And anyone who tells you differently is trying to sell you something...
Leave it to the fickle lit-crit music press cum ‘journos’ to push a narrative onto people that is not in line with the current landscape of underground culture. I understand rock articles don’t get clicks, that advertising is down, full-time gigs are hard to find, or perhaps you’ve aged out of a subculture and are unsure of how to approach it. Or maybe you just never got it in the first place. What is missing from every Rock™ think piece is not the monetary aspect of the music, but the lack of understanding of why it exists in the first place as a means of expression hopefully divorced from the ideas of its commercial potential or as an abreaction of it.
Now, just to be clear—this isn’t science, or a peer-reviewed paper backed by a healthy bibliography: this is but one man’s pet peeve. This article is also not about how capital “P” pop, Rap, Country et al. have become more diverse and are the prevalent forms of “commercial” or “sellable” music. Obviously they are and I do not care. Ink is spilt daily on pop stars and I don’t care to revisit. At my worst I’m lazy, and at my best I like lots of music (including Rap and Country, usually mentioned together as a racist code – at least in the US).
And so to address the commercial aspect (inarguably the least interesting aspect of making or enjoying music). Do you think Patti Smith wrote her first lyrics praying “I hope this makes it into a VW commercial!” or Sauna Youth prayed every night that some bland tastemaker would add it to their Chill Vibes playlist and catapult them onto the cover of Rolling Stone? (That publication is arguably rock’s cemetery where the dead are out on parade. But I’m already on their shit list so I digress). If you’ve started playing music to make money and start making music with money in mind you are a businessman/woman. Business is fine if you want to go that route, it’s none of my business. But to have it levelled against an art form is as hilarious as it is egregious. A casual glance at many rocks bands' Spotify numbers boggles the mind. What I found was that marginal music – loved for its unique weirdness – connects with far more people and I don’t believe that is just due to its ease of finding or hearing. We’re through the looking glass in terms of how folks ingest music and listeners' ears have evolved (which could be another argument: kids don’t think of music in terms of genres, so saying "rock is dead" to a kid is telling the kid you are dead, eh)?
To address the elephant in the room (the crux of position, and the reason I feel such ire): the irony in these rock missives is that once POC and women are noticed for their vital contributions to all things punk/rock/noise/indie/electronic, it’s too late. The party’s over. Rock is dead. They never should have came. But anyone pushing that viewpoint is either a cop or trying to sell you something. Rage Against the Machine sounds great at Urban Outfitters, but Good Throb doesn’t?
I’m unfortunately an American so I’m aware of how much our country hates anyone non-white, non-binary, non-straight. But when aspects of subculture(s) are thriving with numerous amazing non-white guy acts, this narrative is just another way of further marginalising an already marginalised portion of society. I’d like to reiterate that point and hopefully management can italicise or pull-quote this line: “But when aspects of subculture(s) are thriving with numerous amazing non-white guy acts, this narrative is just another way of further marginalising an already marginalised portion of society.” This is what I hear when people say “rock is dead”. That is a personal statement (it’s dead to you) that doesn’t translate with the people making the music today (it’s alive to them/me).
Hopefully another Strokes will emerge once [insert trend here] is dead to save rock again in my lifetime, but only if we have something big to sell. Judging by streaming trends and Liz Pelly’s excellent recent article in The Baffler (“Big Mood Machine”), all of your “moods” are calculated moves to sell you Heineken (fuck that shit, Coors Light!) and BMWs. Your moods are being manipulated to extract data off of you.
Data seems trivial but it's the last ring of Pavlov’s bell for advertisers salivating and preying on the youth. Don’t let them get you!!! Your emotions and feelings towards music should not be a commodity. When you commodify the art form (controlled, largely, by the means of streaming services that I can’t figure out/don’t want to know how to work cause I’m a 36-year-old caveman) you commodify the thought, process and intent. Which is just going to lead to more shitty music made by terrible men. If rock is dead, there’s a lot of walking corpses that haven’t got the memo.