The Death of Music?

By shane

Ah, yes, a new column for a brand new, spiffed-up site. Hopefully you like the look of Excellent Online V 2.0. We couldn't be happier with the response and support that you all have given us over the past year - makes me all warm-n-fuzzy-like. Seriously, though, we're receiving HUNDREDS, almost thousands, of hits daily, and all it does it make us even MORE determined to become your #1 source for UK music-related activities. But the question one must ask oneself this season: Are there any activities WORTH writing about right now?

Everyone's been talking lately about "the death of music." Why it's in such bad shape, how/if it's going to right itself, and what (if anything) needs to be done about the current scenario. It's very interesting to see this sort of extreme questioning coming from music critics on both sides of the pond... I've been reading several stateside columns and articles on the so-called "Slump of 98," and I now I read in NME that British music is "going up in flames."

Now, I'm a fairly optimistic bloke. In a case like this, normally I'd just go, "Well, yeah, we're in a bit of a slump, it'll right itself," and promptly just amuse myself traversing through my back catalogue for a couple of months. But this time, things just feel a wee bit... different. Strained. Awkward. BAD.

Let me start from the beginning, or at least from the moment that it was drilled in my head that we could be seeing a VERY bad trend. Two weeks ago, my local alternative radio station received some pretty bad news. In a medium market with several competing stations, they ended up next to last overall, beating only an AM sports station. As a result, last week it ceased to be an alternative station -- in a rather ugly crossover, it's now Top 40 bound.

Now, really, should this bother me? Shouldn't. I mean, this was a very typical Amerk alternative station, complete with Dave Matthews, the Gin Blossoms, Alanis, and other denizens of the third plane of Hell. So why should I care? I shouldn't, right? But I DID care -- a great deal, in fact. Because I realized that IF and WHEN the next Brit Indie band gets their chance of breaking the States, it sure as hell won't in MY town, because now there's not a station to support it. And that kinda creeped me out. I mean, what IF we ARE beyond a slump in music, what IF we've reached an irreversible point of downfall?

I know the following to be true:


  • Alternative music as a whole in the United States is officially a dying fad. Top 40 and urban radio stations are generally beating the crap out of alternative/modern rock stations -- it's a failing format, just pick up a Billboard or Gavin, you'll see what I mean.
  • Album sales in the US are insanely low, unless of course you're referring to the Titanic soundtrack, Master P, or the Beastie Boys. Mega-big artists like U2, Madonna, Eric Clapton, and the Smashing Pumpkins are barely making a dent with their latest offerings.
  • Meanwhile, in the UK, album sales are even LOWER, and you've got major events like the Phoenix Festival being cancelled due to low ticket sales. When New Order ALONE -- not to mention the 40 other bands that were on the bill -- can't sell out a British festival, you know that things are flipped.

So what's this all mean? Well, it means simply that a change is a-gonna come. Let's look at the US charts for a minute. What are the unenlightened masses listening to nowadays?

Well first off, you've got the ultra-unbelievably horrific BOYBANDS. The Backstreet Boys... N-Sync... (shudder.) Just what we need, NewER Kids on the Block for the 90's. And yeah, I realize that the roots of these bands can be traced to the UK (see Take That, Boyzone and the female equivalents of the Spice Girls and All Saints,) but let the blame fall where it may: this music is a serious regression.

And then comes the WORST trend of the year: SWING MUSIC. Now, okay, I'm not into the stuff, so I can't justifiably go, "This is crap," cause for all I know, the Cherry Poppin' Daddies could very well be the best swing band in the history of time. Point is: Why the hell is it on our Top 40 radio stations? The swing movement should ONLY serve as a WARNING and be a blaring siren to the record executives and musicians of the world: "THE KIDS WANT SOMETHING DIFFERENT, AND RIGHT ABOUT NOW, THEY'LL LISTEN TO ANYTHING." I mean, regardless of what you think of swing music, the simple truth is: When kids are turning to a sound that's as old as their grandparents, you know there's a problem. Kraftwerk are probably aghast.

So where does that leave us? Well, you could take the pessimistic stance and go, "Game over." Music is headed into a downward spiral from which there is no recovery.

But logic tells us otherwise. Music has survived for an awful long time. From the days when Mr. Ugbug of Cave #3 inadvertently cut the world's first house groove while banging on a mammoth hide, music has always been a vital part of mankind's need to express ourselves artistically. And it's NOT gonna just up and piss off just because a bloke at NME hits the "overreact" button.

Alan McGee (head of Creation Record) says in the same issue that the future of music is the Internet. Yeah, right.

Reasons That the Internet is NOT the future of music:

  1. Quality. MP3's, as nice as they may sound, are a pain in the arse to get. RealAudio lets you quickly listen to music tracks over the Internet... in ALMOST as good quality as an AM transistor radio.
  2. Legality. Even if MP3 technology and speed improve, they'll most likely make it illegal before then anyways. Look at the BBC site -- now we can't listen to the Evening Session because somebody discovered (gasp!) you can RECORD RealAudio! (So that you can hear that delicious AM transistor radio sound OVER and OVER again!)
  3. Accessibility - Look, folks, we're a LONG way away from The Internet In Every Home. I know people who havn't even upgraded to CD yet, let alone personal computers.

Brit Indie music has a wonderful habit of "fixing itself" during low ebb times. Remember 1993? Manchester (the-scene-that-wasn't) had long since waned away, and the British press had pretty much drilled the final nail into the coffin of Shoegazing. NME and the Maker were covering bands like Huggy Bear and S*M*A*S*H to people who really didnt "get it." And lo, along comes Brett Anderson and the infamous "bisexual who's never had a homosexual experience" quote, and suddenly it was ON again. Suede pretty much shoved a much-needed hot poker right up the arse of the British music industry, and then we rolled right on into the Britpop era.

Proving that all we need is a little motivation. We need a SUPERTALENT to pick up the slack that Oasis and Blur have left us. Oasis, as much as I still like 'em, are pretty much done, unless Noel can make a miracle of a new album. Blur have always had the uncanny ability to escape the quagmire of bad press and negative backlashing, and as a result, they'll be spending the next year holed up and figuring out how to redefine themselves once more in order to remain the ONLY band I can think of who are critically acclaimed AND Smash Hits cover stars at the same time.

Which leaves us with who to lead the race into the Millenium? The Verve? Nope -- they won't make it that long, and even if they do, they'll become disinteresting with time. Radiohead? Nope -- too eclectic and Ol' Wonky Eye (yep, I stole that from an old NME review, but I love it still) just isnt 100% superstar material. The Manic Street Preachers? Not unless Richey Edwards leaps onstage with them at Reading. Embrace? Pshaw. The Boo Radleys? Well, I AM allowed to dream...

Point is, there's really no one band in England right now that's poised to conquer the globe anytime in the near future. So, we're going to have to explore the scenes a bit. We're going to hear some awfully bad music. And we're going to hear some pretty good music. And, after a while, someone is going to hear THE music. The next New Order, the next Morrissey, the next Suede, the next Blur, the next Oasis... it WILL happen, folks, just like it's happened time and time again.

So essentially what I'm saying is, STOP WHINING, journalists of the world. Like those prophets of yore, REO Speedwagon, once said, we've just got to ride the storm out. Eventually it'll get interesting again. Always does.

And what of the American trend of "alternative" dying off? All the better. It was destined to be a fad from Day One. All this means is that we're going to loop right back to the late 80's, when Brit Indie kids at my college, who were ONLY friends with one another and no one more, gathered in ritualistic fashion around the only TV on campus with cable every Sunday night to watch 120 Minutes and scream about exactly WHEN Morrissey "lost it," yell at Dave Kendall for not being "true Brit," and reel in horror when a Soundgarden video would come on. Sure, it might take a little more effort in the coming years to procure imports, to get information about artists, and get to see shows... which are precisely some of the very concerns that caused US to create this site -- to make it easier for YOU to enjoy the music that's forever going to make our armhairs stand on end and scream like Jack Dangers, "THIS is what it's all about."

We're not in a slump -- we've just opened the book to a blank page. It's not a low point in music evolution -- it's the Dawn of a New Age. And what will that age be? Well, if I knew, I'D probably be the one writing for NME. But I'll be in the front row when it gets here, I can tell you that much.