This article is a continuation of Honey, I am Pink Floyded.
In my previous article, I mentioned that I would talk about the genres of music that evolved since the 70s. I said so as I felt that it would give appropriate structure to my writing, a conclusion I arrived at soon after I started writing this article. After all Music is so vast – I needed some narrative compass.
However upon rereading the article, I realised that I had been rather impersonal about the whole affair. Music is emotional and in some ways a tapestry of our memories woven in harmony. Which must be why not all the music we like has to do with the music itself.
On this account let me share a little anecdote. When I was in my 8th, my cousin stayed at our house with her little kid – my lovely niece. To put her to sleep I used to play pre-recorded songs from my keyboard. One song that she especially liked was “Killing Me Softly”. It was unlike any other songs I was listening to at that period – My music collection then was a mix of Linkin Park and Skillet alongside some 2000s pop that my sister bequeath to me.
Six years from then, a few weeks ago I ran into the song again and I have been listening to it on repeat alongside other songs that reminded me of older days – songs by the ABBA and Boney M, that my mom got me acquainted with.
“Music evokes so many feelings in us, memories, nostalgia, things that are connected to our past.”
While speaking of memory I am reminded of Haruki Murakami’s saying – “Our memory is made up of our individual memories and our collective memories. The two are intimately linked. And history is our collective memory”.
So the natural question that follows is – has music been a collective feeling that shaped history? With that thought in mind I will get started with my article.
Yes, that was just the introduction.
Also, you are recommended to tune into this song.
During the 1960s an explosion of new bands spawned in every part of the world. Rock and Roll had gone mainstream and every teenage guy wanted his first ‘six strings’ and form a band with the ‘guys from school’. The themes were amateurish and the music was lo-fi, though well compensated by raw energy.
Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era, is a compilation album of garage rock, the genre of music which is not a genre but rather a cultural phenomenon. The song ” Money for Nothing ” by Dire Straits accurately describes the cultural feeling behind of garage rock. The most notable bands of this era are the Dire Straits the Banshees, the Stooges and the Velvet Underground. The last two bands are also known as proto-punk for their music inspired a cultural phenomenon that would engulf the world, The Sex Pistols, one of the first proper punk bands to emerge.
Punk music is cultural. It represents an anti-authoritarian, non conformity attitude where emphasis was laid on individual freedom and expression. The typical characteristics of punk music are – aggressive themes (political or otherwise), youthful exuberance and foolhardy, and straightforward. “I hate you” does not mutate to “I can’t remember to forget you” or “I fucking hate you”, it is just “i hate you”. Punk played an important part in the Women’s Equality Movement in the 70s. There several notable female punk bands including the the Slits and Siouxsie and the Banshees. The genre declined steadily over the 80s but made a revival in the 90s with bands like Greenday, Ranchid, NOFx and The Offspring. I love the way NOFX disses the music industry and conservative America, both of which I believe need to be pulled down by a peg or two.
Another genre of music that evolved over the late 60s and heavily influenced culture is reggae. Reggae originated from Jamaica and was heavily influenced by dance music like jazz, ska and also African traditional Calypso. Though Reggae and Punk Music sound completely different from a musical perspective, the share the same ideology.
To begin with, both are counter-culture musical movements, spreading a message of rebellion against the Establishment. The 1979 song “Guns of Brixton” is a fusion of reggae and punk rock by the band Clash which talks about police oppression. Interestingly it pre-dates the actual Brixton riots that occurred on 1981. Reggae was also hand in gloves with the Rastafarian Movement, the Peace Movement after the Vietnamese war and the Black Rights Movement. The Reggae legend Bob Marley was awarded the Peace Medal of the Third World by the United Nations. His song “One Love” is considered an anthem for peace.
An important part of a good stage performance is theatrics. Artists occasionally use the shock factor – like Jimi Hendrix setting his guitar alight or Ritchie Blackmore of Deep Purple smashing his guitar on stage to surprise the crowd. But the “Godfather of Shock Rock” is Alice Cooper. He refined it with the use of costumes, illusory and graphic costume and the insanity to have a boa constrictor on stage.
KISS was another band that used costumes. Over time the representation of dark themes, horror tales on stage with music led to the creation of Gothic music, which is directly influenced by the Cure, who pioneered the idea. And similar to reggae and punk, this began to represent a cultural phenomenon. The Sisters of Mercy is a goth band I would recommend. Goth directly influenced genres of music like Industrial Rock and Post-Punk.
One of the lasting effects of the garage band era was the emergence of the popularity of independent labels over major publishers. Most punk and reggae music were published by independent labels because of the controversial nature of the themes. However, some bands had to go underground not because of their themes rather due to the experimental nature of their music. In other words, because of the use of innovative, unconventional sounds and non standard beats, major publishers refused to sign with them.
Thus, alternative rock and indie rock came to be. As Wikipedia puts it elegantly
“ “Alternative” has been used as a catch-all description for music from underground rock artists that receives mainstream recognition, or for any music, whether rock or not“ .
Indie Rock however was used to refer to “”bands working in a variety of styles, that did not pursue or achieve commercial success“. In other words, Alternative rock is fancy cutlery and Indie music is what you get from a thrift shop. Both are available in plenty and hip with cool lyrics. Both are fashionable. Both genres of music however represent one thing – “LAZY NOMENCLATURE”. R.E.M, the Smiths are the pioneers in this genre.
Over time, some kinds of alternative music became more prominent than the others, taking distinctive form to create sub genres such as grunge, industrial rock, Britpop (Oasis), post-Britpop (My Chemical Romance) and Emo.
Grunge is characterized by its nonchalant yet thought-provoking lyrics. Nirvana is an exposition on grunge. Its main man Kurt Cobain is a cult figure for anti-establishment, while Nirvana is the peak of anti-establishment for anti-establishment turned mainstream post Nirvana. Such was their popularity and influence over the culture of the 90s.
Industrial Rock is a darker derivative of Progressive rock with a more metallic and cynical taste. The themes usually revolve around a dystopian universe where materialism has taken over human tendencies. Pretty Hate Machine is a masterpiece in the genre. It perfectly captures this claustrophobic, dingy universe that it attempts to illustrate. Marilyn Manson, however, takes it to a whole different level of dark. I hate the fact that I like Marilyn Manson, so much so that I use as an effective alarm tone. I wake up the moment “This is the New Shit” starts playing – it triggers my denial mechanism.
Indie, on the other hand is a sub-genre of alternative. The definition of Indie is so loosely framed, I just go by what Wikipedia says. Arctic Monkeys, Pavement, Civil Wars, Florence and the Machine, the Muse, Dream Theatre are some Indie bands I listen to.
An Indie Rock band that truly influenced me a lot is Radiohead. Their dedication to music experimentation never ceases to amaze me.Their first two albums, Pablo Honey and Bends are heavy with a clear grunge influence and themes around personal angst. Their music was good yet seemed only slightly deviant from any other in the 90s. Then they made a giant leap with the album OK Computer. Firstly their music bore little semblance to anything done before. Then the themes. Look at the featured image, which is the poster.
It is so deep yet so eloquently out in a way that you can feel what the music is trying to say yet still not quite comprehend it. But the best part was what came after OK Computer. Thom Yorke took the leap and ditched the guitars for synthesizer a and tape loops in Kid A. Another generation forward. Thin Yorkie also holds the title for the longest song ever recorded, a mammoth 432 hour long song.
The last genre of music I am going to explore in this article is post rock. This is one genre I just stumbled into on YouTube and instantaneously loved. The first post rock, that I listened to was Sleepstream. I am Facebook friends with the lead vocalist and bassist, by the way. Yep, I am bragging – though they aren’t exactly a super popular band, I love their music. Post rock is mostly instrumental music. Hence the themes they try to convey is super abstracted. In other words it feels different every time you are in a different state of mind. Mogwai, Departure Songs, Godspeed You! Black Emperor are the post rock bands that I recommend.
So, the question that still remains, is whether music is as culturally relevant as it is personal.
Honestly, do you want me to answer that question? (Hint: Kanye West)