhile, Robbie Williams had co-opted Britpop and grunge bands had injected their success up their arm.
Those four year of audio-induced-torture came to an end when The Strokes released their debut album, Is This It. That album made simple garage rock cool again. They sounded good and had the don’t-give-a-fuck image that had gone AWOL since the mid-90s. Is This It kick started a decade in which guitar bands would regain their prominence. Immediately following the Strokes’ debut, The White Stripes entered the mainstream with their classic White Blood Cells and The Vines released their Beatles/Nirvana infused debut. The new decade began to look promising and that nauseating feeling subsided.
I’m still impressed by the multitude of bands emerging on a weekly basis. The vast majority of new bands become disappointing fairly quickly, but that is to be expected. The music business – particularly in Britain – has a habit of drumming up enthusiasm for the “next big thing” before realizing they aren’t the band of our dreams. Subsequently it tears them down. At least when I read music magazines I’m thinking “I want to hear that album” rather than, “why is there so much crap.” The problem is that there is no genre or music scene that will define the current decade for future generations.
The 1950s invented rock and roll and be-bop. The 1960s invented modern rock, blues rock, jazz rock, progressive rock, psychedelic rock, soul, hard-bop and free jazz. The 1970s create stadium rock, disco, funk and punk. The 1980s created the music video and many metal-related genres. The 1990s had grunge, Britpop, boy/girl bands and hip-hop. So what’s our decade’s claim to fame?
The one new style of music that could be called original is danceable rock and roll. I have yet to hear it given a proper name but what I am referring to is the current guitar bands that incorporate elements of dance and rave music. Examples would be Franz Ferdinand, The Klaxons, The Killers, Hot Hot Heat, Kasabian, and the Kaiser Chiefs. These bands wear their influences on their sleeve but have managed to create something relatively new. You can hear everything from the Bee Gees to The Jam and Joy Division up to Pearl Jam and The Stone Roses. I don’t necessarily like all these bands — I thoroughly dislike the Klaxons — but at least they are doing something slightly original.
The one element of the 2000’s that will be remembered is the utilization of the internet. Online music communities are forming without any influence from the corporate music world. That is a truly exciting occurrence in new music.
The influence of Myspace and the internet in general was on display in January 2006 when the Arctic Monkeys’ Whatever People Say I am, That’s What I’m Not became the fasted selling debut in British history, surpassing Oasis’ Definitely Maybe. The Arctic Monkeys’ meteoric rise was attributed to fans sharing their demo tape over the internet. They were playing sold-out shows around England and kids were singing every skilfully crafted lyric before the band had released a single. This phenomenon was not possible before the advent of Myspace and file sharing. Now every person I know who owns a guitar and has some lyrics in a notebook has their own Myspace page.
The 1990s saw the initial sign of the internet’s potential to redefine music marketing. However, it took a new generation of artists and fans who have never known life without the internet to fully grasp its potential for new music. I don’t want to get into a defense of file sharing – it’s a topic large enough for its own article and Lars Ulrich might have me assassinated – but I will say it is the greatest innovation to ever happen to young bands. I have bought albums and attended shows because I was able to download the band’s songs first. File sharing hasn’t been a hundred percent positive innovation for some; it certainly has its cons for larger bands. The point remains that Napster and others turned the music business on its head. It may be another decade before the long-term repercussions of rampant downloading becomes apparent.
I’m interested to know what Gigdoggy readers believe will be the bands/scenes/innovations that will dominate the collective memory of the current decade. There have certainly been some great bands. I love new music and that is something I couldn’t say eight years ago. But do any of these bands constitute a new era in music?
As far as I can tell, the answer is no. The one thing has made this decade exceedingly important in the grand scope of music history is the utilization of the internet. It has nothing to do with the songs but it is one hell of an important innovation.