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Welcome To The New Age: 2014 & The New Utopian Pop
Alex Niven , January 14th, 2014 08:15

As we approach the mid-point of the decade, Alex Niven argues that pop music is losing its retromanic urge, and starting to look to the future

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The curtain opens on an opaque wasteland filled with smoke wisps and gas clouds, the aftermath of an unnamed disaster still purling in the distance. Amid a landscape of Hollywood apocalypse we hear the sound of campfire singing – it could be Fleet Foxes or the dreaded Mumford clan – attenuated wailing from a world drained of colour and confidence. But then something magic happens. The intro fades, the guitars die, and like a peal of thunder, bass returns – churning, venomous synth swirls jack-knifing with 'Kashmir'-meets-dubstep drums. The singer is suddenly bellowing a lyric about coming up for air after years of torpor and decline, a lyric about beginning to see the future again: "I'm waking up I feel it in my bones / Enough to make my systems blow / Welcome to the new age."

We arrive in 2014 with a dawning sense that the decade is surely, finally, about to kick into life. For months now, the portents have been gathering even in the deserts of MOR pop culture. At the risk of understatement, Imagine Dragons' 'Radioactive' – the tune summarised above – was not quite the single of last year. But it was interesting for one very specific reason: with its disavowal of retro, its cautious embrace of EDM, and the rousing Hunger Games futurism of its chorus, this million-selling slab of corporate rock was a sign that even in the reactionary heart of the US music industry, a yearning for newness is tentatively beginning to win out over the conservatism of the last decade or so. After a slow start, it seems that a sense of timeliness, of generational consciousness, is beginning to descend on the 21st century as it emerges from the retromania and pessimism of its opening years.

Even if Imagine Dragons aren't your thing (and really, why should they be?) it's highly likely you've come across other examples of the epochal mood building in mainstream pop in recent months. Everywhere you look in the chart music of the moment, themes of collectivism and contemporaneity are being pushed front and centre. The Now is becoming acceptable again. 'We' is fast replacing 'me' as the pronoun of choice for producers seeking to latch onto the pop zeitgeist of the 2010s.

Some examples chosen at random: Miley Cyrus's 'We Can't Stop' dragged the hip-hop-lite party anthem into the realm of generational statement, with its evocation of a cut-loose delinquent tribe who own the night and take nothing from nobody; Tinie Tempah's 'Children Of The Sun' adopted a similar posture, also appearing to nod at the defiant hedonism of recent teensploitation films like Harmony Korine's Spring Breakers and Sofia Coppola's Bling Ring. Even Sussex lads Rizzle Kicks felt compelled to distil the spirit of the age – in the surprisingly good 'Lost Generation' of last August, a Jeremy Kyle-baiting protest song that bore faint traces of The Specials' era-defining eighties masterpiece 'Ghost Town'.

Coupled with its au courant rallying cries, this decade's pop is also cautiously beginning to sound of the moment, even if we still await a sonic breakthrough on the level of a punk or a drum and bass. In an extract from one of 2014's most eagerly anticipated books published on this website last summer, the critic Mark Fisher bemoaned the 'anachronism and inertia' of 21st Century culture, and suggested the following thought experiment:

"Imagine any record released in the past couple of years being beamed back in time to, say, 1995 and played on the radio. It's hard to think that it will produce any jolt in the listeners. On the contrary, what would be likely to shock our 1995 audience would be the very recognisability of the sounds: would music really have changed so little in the next seventeen years? Contrast this with the rapid turnover of styles between the 1960s and the 90s: play a jungle record from 1993 to someone in 1989 and it would have sounded like something so new that it challenged them to rethink what music was, or could be."

This is a fair summary of the post-millennium popscape taken as a whole. But, I would argue, the ground has shifted subtly over the past year or so.

It's undoubtedly true that the cultural scene is still dominated by various manifestations of postmodern retro, from the lingering Toryism of the nu-folk troubadours, to Bastille's middle-class rave karaoke, to the legions of trendier bands still allied to the post-punk revivalism of the mid-noughties (see Savages). But I think that there are signs that retromania is approaching a point of exhaustion. While the last decade was defined by guitar bands, tongue-in-cheek cover versions, and the trad-rock 'live music revival', what's notable about pop right now is its lack of traditional anchoring, its emphasis on overt studio production techniques and – perhaps most important of all – its aversion to the guitar as a focal point of arrangements.

Turning on the radio in, say, 2006, was a traumatic experience, embodying exactly the sort of hellish 'anachronism and inertia' Fisher diagnoses. As recently as the start of this decade, it was still difficult for the music fan to get through the day without somewhere or other encountering reactionary horrors like Razorlight, Kaiser Chiefs, and Kasabian (or, more recently, Mumford and Sons, The Vaccines, and Peace). Now, the hegemony of landfill indie appears to have been decisively broken: the guitar has been relegated to a tertiary instrument when it appears at all. This shift away from vintage riffology has encouraged new stirrings of modernism, at the same time as the decline of X Factor has opened up a space for more disparate, challenging sounds to penetrate the charts.

True, there have been no truly stellar leaps forward in the fabric and design of mainstream pop. Yet, if the litmus test for development is the likely response of a 1995 listener to the music of the present, I think that a large portion of contemporary music from Drake to DJ Rashad would indeed seem unfamiliar and strange – if not, perhaps, outright shocking – to a mid-90s ear. Even a relatively pedestrian single like Taylor Swift's 'I Knew You Were Trouble', with its sudden lurch into jerky, saturated synth textures in its chorus, would surely force some sort of rethink if beamed back to the year of Livin' Joy's 'Dreamer' and TLC's 'Creep' (to say nothing of 1995's more conservative chart trends).

In a brilliant essay published on the Quietus back in 2011, Dan Barrow looked on the vogue for exaggeratedly synthetic choruses (of which 'I Knew You Were Trouble' is a more recent example), labelling this trope the Soar ("that surge from a dynamically static mid-tempo 4/4 verse to a ramped-up major-key chorus, topped, in the case of female singers, with fountaining melisma; the moment the producer deploys the riff, the synth-gush, the shouted vocal-hook for which the whole of the rest of the song is a mere appendage"). Again, this was an accurate diagnosis at the time, but I think that what we are seeing now is something like the sublimation of the Soar. Piling layers of artificial sonic squall on top of a track began as a way of achieving commercial hyperbole, a classic case of steroid-injection to allow a chorus-hook to soar above its airwave rivals. Of course, industry pop is still motivated by this instinct, but now The Soar also seems to be giving expression to more genuinely populist sentiments, from the anthemic breakbeat surges of producers like Naughty Boy and Chase and Status, to the vogue for rousing 'lost generation' choruses I outlined above.

This gradual return to newness, effusiveness, and generational confidence, of course, reflects a wider social context. It seems fairly undeniable that a wave of affect is gathering in countries right across the world at the moment, as the old order of neoliberalism begins to crumble, even as its social structures are undergoing a final phase of neurotic entrenchment. Contemporary pop music – always the avant-garde of the people – is beginning to give expression to a kind of inchoate, utopian longing for a new world. Right now this impulse exists only as a vague desire for a kind of radical precarious hedonism – a yearning to party all night, both because there's nothing worth working for, and because the elevated existence of the 1% aristocracy seems utterly unattainable (for this, see in particular Lorde's magisterial 'Royals').

The big question mark looming over the forthcoming decade, now it has finally acquired a degree of self-awareness, is: will this cultural mood actually amount to anything, or will it remain a mere affective sigh? For a real leap forward in pop to occur, for expressions of rebellious collectivism to develop into a sustained cultural movement, significant structural reform of society is required. Young musicians need social security as well as imaginative precarity – they need a base of societal support that will provide the time and money necessary for producing art that will move the culture forward. At the moment, social stability barely exists, so we have anger without application, a building sense of collective identity without a clue where to take it. Karl Marx might have called this a pre-revolutionary situation. Whatever it is, it's clear that we're finally beginning to surge together again after years of dwindling into backward-looking inertia. Welcome to the new age indeed, at last.

Jake
Jan 14, 2014 10:18am

Hoping your theory proves correct.

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Jan 14, 2014 11:28am

"22 Grand Job" by The Rakes is better than anything listed here.

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Jan 14, 2014 11:46am

Here's to doing better than '22 Grand Job' by The Rakes. Please.

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Kenny Login
Jan 14, 2014 12:49pm

For a real leap forward, what society doesn't need is endless & instantaneous analysis of what's happening culturally every step of the way, because the analysis is the death knell, and the analysis is as ubiquitous as the internet is wide. This article single-handedly killed the new (British) pop zeitgeist the author wishes for with its overt awareness of outre trendism.

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Alex Niven
Jan 14, 2014 1:53pm

In reply to Kenny Login:

Fuck me, if I'd known I was going to go and single-handedly kill the new British pop zeitgeist with overt awareness of outre trendism, I'm not sure I would have got out of bed this morning.

I agree with you about the ubiquity of analysis Kenny, but I think you're over-estimating my importance. Also, I think good analysis is vital, even if there is a surfeit of bad examples right now (same goes for pop music).

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Jan 14, 2014 2:10pm

In reply to Alex Niven:

I would agree though with Kenny Login that things need a chance to grow organically and not be seized upon immediately. I understand you're giving an overview, but yeah, nothing stands a chance anymore, it instantly needs to be quantified and categorized lest someone appear off the back on "the latest thing". I'm hoping whatever it is grows quietly and sneaks up when everyone is looking elsewhere.

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Alex Niven
Jan 14, 2014 2:36pm

In reply to :

I think it depends who does the seizing. If it's the music industry picking up on an underground trend and destroying it in the process, then of course that's bad. But if the analysis is being done within a milieu where the intention is to react to and encourage positive developments when they occur, that has to be a good thing doesn't it? I make no claims for myself but I think the Quietus aims for the latter. Whereas, it's true, something like the Guardian with its endless comment pieces mostly written from a liberal-centrist perspective is a more ambivalent example.

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Rizla Kiss
Jan 14, 2014 3:45pm

Lost all interest when you compared 'Lost Generation' by Rizzle Kicks to The Specials' 'Ghost Town'. Good article up until that point. Aren't I a frightful square...

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Jan 14, 2014 4:10pm

What does Rizzle Kicks mean? I could understand if it was Razzle Kicks; I got a few kicks from Razzle in my youth.

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tony m
Jan 14, 2014 4:12pm

In reply to :

Have you seen the video for 22 Grand Job? All those smokin hot secretaries? Bet those skinny boys enjoyed making that.

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Manfredo Di Trippinballz
Jan 14, 2014 5:06pm

This article is stupid, who even cares? Not me. I don't even know why I read it, it makes the act of listening to music seem like labour, dude needs to turn the stereo off and lie down.

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Taun Aengus
Jan 14, 2014 6:48pm

Sorry---But this is one of the worst articles I've ever read about music. Good luck in the future.

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Milt F
Jan 14, 2014 7:19pm

This article seems overloaded with crypto-Leninist wishful thinking. I think it will take rather more than a few edgy Miley Cyrus videos to 'bring down the neoliberal order', no matter how many 'themes of collectivism' one projects into them. The relentless demand for consumable, disposable cultural product is surely evidence of the continued vitality of capitalism, not its imminent collapse, although many older business models are being creatively destroyed along the way.

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RJC
Jan 14, 2014 8:20pm

Nice bit of writing Mr Niven. I don't have a problem with instantaneous analysis of pop cultural trends - this sort of thing has always gone on, from the intelligent informed criticism of Reynolds et al in MM through to the bullshit BBC Sound of 20xx telling us what we will be listening to in the year ahead.

I don't think that there's anything inherently wrong with writers trying to spot trends and predict where they are headed, and I don't imagine that the music makers pay much heed to this sort of writing anyway.

I still think we're stuck in a kind of liminal period, so anybody pointing towards a possible way out is to be lauded. More of this sort of thing please Quietus.

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Chris
Jan 14, 2014 9:14pm

That 'Imagine Dragons' track was awful! it's adding blaring pop to a half step beat. The same hackneyed beat that's been used in kid's TV ad's for years, weetabix etc. Using these kind of signifiers ('cos the kids) is hardly revolutionary.

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Apop
Jan 14, 2014 9:19pm

An interesting read - not sure how much i agree with "For a real leap forward in pop to occur, for expressions of rebellious collectivism to develop into a sustained cultural movement, significant structural reform of society is required. Young musicians need social security as well as imaginative precarity – they need a base of societal support that will provide the time and money necessary for producing art that will move the culture forward." Many a great band, artist, heck, entire artistic movements arrived because of a disdain for the less than ideal situations they found themselves in at the beginning of their artistic journey (living in a crap city, working in a job they hated, a government or society they vehemently disagreed with etc). Not sure security breeds much in interesting and/or groundbreaking creativity.

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Jan 14, 2014 10:10pm

all i'm saying is... a 22 grand job... in the city... that sounds nice... that's alright.

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jocky
Jan 14, 2014 10:32pm

As much as I've dug footwork and DJ Rashad since I first heard Bangs n Works in 2011..And as much as it's nice people are appreciating detroit techno, jungle and acid -it's not going revolutionise shit. Yeah it might change dance music for a bit but ultimately the conclusion is critical mass makes it boring, nobody dances and Miley Cyrus will use a lite version of it and everyone will get into guitars again.

Fuck it. Anti-fashion.

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j-yim
Jan 14, 2014 10:34pm

In reply to Rizla Kiss:

Rizzle Kicks are the new Specials braa.

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bockwurst
Jan 14, 2014 10:36pm

Fuck that sort of pop music. Lorde? All that shit. Mate i'm 28 not 14. I leave that shit to the wet behind the ears, air max 90, paid for university cocks.

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No sense at all
Jan 15, 2014 1:07am

Rizzle Kicks' Lost Generation is given as an example of NOW!ism, the evidence being that it has traces of a 30-year old track. Yeah, right.

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Johnny Lobster
Jan 15, 2014 2:17am

Man, that article sucks- you gotta be careful 'Quietus' because you're in danger of going completely down the drain- stop hiring untalented, pretentious twats to write dross- you should know better!

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Alex Niven
Jan 15, 2014 10:49am

In reply to Apop:

To respond to the more considered points raised here ...

Re. Rizzle Kicks vs. The Specials - I anticipated some argy bargy with this, both because RKs are easy to ridicule, and because as No Sense at All Points Out, that seems like a retro line to draw. The point is that Lost Generation is a work of social critique in the tradition of Ghost Town - and, I think, quite a good one - not a retro carbon copy of it.

As to "crypto-Leninist wishful thinking", all I can say is that I haven't actually ever read any Lenin, but if the accusation is one of optimism undergirded by socialism, then I plead guilty. Also, wishful thinking is not a pejorative phrase for me.

Apop's point is really important I think. "Pop music" is such a protean entity that of course there are a million different ways for it to happen. On the whole, however, I think that, in the UK at least, it has tended to do best with the support of a wider cultural framework - a flourishing higher education system and the public intellectual culture that goes with it, adventurous public broadcasting, state financial support by way of benefits and funding, and so on. These issue are big ones though, and here is probably not the place to go into them at length.

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aaron.
Jan 15, 2014 6:50pm

Good article, though there's a lot of wishy-washy stuff in this that I would circle with a green-pen and demand a little further explanation if it was handed in as an essay in another context. For e.g. the always rather tenous stuff wherein people relate genre/artistic trends (which have their own innate logic in-themselves) to things like "the crumbling structures of neoliberalism" which are undergoing a "last neurotic entrenchment" (whatever that means). Also I'd be interested to hear the proposition that pop music is the "avant-garde of the people" given a little more air. I'm open to persuasion on that one - could be some more interesting juice in there. I hope you're not just glossing these grandiose statements, because the rest of the article was pretty well thought-out.

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aaron.
Jan 15, 2014 6:53pm

In reply to Kenny Login:

"Analysis is the death-knell" - I'm sorry, but what a load of mystical-obscurantist bullshit. How is analysis the death-knell of a cultural movement? Most nominally 'high' artistic movements come with their own analysis tacked-on, given away gratis, para-textually. I could maybe sympathise with what you're saying when a certain form of analysis ossifies into a 'school', and then that 'school' of thought becomes institutionalised, and regroups its ranks... but to say that analysis is a prima facie form of 'death' is a prime lotta bullshit.

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aaron.
Jan 15, 2014 7:01pm

By the way, if the entire neoliberal world-order is crumbling and nascent pop-trends are the harbinger of this doom (a completely unsubstantiated and _projected_ utopian wish), then surely all it is going to give way to in its wake isn't some collectivist utopia: it's state capitalism, corporate-stable pop; K-Pop and stuff out of Asia, basically. Most cutting edge lapsed wet-dream Leninists and Post-Marxist theorists have to concede nowadays that, if liberal-democratic or social-democratic capitalism is done, it is only done so that the far more effective model established by modern-day China can succeed it. Liberal government and humanist ideology is no longer the pernicious hand-maiden to capitalism that critics on the Left once took it for: it's now beginning to look like a brief respite, an obstacle to the aggressive form of no-nonsense capitalism now being espoused by countries like China and South Korea, wherein all the labour concerns are managed by a corporate/statist government. K-Pop music and related acts are the new model of pop music: giant 'mega-brand' groups with stables of rotating members, all producing incredibly conservative music and setting soaring new records in the quick-exchange of capital. That's the future, not some wishy-washy, please-show-your-workings bullshit about revolution and living on communes with artists given working grants by their comrades.

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Steve
Jan 15, 2014 7:21pm

1. The gradual return to effusiveness reflects nothing more than the short sighted self interest of the young. It's not a bad thing, but that's all it. They are unaware of and unconcerned with the world around them. That's how it's always been.

2. How is the old order of neoliberalism crumbling as it is being entrenched? That doesn't make any sense at all. Neoliberalism is completing its victory, and the pop you celebrate is a corporate tool of distraction. Party all night while the last threads of the social safety net flutter in the wind.

3. Contemporary pop music isn't the avant garde of the people, it's a reflection of the taste of the masses for whom music is product, not art; for whom it's an accessory to fashion, not an accessory to the soul. Such a phrase is so contradictory it's meaningless, though it probably sounds good after seven pints and a spiff.

4. The desire to party all night has nothing to do with the yearning for a new utopia. It's a pop trope, one which has been with us forever and has produced dozens of great songs. There is no political dimension, and the hedonism that these songs celebrate is exactly that one the so-called 1%. The fact of it's unattainably is not considered. People want it, and they'll live it any way that they can.

5. You speak of a new generational confidence, yet state that there's nothing worth working for. Why then are they confident? Despite there being nothing worth working for, they still celebrate materialism over everthing else; this music is a pure expression of neoliberal greed.

6. Is it worth the aggravation of finding a job when there's nothing worth working for? It's a crazy situation, but all I need are cigarettes and alcohol. You could wait for a lifetime to spend your days in the sunshine. You might as well to the white line, because when it comes on top you've gotta make it happen.

Not much has changed over the last 20 years aside from, as you say, the entrenchment of neoliberalism both institutionally and in our minds. Nobody's singing about the little things making them happy and wanting to live by the sea. That is a revolutionary statement.

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Steve
Jan 15, 2014 7:21pm

1. The gradual return to effusiveness reflects nothing more than the short sighted self interest of the young. It's not a bad thing, but that's all it. They are unaware of and unconcerned with the world around them. That's how it's always been.

2. How is the old order of neoliberalism crumbling as it is being entrenched? That doesn't make any sense at all. Neoliberalism is completing its victory, and the pop you celebrate is a corporate tool of distraction. Party all night while the last threads of the social safety net flutter in the wind.

3. Contemporary pop music isn't the avant garde of the people, it's a reflection of the taste of the masses for whom music is product, not art; for whom it's an accessory to fashion, not an accessory to the soul. Such a phrase is so contradictory it's meaningless, though it probably sounds good after seven pints and a spiff.

4. The desire to party all night has nothing to do with the yearning for a new utopia. It's a pop trope, one which has been with us forever and has produced dozens of great songs. There is no political dimension, and the hedonism that these songs celebrate is exactly that one the so-called 1%. The fact of it's unattainably is not considered. People want it, and they'll live it any way that they can.

5. You speak of a new generational confidence, yet state that there's nothing worth working for. Why then are they confident? Despite there being nothing worth working for, they still celebrate materialism over everthing else; this music is a pure expression of neoliberal greed.

6. Is it worth the aggravation of finding a job when there's nothing worth working for? It's a crazy situation, but all I need are cigarettes and alcohol. You could wait for a lifetime to spend your days in the sunshine. You might as well to the white line, because when it comes on top you've gotta make it happen.

Not much has changed over the last 20 years aside from, as you say, the entrenchment of neoliberalism both institutionally and in our minds. Nobody's singing about the little things making them happy and wanting to live by the sea. That is a revolutionary statement.

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Steve
Jan 15, 2014 7:46pm

The reluctance to use guitars is symptomatic of a general reluctance to learn how to play an instrument. The affordability, ease of use, and infinite possibilities of software are the cause, along with a general aversion to work. Electronics are great, but the continued decline of musical ability is to the detriment of music. Pavement should not seem like virtuosos...

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Apop
Jan 15, 2014 8:08pm

In reply to Alex Niven:

As long as a portion of my paycheck isn't going to support more bearded blokes with carefully tussled (to look unkempt) hair, wearing tiny ironic t-shirts and skinny jeans loitering about my local coffee shop writing sh*tty songs. There are already enough of them there.

I realize that wasn't what you were getting at, but that is what laughably jumped into my head when i read that.

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aaron.
Jan 15, 2014 8:10pm

In reply to Steve:

The 'guitar music dialectic' (as I henceforth name it) has nothing to do with people "not wanting to learn to use an instrument". This is a bone-headed sentiment, positively Jurassic in its outlook. Are you kidding? There are no guitars on pop-records nowadays because of some hokum reason about 'kids not wanting to put in effort to learn an instrument' (and, by implication, the same tiresome notion that computers or machines do not take 'skill' or require 'creativity' because they don't have strings... yawn). Ever heard of session musicians? Do you know how much money goes into a modern pop record? The sort of production values? How much a top producer costs? The musical - excepting business, for now - talent in the room when these mega-hits are concocted? It's near forensic in its approach and method. Don't come out with this blithe, lazy shit that guitar music has disappeared because 'skill' and 'real values' are on the decrease. Keep that utterly tiresome bilge for shouted conversations at the bar at Dragonforce concerts.

The reason guitar music has disappeared is the same reason guitar music disappeared (only to reappear a few years later) a decade or two back: fashion. A very simple dialectic process: something is 'new', it slowly catches on, it becomes 'a thing', people grow sick of it, consumer demand always champions the novel, enter a new thing. It'll come full circle again soon. People are just burnt-out on pre-packaged The Kooks style indie bands and, latterly, Brit-Pop sneer. Now soft-synths and ebullient joy is in. It has nothing to do with musicality or work-ethic or musicianship. It's simple fucking fashion. People waste too many words on this 'is guitar music dead?' question. It is completely fatuous.

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Apop
Jan 15, 2014 8:26pm

In reply to Steve:

Not sure I agree with your sentiments in regards to guitars. We've heard about the demise of the guitar before, the last being the early/mid 90s when a host of electronic acts hit it big (Prodigy debuting at the #1 spot in the album charts sent everyone into a tizzy about the end of the guitar). If there's a movement away from guitars it's a mere trend - not unlike the hundreds of garage/emo/indie bands who embraced the guitar at the beginning of the last decade.

That said, i'm certainly not going to argue that all pop stars and those who produce that material are capable musicians. The ease with which music can now be created and presented to the masses (via the modern technology you mention) merely adds to the amount of material we have to sift through to get to something worthwhile.

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aaron.
Jan 15, 2014 9:24pm

In reply to Apop:

Getting upset about popstar's being bad or only half-decent musicians is missing the point by a country mile. Let's not pretend even rock music has been/is about consummate pros, either. My great-uncle was a rock 'producer', meaning: he did all the fucking music writing stuff. Popular music, be it with guitars or synths, has always been about selling a catchy tune, not impressing any fellow musician's with a virtuosic performance. The people fronting the operation and earning all the fame just have to sport the right haircut. It's like going to see a Michael Bay movie and getting upset there's no Shakespearean soliloquies or audience addresses. Wrong show.

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Samantha C
Jan 15, 2014 9:43pm

In reply to aaron.:

I suspect that one reason guitar bands are out of fashion with young people is that they are more expensive and awkward to maintain. A kid on an estate who wishes to make music will find it far easier to do so on a laptop; they can work all day without worrying about disturbing parents/flatmates/neighbours, finding and paying for a decent practice space, carting that sodding drum kit everywhere.

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aaron.
Jan 15, 2014 11:27pm

In reply to Samantha C:

Well the immediate counter-statement to a generalisation like that is that an entry-level acoustic guitar cost <£100.>

Not to mention the fact that rhetorical recourse to this mythical "council estate" figure always makes me a little uneasy.

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Steve
Jan 17, 2014 4:36pm

In reply to aaron.:

I'm a guitarist who makes electronic music, so I know how difficult it is use instruments and software. There is no implication that electronics are not real instruments aside from in your own head. However, it took me about six months to learn how to use Ableton proficiently, but it took years to become a good guitarist.

Programming software is essentially mental, but learning how to play a physical instrument combines the mental and physical, and it requires more musical knowledge. When using software, you can just know that you need to hit the s, r, and f keys, but not know what you're playing. Sure, you can do that with a guitar too, but you'll learn the notes soon enough.

I know how modern pop records are made, the forensic approach, as you put it, and I know that it's completely irrelevant. The inventiveness displayed by mainstream pop producers makes The Strokes seem revolutionary.

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aaron.
Jan 17, 2014 5:54pm

In reply to Steve:

You're asking the wrong things of pop music and yet you retort with complaints of "irrelevancy". Asking for pop music to be musically progressive or abstruse is shifting the goal-posts of success to a different, foreign continent. Pop has ingenious music-minds behind it who have excised the 'hit factory' formula down to its bare-bones essentials. Criticising pop music because it isn't working in some aleatory, Cageian idiom is not what I'd call 'good criticism'. I mean, I'm upset that my toaster can't freeze lollipops, but I'm not going to rant about it...

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Steve
Jan 18, 2014 8:31pm

1.I never said a thing about irrelevancy. In fact, it's a word that I think should never be used when discussing art.

2.It's not that I think that pop should be musically progressive. It normally is not. However, I object to people applying their own pretentious fantasies to music that is bland and meaningless.

3. Complaints about the lack of musical sophistication in modern pop is entirely valid. The pop of, say, the mid 60s features more complex songwriting, more rhythmic and melodic variation, and more interesting playing. It is just as facile, but the dedication to craft, both compositionally and performance wise, is something that has been rendered obsolete (for the moment) by the assembly line production of generic voices and lazy programming.

4. If you're upset that your toaster can't freeze lollipops you should seek counseling.

5. I expect so-called critics to be able to recognize that modern pop is nothing more than product, and that it signifies nothing more than the desire of corporations to make as much money as possible.

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Feb 10, 2014 12:39pm

I think the problem with articles like this is the assumption that all of us can't get enough of top 20 pop/r&b/hip-hop, all of which are just as guilty of conservatism in various guises than landfill indie. I strongly disliked the Kaiser Cheifs (new Labourite divvies - 'A-man-in-a-tracksuit-attaaaacked me!!!!! Good!) Kings Of Leon (21st century Mungo Jerry) and Razorlight (21st-century Razorlight), but that doesn't mean I want gutiar music buried. Personally I would love to see a new very modern form of rock - There are plenty of untapped influences as a starting point - MBV, Mogwai, ' OK Computer ' (as oppossed to 'Wonderwall'), Slowdive etc. If the best we have to look forward is an ex-child star writhing around in white knickers just to prove shes's not dull as shit then you're very welcome to the 'brave new era'.

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baggieboy
Mar 6, 2014 5:33pm

Pop music is popular music. People like what they like. End of. Trying to work out why Miley Cyrus and Katy Perry sell isn't worth bothering about. I am 51 and still play ABC' s Lexicon of Love regularly. So what? I hate rap but play 'Love in an Elevator' now and again...I must be weird.

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Mark Kochan
Jan 27, 2015 8:09am

Came across this looking for essays on modern pop and why it is so vanilla, and its a good essay though a touch idealistic as i doubt the masses of partying teens have utopia or collectivism in mind. However Wikipedia Youtube and so forth are creating the foundations of a truly equal education, the base of any productive society whether equalist or nay. I hear pop and think its bubble music... not thinking in terms of future past etc but the hedonism you describe. Youth culture or resignation at our inability to improve our world visibly and with obvious cause and effect but also the corporate nature of selling to the present and bugger the future. I should say that i am not an optimist, and my ideal asgard is not a democratic diplomatically agreed to design, that utopias tend to sound hedonistic as the partying pop listeners, gratifying rather base needs but to great extents. I suppose the key is education. When you learn you are just another sucker buying corporate photocopy songs that stale faster than milk you react by seeking to become individual and satisfy your inner self. But in a society of equality nobody lives romantically and you just have whatever amusement everyone else has, this is why capitalism motivates. Anyone can argue we should end this or create that, but once all our desires are met and all live equally nobody has a reason to live as a rebel or infividual, and we become a new sort of cog in a new kind of machine. Its interesting how pop now contains seas of chaff and very little of worth yet how refreshing an eighties song is, though pop. What amazes me is how easy it would be to make pop that you could bear to listen to, yet they all make a noise, a distraction.

Having said all that i doubt in future given the internets ability to give the smallest acts space that pop will die. just my prediction.

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