“I guess I’m just an over-the-hill, forty-year old, curb-muncher who’s totally lost the plot”
– Henry Rollins
[Foreword: I wrote this sometime ago for a different blog I was working on in University. That blog is now abandoned. I’m sticking the article up here because if it’s going to rot in a hole on the web, it’s going to rot in my hole on the web.]
Roughly an hour into ‘Up For It’, Henry Rollins switches track from warring on the KKK, into a rant on rave music. The former vocalist of Black Flag, with a singing/shouting voice like an eternally pissed off Robin Williams, is a notorious figure for opinionated tirades. While Black Flag, for me, was a fairly hit and miss group, Rollins is arguably one of the most influential people in punk rock. He often has some interesting things to say, so I listen to some of the spoken word routines every now and then. Some of it is arguably divisive, but being divisive isn’t necessarily a bad thing, so I’m all for it. That said, his material often needs to be taken with a fistful of salt. Rollins talking about ‘rave’ music is one such topic that requires a particularly large fistful.
The problem is that Henry Rollin’s comes off as surprisingly uninformed where electronically produced music is concerned. Jungle, trance, and hip-hop all get tarred with the same brush. That’s a significantly broad stroke, so you have to question just how much music falls under his personal subheading of ‘rave’? It seems extremely narrow minded to dismiss so much music simply because it’s made on a computer utilising synthetic instruments.
Consider Pendulum in contrast to the likes of Fatboy Slim, or The Prodigy. Neither one sounds like the other. They’re identifiable because they have specific sounds. They’re all producers of electronic music – using the term very Rollins-esque width, but there’s distinction and talent there that, regardless of your musical background, cannot be dismissed off-hand. Admittedly these are three of the most notable artists going, but they serve as a good reference and illustration point. There is a lot of electronic music that isn’t just the product of guys ‘sitting around in their house one day, dicking around on a Macintosh’.
But I sympathise with Rollins. The number of bars or clubs I’ve gone into, over the last few years, where the same mix seems to playing, is ridiculous. Often, four or five hours into a night out, I suddenly become aware that somewhere between six and ten songs have gone by but I haven’t noticed because they’ve all merged into one homogenised, bland, sound wave of repetitive loops. That’s what I find really depressing.
“When you find out its six different bands, that’s what’s really bad,” comments Rollins. He’s right: maybe it’s just a current trend dictated by idiots in suits looking at charts, but so much of what gets played in clubs sounds the same. You’ve got to wonder what is it that allows a lot of things that should be tossed into a bin, to get picked up and shoved into a space that could be better used to showcase music with some integrity. As it is, one song sloughs unidentifiably into another. This is genuinely hard to achieve if you spend about five minutes customising the sound output of the most basic synth. Add to this the recurrent use of the repetitive 4/4 stomper beats – ‘uhn-tss-uhn-tss’ – that one. I repeat: it’s depressing.
As a drummer I’ve noticed a frightening trend. The producers of 95% of what is played at the average bar or club, will put this one, most basic of beats into the software and run it through the whole song from start to finish. It takes less than thirty seconds to do that. Similarly, you will get the actual tune and it will be a really simple track looped over and over again. If you’re lucky they might actually switch things up for a chorus before going back. In this way you can produce the “dairy free” content that Rollins is ranting about, at roughly thirty minutes a song, and no effort required.
Electronic music will never take the effort to make that music on real instruments does, that’s a basic given, but when ‘music’ takes no effort at all, that’s when it is less music and more auditory virus.
You can watch the rant on youtube (NSFW):