Monday, 13 August 2012

Music History Lesson for the Digital Age 2.0

Fresh thoughts fermented from the blackened pool of rotting ideas and information that live in my brain.

I'm entirely obsessed with patterns. Human beings are good at patterns, but filtering out the inefficient ones and seeing working patterns is the sign of true human intelligence. Science exists to accurately predict and measure mechanisms which can be, to all intents and purposes, abstracted to the level of patterns. Examples are notable in Nobel prize winners. Einstein defined that energy and matter are the same thing - he discovered that pattern and expressed it elegantly. Ditto DNA. Ditto evolution.
Patterns, right?
My biggest hobby in life is to spot patterns in history - musical and social to be precise. Someone pointed out to me today that the rap game appears to have finally changed. Instead of vivid dreams of ice ‘n’ asses, there is more meaning in the music. He pointed to Lil B in particular. It’s worth quoting in full:
“As I listen to the new Lil B, it’s become clear that the rap game is finally changing. He’s not the greatest rapper by far and wouldn’t last a second in cypher (old school rules) but the cypher has changed. It’s not on the street, it’s on the internet and if you have substance of some kind that resonates, you’re the hot one. I can’t believe it’s taken this long for people to stop eating the bullshit ice fantasies.” - John Michael Garcia of CREEPING WAVE 
He’s got a point. But like I always contest - this has happened before. It’s taken roughly 25-30 years to get to this point in what could be termed the modern era of hip-hop. Obviously there’s not a clear cut-off - there never is with these things - but we’ll put the timeline there for arguments’ sake.
The same thing happened in rock music. For convenience we’ll put the timeline at about 1952 - basically when Rock began to move away from Skiffle and Blues and become a distinct art form. The basic rock song was always about dancing, getting in with the girls, fast cars drinking, and later on drugs. Outsiders that were popular generally remarked upon social issues too. Roughly the same pattern as hip-hop - you had radicals writing protest songs but they were usually ghetto-ised and singular characters. These groups and individuals were frowned upon in their own community for becoming “serious” when their youthful music was about getting teens to have a good time - right?
(Bear with me - it’s going somewhere, honest)
Instead of being completely static, people always wanted MORE. Bigger tours, bigger stage shows, bigger songs, bigger concepts. Big. Aspirational. larger than life. Lots of people would argue that these ebbs and flows had more to do with sexuality and economics than anything to do with musical culture - largely because those people don’t understand musical culture in the least. People involved in music scenes get bored - this is rule number one of being involved in making music. The people in the rock scene got bored with three chords and songs about rockin’ around the clock, or Californian girls etc.
Enter David Bowie and Black Sabbath - bizarrely around the same time. Sabbath came in with big fucking slabs of guitar noise and scary imagery. Bowie came with visions of space and the future as predicted by George Orwell - bigger concepts than those of gettin’ drunk ‘n’ gettin’ laid, right?
Move further down the line - prog rock, EVEN BIGGER. EVERYTHING HAD TO BE BIG WITH POINTY HATS, ALL THE INSTRUMENTS IN THE WORLD AND DRAGONS! Decadence of the highest order - from concept to full-blown fantasy.
Then punk appeared. 3 chords and the truth. Outsiders. Back to the old days. Only not - it was all still massively external. This is where post-punk really outshines to this day, roughly 25-30 years on from the start of the modern era of rock. 
Post-punk/goth/new wave/new romantics/industrialists/whatever came along. They made it OK to write about personal shit - shit inside your head. None of this going out and stuff. Freudian music about battles of the psyche, about things that bother them, not that they SHOULD bother anyone else (John Lennon I’m looking at you).
This is roughly - give or take a few memes - what has happened with hip-hop and rap. Early days took wrote about social issues (generally outsider groups) but also about getting fucked up. The latter quickly became the most prominent until bitches and cash and dissin’ and cussin’ etc really was the soup of the day for most rap artists. More and more it’s been OK to rap about personal fucked up shit about what’s inside your head.

Everything goes from external to internal expression content within music (and from sparsity to decadence to a violent reaction against decadence and back again). Take any period, any genre, any fucking YEAR and I you can see this pattern manifest in a scene, regardless of economic wellbeing of a scene and the gender issues of the day. Everything begins with posturing and moves on to personalisation.
Any problems with the above, let me know. Or questions (I have an “ask me” button for a reason). I will kindly provide several more examples in depth.
PS. Next time we’re gonna talk about styles and melting pots in music. Or the death of the CD (since it’s pretty plain that vinyl is now here to stay and no-one thinks a CD is pretty).
PPS. Honestly this could’ve been better I just got bored towards the end.

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