It’s that time again. The time in the cycle of trends and ensuing trend pieces in which rock ‘n’ roll and guitars are declared dead and the masses bemoan the influx of EDM/pop stars/men with banjos that’s currently in vogue.
A sampling of quotes: “Who wears the leather pants in music these days?” “Christ, why can’t rock ‘n’ roll just be fun anymore?” “R.I.P. Sorry punx.” “The overwhelming thing wrong is that rock and roll is dead.”
This epoch of hand-wringing always comes and goes. The above phrases are really nothing new. But, at present, we’re on the very precipice of a bunch of really good stuff breaking out so, in light of this, such assertions just seem like blatant fallacies. Poppy rock acts like OneRepublic and Bastille have already broken into the Billboard top 10 — now we’re waiting for the grittier outfits to follow.
Rock ‘n’ roll is not dead. It’s not. And punk — that’s not expired, either.
Neither have been buried beneath a metaphorical granite memorial denoting some kind of historical perishing. Guitars are not extinct. Drums are not something better left to session musicians, pounding away behind a crooning pop star. A crowd-surfer can still bowl over the languid fist-pumper any day. And, no, some celebrity sporting a Misfits T-shirt has put a nail in no one’s coffin.
And do you know why? Do you know why there’s still an audience for those raw, grab-your-guts-and-choke-you-with-them kind of jams? Because the world hasn’t really changed that much since Black Flag threw sneering TV parties or Kurt Cobain crooned about Courtney Love’s ladyparts using barely-there metaphors.
“Now you have the same thing,” Marky Ramone, last remaining member of the Ramones, told MTV News when asked if he thinks punk is dead. “People are out of jobs, there’s unemployment, there’s no money for the city, there’s always some kind of problem with [your] boyfriend [or] girlfriend, there’s always a worry about what someone’s doing in their future, sibling rivalries. War is still going on. It was going on back then. So nothing really changes.”
Read: We still have stuff to be angry about and as long as there’s stuff to be angry about there will be rock ‘n’ roll. Or, you know, as long as there’s the urge to slam dance.
And there are plenty of raised voices out there. Voices cutting through the din of pixels and pings that is the Internet, a constant, ever-changing hive of new music, new bands and new ideas. This is new era of rock:
Take Perfect Pussy, a too-hot-to-print monikered band that nevertheless has seen its share of ink in the likes of Rolling Stone, who gave the band
four out of five stars for their debut LP, Say Yes To Love.
That’s a near-perfect score from a major music publication for a band whose frontman Meredith Graves roars instead of sings and, to be more specific, roars lyrics about bad friends like, “Her eyes fell low and heavy with shame and c-m.” No punches are pulled, friends, but plenty are thrown.
And then there’s bands like The Orwells, a rabblement of teen and post-teen Chicagoans that rip every show to pieces, including “The David Letterman Show,” during which they busted out a performance that has since become legendary.
Yup, frontman Mario Cuomo brought his almost (and not-so-almost) obscene boy-possessed undulations to the late night stage, simultaneously befuddling and delighting the iconic host.
“A little more of this!” Letterman roared, while the band scratched their heads and shuffled their feet, the house band finally busting out their own jingly version of “Who Needs You.”
“[Their show] was the most amazing live show I had seen in a long time and we made an offer on the spot,” Kate Hyman, BMG’s executive VP of creative, told MTV News. Both she and creative coordinator Kendall Small scouted the band last summer, signing them to a worldwide publishing deal in August.
“I was blown away because of their age,” Small added. “And Mario is obviously an incredible frontman, but behind his antics this band was so together. The musicianship behind the kind of chaos that was going on visually just absolutely floored me.”
If you’ve ever seen Cuomo have what looks to be a full-body fit while somehow still destroying doo-wop/punk hybrid jams about the mall and school shootings, you’ll understand what Small means. Letterman certainly did.
Eagulls & The So So Glos
And The Orwells aren’t the only leather-jacketed ones to hit the “Letterman” stage — Brooklyn’s hometown punks The So So Glos roared their tongue-in-cheek U.S. anthem “Son Of An American” on late night, and U.K. post punk outfit Eagulls took the stage after band member Tom Kelly got a Bill Murray tattoo in honor of their fellow “Letterman” guest. A tat that Murray covered in kisses.
“The last time before ['Letterman'] we went to New York we were actually walking down the street where ‘Letterman’ is filmed and one of the guys says, ‘Maybe one day you’ll play there,’ and I was just like, ‘Nah, no way,’” frontman George Mitchell told MTV News.
Little did he know.
“Maybe they’re just trying to keep stuff fresh,” Mitchell said of Eagulls’ unexpected booking. “It’s really important that there are guitar bands and actual, real bands performing instead of the usual pop acts. … It’s good to see bands doing real rock ‘n’ roll sort of stuff. It’s still alive, so it’s important that people are giving us these opportunities.”
Sure, none of these bands are currently sitting pretty on Lorde’s throne via the Hot 100, but they are sharing labels with acts who are/have occupied that rarified air — and they’re on their way up.
Together PANGEA, an L.A. act that tears through jams about erectile dysfunction and heartbreak with equal aplomb, is signed to Harvest Records, a subsidiary of Capitol Music Group, which boasts artists like Katy Perry.
They know this because they’re fans of Perry — or at least bassist Danny Bengston is; the label gave him a special edition version of Prism, complete with a packet of wildflower seeds, before it hit the stands.
SKATERS, who aimed to tap into ’70s New York punk with their debut record MANHATTAN, are signed to Warner Bros. — a label whose roster also includes fellow guitar-slingers like The Black Keys and The White Stripes.
Clearly the bands are out there. And so is the need. Just take a look at a recent video in The Fine Brother’s “Teens React” series in which the the non-adult set was asked what they thought of Nirvana. Nearly every single kid could sing along to every song, one teen even lamenting, “[If] only music was this good, like, now.”
It is that good, young one, and it’s right within the reach of your grasping fingers. Just take a look at the Burgerama lineup. The Goner Records roster. The bands detailed in Pitchfork’s “Shake Appeal” column. The show flyers at your local record store or, if you don’t have one in your vicinity, the deep, dark catalogue of Spotify.
Again, I am wholly aware that the top of the pops is currently occupied with, well, pop (and some anthemic rock) — but, well, it took skinny jeans five-plus years to make a full resurgence and now even the bro-y-ist of the bros is wiggling into his denim. So think on that.
You can say that rock ‘n’ roll is training for the spotlight, polishing its boots and practicing its scales and working on its sneer. Sure, I’ll buy it. But don’t tell me rock ‘n’ roll is dead. Let’s put a rest to those words. Because if that’s your line of thinking you’re not really living.