And while “beige against the machine” is a cute and retweetable one-liner, it’s nothing more than a cheap shot based on a faulty premise: that something went wrong with music in 2011. That musicians gave up en-masse and just made safe, ineffectual and dull music.
There are quite a few problems with that idea. I’m just going to mention just three here, but you’ll no doubt think of your own too.
1) You can’t complain about a dull year in music if all you do is report on the pile of CDs that ended up on your desk as a result of public relations and major label marketing. If you were looking for urgency, relevance and innovation in that lot, you’ve misunderstood the process. No matter how much you shout “Challenge me!” at your stereo, it’s not going to oblige if you keep putting Coldplay CDs in it.
2) Even if you are looking outside the pile, chances are you’re still looking in the wrong places. Things that sound like (or aspire to sound like) the music that did make it to the minor landfill of compact discs cluttering your desk are not likely to be any better. After all, it’s no longer the job of rock music to be urgent or important. And it’s certainly not the job of mainstream rock music. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but guitar, bass, drums and vocals is no longer by default a counter-cultural lineup. The same can be said for R&B and mainstream hip hop. It’s possible to do radical stuff in those musical domains, but it’s certainly not the norm.
3) IF IT’S BORING, DO NOT WRITE ABOUT IT. In fact, write that on a post-it note and stick it to your laptop screen. Writing about boring is contributing to the boring.
The guiding question for interesting music journalism needs to be “Yes, but what else is out there?”. More than ever before there is the opportunity (even the need) for major publications to employ investigative music journalists and people with genuine curiosity. We all know what can happen when people with these kinds of qualities are given a decent platform.
John Peel-ism should be the norm by now.
Music journalists and radio programmers have the opportunity to lead us toward these rich seams of wonderful music lying just beyond their morning jiffy-bag mail pile and inbox of press releases. Their refusal or reluctance to do so suggests that it’s not popular music that is the problem.
Never before has there been a greater opportunity for music journalists to be tastemakers and discoverers of exciting talent. Never before has that opportunity been so resolutely rejected.
But in defence of boring, perhaps what people want or even need from their mainstream media consumption right now is reassurance and comfort. Yes, the last time things were this bad economically and politically (certainly in this country), popular music was the voice of popular dissent – but now popular dissent has its own voice. We may not need to all rush out in a buying frenzy in response to famous people singing revolutionary songs. We’re a bit busy having a revolution.
And while there is an insidious relationship between mass-pacification (X-factor anyone?) and consumerist culture – the very thing at the heart of what the global revolution is supposed to be about in the first place – what’s encouraging is the fact that the audience is beginning to leak at the edges as people go in search of things that speak to them of their own lives.
Trust me – there’s no shortage of amazing out there. We’re just all going to find it in different places. And part of its amazingness lies in the fact that it is amazing for us personally, and not for an undifferentiated mass or a simple marketing demographic.
But the thing about amazing, important and compelling music that every journalist and music programmer should know: it needs a champion. Someone with integrity and credibility who will find something good, and play it to us. Someone to say “No – you HAVE to hear this. It’s phenomenal.” I suspect that it is not our musicians that have let us down, but our champions of music.
So if your job is to report upon popular music and you are unable to find ten incredible things in the past year to share with those of us who still read what you have to say, then that makes you a failure. I’m sorry – but there it is. You’re a lazy, complacent, boring failure.
Happy new year. Do better in 2012, yeah?