Butlerisms: Rock is Alive

By Oliver Butler (@notoliverbutler)

Every now and then, usually around album release time, some rent-a-dad like Noel Gallagher or Tom Meighan from Kasabian will come out and declare that rock and roll is dead” and that they’re going to “save guitar music”. Further to this, some rent-an-arsehole like Gene Simmons will come out for no good reason, the most likely reason being he’s bored, and spout some shite like there’s “no good bands” anymore, and that he’s waiting for another KISS.

It happened this year, with Kasabian widely touting that their latest offering, For Crying Out Loud, would “save guitar music”. Sounds like a pretty tasty concept if you ask me. Guitar music’s in such a state that this album’s gonna change everything? Lay it on me sugar!

However, this quote is merely a concept. Because For Crying Out Loud left many crying out loud at how underwhelming this album was. By no stretch was it a bad album, but to herald it at the saviour of guitar music was nothing but pure bluster & bullshit.

 

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The saviours of guitar music (apparently).

 

Further to this, guitar music is just FINE, sweeties. Now, there’s some truth to these statements, because rightly so, rock & roll ain’t what it used to be. But if you go back to the genesis, rock & roll was Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Elvis, the Beatles, hell, even Cliff Richard & the Shadows. These guys were the pioneers of rock & roll, but rock & roll has evolved from there to hard rock, heavy metal, punk, thrash metal, grunge, hardcore, post-hardcore, emo, metalcore, deathcore, thrashcore, core-core, electronic rock, doom metal, death metal, alt-rock, folk rock, pop punk, Brit rock, dad rock, crust punk.

If anything, the problem with rock & roll these days is that there are too many guitar bands out there, meaning it’s hard for a band to cut through the noise to become superstars. Back in the day, all you had to do was have the right haircut & be able to play a few chords and boom – you’re the Beatles. That’s not to do them a disservice, they were at the very start of rock, and we ALL have them to thank for our favourite bands being here today. But in today’s day and age, four lads with guitars would struggle to hit those heights.

But is that such a problem? Not really as there’s a bustling scene, with a new band wriggling into your ears on a near-weekly basis. Take a look at some of the bands who’ve released debut albums in the last three years; in one of my playlists alone, names off the top of my head include Black Foxxes, Creeper, PVRIS, Broken Hands, Dorothy, Highly Suspect, Wolf Alice, Treeherder – the list is fucking exhaustless. Bit of a stretch here considering his tenure in rock, but take a look at Frank Carter & the Rattlesnakes. Together for three years with two sublime albums, touring halls, academies and institutes across the land. And if we went back to 2010 as the threshold, the list would be chunkier than Eddie Hall’s biceps.

 

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New bands like Wolf Alice have kept the guitar music light lit – no help needed.

 

I’m literally just naming my own personal examples here, but I’m sure you could name ten off the top of your head as well. Go write them down, send them to me, send them to bands like Kasabian and tell those fuckers that rock isn’t dead, you’re just not slinging albums like you used to.

The biggest contradiction, in this columnist’s humble & largely incorrect opinion, to the “rock is dead” trope is, like ’em, love ’em or hate ’em, Royal Blood. Just look at them. In four short years, they’ve gone from Brighton open mic night nobodies to global rock superstars. They’ve come off the back of a sell-out UK arena tour and two albums out of two to reach number one in the charts. Their heavy rock riff charges are positioning them as the torchbearers for the future of rock and roll. I’m biased towards them, yes, but even on paper, they are one of the most promising bands out there to join the immortals. I know some of you will stick your tongue out at that prospect, but in terms of a health check, rock is in the pink.

One identifiable gripe could be that pop music is bigger than rock music but the problem there is that “pop” has always been big because it’s more accessible than anything else out there. Can we all appreciate a screaming Jimmy Page solo? No. Can we all appreciate a catchy Little Mix tune? Fuck yes. Ed Sheeran is so bland that vanilla ice cream burns his tongue, but his brand of endless, nameless guitar playing is crafted for everyone, from the still-hip parents to people who exclusively have missionary sex whilst watching The X-Factor.

But what message does this send when people such as Gene Simmons, Serge Pizzorno, Justin Hawkins & Noel Gallagher say that there’s no good music out there anymore & rock is dead? There are kids out there who’ve picked up a guitar in their name, only to be told “Sorry kids, there’s nothing out there for you. Go home, become an accountant instead“. Bands instead should be doing a Metallica: inviting bands to come and snatch their crown. We need to encourage young bands to be Metallica, to be Led Zep, to be Oasis, to be Kasabian, but better than they could ever be. “Rock is dead” should be replaced with “Rock is yours, if you think you’re hard enough“.

Scott Ian of Anthrax recently shared that opinion that there wasn’t much out there, as they were currently touring with Code Orange: yeno, the band who released their first album in 2014, and their second album Forever, released this year is f u c k i n g G r a m m y n o m i n a t e d. Maybe his comments were twisted out of context but if I was in a young band, out on tour with a veteran band who then told the press that there are no good bands out there, I’d pack up my equipment and go home. Next plane home, sorry Scott, you said that we’re not good enough.

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Note: if you haven’t listened to Code Orange then get your act together.

 

Never will I question any band that goes out there to plant their flag in the ground, but big bands should be encouraging them to push forwards, inspiring the passion within them. There are no free lunches in the music business, but our rock & roll elders could be doing more to invite the youth to lunch. The bands that put the work in, play every show they possibly can & promote themselves like billy-o will always rise to the top, if they’re good enough because that’s what always happens. The bands that go into the business to pose and claim they’re “saving guitar music” will inevitably die. Because they’ve spent so much time talking about what’s so wrong with music today, they haven’t bothered thinking about what to do to improve it.

Streaming is also decried by the elders, sometimes under the guise that it doesn’t help young bands. Perhaps not compared to selling records straight up, but in the age of “radio killed the riff” and “rock is dead“, it helps thriving bands bypass getting their rock sound onto the airwaves, because they can get their music out by word of mouth, social media and a good old-fashioned flyer drop. If they’re good enough, their mates tell their other mates, other mates to other mates & before you know it, they’re on Spotify’s discover weekly.

Spotify gives risk-free music exploration. For just £9.99 a month, I can check out hundreds and hundreds of new bands without having to buy a record. But with that, if they’re good enough, I’ll buy the record, the vinyl, the t-shirt, the countless gig tickets and become a long term investor in that band. Bands might not make as much money initially at less than a penny a stream, but their worldwide reach could make them bigger than if they’d relied on radio play & record company support. Crap bands will forever die on their feet, good bands will forever have loyal fans. Doesn’t matter what the year is, what the platform is and who the rent-a-gob is, good bands will always have loyal followings.

Small gigs are forever the genesis of a new band, and I think we’re all guilty of not going enough, but there’s no finer pleasure than heading down to a sticky little club to see a band playing for their bus fare home. No faking, no bullshit, just a group of friends playing their hearts out. But that’s happening every day of every week in nearly every town. Rehearsal studios rattle as young bands figure out the finer points of their killer riffs. If rock & roll was dead, we’d be all congregating in an arena to watch some no-name band on the downswing of their career blast out their greatest hits and be met with stony faces when the new songs are played.

Kasabian are currently touring the United Kingdom.

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Oliver Butler

I'm sorry.

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