Baryn Jacobsen    October 25, 2017

Is Rock Music Dead?

For as long as it has existed, rock as a genre has been shot down by many people. In contrast to the flaunting takeover of MTV in the 80’s by successful glam-rock bands like Bon Jovi and Guns n’ Roses who rode the rock train for all that they could.

Heralding back to the years of sex, drugs and rock and roll, long before the days of music video domination when the self-indulgence of the 60’s supposedly axed music’s outlaw spirit, rock was dubbed dead over and over again. This was echoed again in the early 70’s by Don McLean (who refers to The Day the Music Died – the horrific plane crash of 1959 that claimed the lives of Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens) in his folk-rock track ‘American Pie’.

Rock music died with the rise of hip-hop towards the end of the 80’s, and then again when Kurt Cobain tragically took his own life, and then again when boybands claimed the stages towards the end of the 90’s and paved the way for pop to take acquisition and leaving the industry at the stage we are familiar with today. Over the years, the question has always been asked at defining moments of the genre’s history – is rock music dead? The same question rings throughout culture every now and then, and pops up on sites like Billboard almost every year.

But if something intangible, like a genre, used to categorise music for ease of communication and class is not physically living then how can it die? Rock music has been at the helm of misconception in recent times, despite being one of the pioneering sounds in the industry; it has given birth to so many differing sub-genres over the years, and one of the more recently popularised ones being anything under the metal umbrella. Metal music surged behind the scenes of mainstream pop music in the early 2000’s and served as an alternative muse for those not satisfied with the play-it-safe attitude of emerging pop artists. Others associated the sound with aggression, from the loud lyrics to the thick basslines of electric guitars.

Rock’s influence in the 60’s saw the introduction of the blues and soon after this the psychedelic phase of the 70’s grew into acid-rock. Nothing really happened back then in this respect to announce that rock as a whole had died – people merely grew into new tastes.

It doesn’t take much digging to find that rock music is certainly not dead, music is released constantly under its guises. It has simply evolved with time with it’s fans in a way unlike that of pop music – its fans are at the core of every sub-genre’s success. That isn’t to say that rock hasn’t fallen victim to the hands of modern pop music, either.

Rock planted its seed in the vast amount of early fans, from which they rose like wild-vines as generations nurtured the silencing of the sound through their children and their friends. Thanks to this, we were introduced to nu-metal who gifted us bands like Korn and Linkin Park. Understanding rock music has always been seen as challenging, but that’s only because not all of it has been as prominent. Not long ago, were we being graced by tracks like ‘Safe and Sound’ from Capital Cities – a modern rock song that peaked at number 4 on Billboard’s rock chart in 2013 and only just making it into the top 30 overall. This is where rock remains in the global limelight: a mix of pop with light rock influences.

Also, it seems as though the stylised ‘death’ of rock is not so much anything to do with the music itself, instead looking to the commercial viability and celebrity within the genre to define its current standing. Put simply: because there are no rock artists of new air known as well as the likes of Beyonce or Taylor Swift, it is non-existent to the majority. It’s almost as if the founding father of today’s sound has been banished to the underground along with its many offspring.

There is no disputing the fact that for the most part, rock has retreated to the shadows of more popular music. This is hardly a new development, we’ve already see it happen countless times before.

Today’s best new emerging bands have no real shot at radio airplay or exposure – which are keys to success as it is regarded today; fame, money, global recognition. The only viable option left for any rock-rooted artist looking to breakout into the mainstream is to tone-down the rock and lean more towards the kosher familiarity of pop. This was made evident more recently by the 1975’s debut – which was produced for the majority by the same hands behind the Arctic Monkeys’ first two albums and many of Foals’ singles. This is just another cog on the gears of rock, spinning the cycle of history repeating itself; when anything rock-influenced does make it big, it feeds on the early-bird fame and careers down into the abyss of left-behind fans only to have the genre announced as ‘dead’ before it even got a real chance to begin.

It’s a common thread of rock that reaches as far back as its creation and intertwining through every iteration of it and its many deaths that followed. From the powerful inspiration rooted in the old-school of the blues, to the ethereal strands of classic folk music, all the way through to the heart of soul music.

Rock music as we know it today has been transformed by its early raw materials, crafting it into something more poppier, weirder, prettier and louder. Something more easy on the ears of everyone as a collective. All of these aspects are being simplified or complicated as any capable artist deems fit to suit their project, but it all still stems from the same well.

There has never been as many artists in as many different sub-genres creating as many records as there are at present. For rock music, the push and pull between tradition and contemporary is what has kept it alive and kicking for all these years. The forward-thinking of every passing generation works towards the systematic deconstruction of the structure that defined the genre for decades, paving the way for rock music in the 21st century: being more inclusive of artists from all walks of life; in turn producing music that is much more malleable.

This is in no way saying that pop music is to blame, however it does seem so to anyone lacking initiative, that pop music is punishing the artists that seek an alternative sound. We shouldn’t be blaming any artists. If you think rock music is dead, maybe it’s time to tune your radio into a new station. A simple search on sites like Bandcamp will return thousands of examples of artists who have taken it upon themselves to distribute their music. This direct approach has pushed fans to build upon these networks and expand them independently by building fan-sites and creating their own methods of press from the ground up – in spite of the mainstream media.

While the classic image of rock music is now dismissed as nostalgia, the genre as a whole (and all of its subsidiaries) has endured thanks to the ever-passionate fans at the heart of the music who have fought hard to bite back and damn the raging trends of airplay today.

Modern music press excludes any art curated behind the industrial-celebrity gimmick over unjust suspicion – perhaps they fear an upheaval? Because to critics, who are paid to garner clicks and streams, existing outside of the mainstream amounts to insignificance in public perception and this is where words attaining ‘death’ get thrown around. The only reason anyone would think rock music had died, would be because they simply stopped listening.

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