Monday, 4 January 2010

BBC Sound Of 2010 Shortlist - Where's The Rock Music ?

This week sees the publication of the BBC Sound of 2010 shortlist / top 5, with the eventual number one being revealed at the end of the week. We will be watching the shortlist with interest to see how the two acts we voted for (Stornoway and Ellie Goulding) that got on the list do. We expect Ellie Goulding to crop up there. We would be delighted but much more surprised if Stornoway made it. At the end of 2009 we posted a blog here about the BBC Sound of 2010 list and in the discussion attempted to explain our voting rationale for the artists we chose. (In essence we said there was no point for voting for an artist that very few voters had heard of as the artist would stand no chance of getting on the list and the vote would be wasted. Likewise we didn't want to vote for just bands we liked that we were sure would get on the list such as Marina and the Diamonds - we'd rather give our vote to a band who had a slight chance of getting on the list but would need every vote, such as Stornoway.) We thought it may be an interesting article for those who are interested or excited by the list, but are not involved in the voting. If you are such a person you may also like to take a look here at an article we wrote this time last year about the BBC Sound Of List and our reaction to cynics who rubbish it. Call it part of this blogs manifesto if you like.

Amongst the comments we received on our blog about the BBC list one person asked why was there no rock music featured. We have to admit in the vast array of artists that we considered voting for from indie to hip-hop, from electronic dance to folk, from pop to soul, there was not one rock band that we thought of. And it would seem that we weren’t the only voter to think this way.

So why does the BBC Sound of 2010 list feature an absence of rock bands? We would suggest that the main reason is that because currently rock music is seen by those who focus on new music as being unfashionable. Music and fashion go hand in hand. Fashion doesn’t ‘wear out’ it ‘goes out’, and arguably at this moment in time rock music has gone out for an extended lunch break. Music, rather like a mobile phone or a computer, is a luxury item that has to undergo stylistic change in order to renew itself to its market. It is reliant on a constant change and development to excite its audience through a high mass media profile. Right now rock music does not have that profile. It has, and has always had a hardcore fan base, but beyond that rock exists on the periphery. Fashion is intrinsically linked to exposure. If a genre of music is considered deeply unfashionable, the media are unlikely to provide significant coverage. If a genre of music is getting little exposure due to its lack of fashionableness it is unlikely to feature in lists such as the BBC Sound of 2010. This would also explain why sometimes an act that makes it onto the BBC Sound of list, in hindsight looks like a poor judgement. Fashion moves on, music moves on, hand in hand.

Of course to just blame fashion for the lack of exposure rock music has received from critics and so called ‘tastemakers’ is a little simplistic. There are no doubt other reasons to. Certainly the selection of persons voting influences artists chosen. There are very few, if any, rock specialists on the panel of voters, whereas other genres do have representation. For example Tim Westwood was there for a guaranteed hip hop vote on the Sound of 2010.

Another reason links back to our previous blog, where we suggested that to get a nomination in the first place an artist has to have had exposure to a significant number of the voters. Our experience is that rock bands, and particularly indie rock guitar bands are a lot less adventurous - and at the risk of being controversial - often significantly lazier, than other acts in the ways that they market and promote their music. As rock is perhaps now to a large extent based in tradition rather than experimentation, the ways that rock bands promote their music is often through old traditional methods such as playing gigs and trying to gain reviews in music magazines. There is nothing wrong with that, and it certainly helps build a profile, but these days there is a multitude of ways of gaining exposure, and by limiting themselves to such a small amount rock bands are less likely to get noticed. We believe hard work and innovation are the keys here.

Ultimately rock music probably doesn’t need to be featured on lists such as the BBC Sound Of List as much as pop or dance artists do. It has now become a classic, traditional form of music that doesn’t rely on such a high media profile. Those who like rock acts will seek out such music irrespective of what the so called 'tastemakers' think.

The beauty of this thing called music is that somewhere out there is probably an amazing rock band being put together that nobody yet knows about. Maybe four kids on the dole, blasting it out in a garage in Oldham, Cardiff or Inverness. When music fashion changes again, as it inevitably will, that band may be there ready and waiting, fully charged to come in to fashion and gain huge exposure. With the right marketing, some sort of unique selling point and a little bit of luck that rock band may then find themselves with a new willing audience, anxious for something that is once again seen as new and exciting. Maybe the BBC Sound of 2011 will be full of rock bands ? Who knows ? We have no idea. But for now, here’s some old school rock music. Phew.



You never said what you consider Rock to be! Do you mean guitar music? Is it an attitude?

If it's that Guns N Roses type of loud (in every sense) music, then that came out over 20 years ago, so why wonder about it's exclusion from the 2010 BBC list?

For more contemporary, evolutions of the old rock example you had Pete Doherty and the excesses. With Bloc Party you had the powerful drumming and guitaring of rock. With Fucked Up there's the noisy aggression. More recently Sleigh Bells rock the party.

Perhaps the faux rock band fable the Darkness killed off the old rock forever?

Personally I don't think it's gone away or gets ignored, you just have to find it in different guises is all. It's just refined itself like all music does.

I went to see Delphic in Oxford the other day and they totally blew the place away with their show. Is that what today's rock looks and sounds like? They were certainly on the BBC list. If so, rock on...


Breaking More Waves Blog said...

Yes good point.

'Why wonder about its exclusion from the BBC list ?' Well, someone asked the question "Where's the rock music," in the comments section of a previous blog and it was a question that got us thinking and hence inspired us to write this article. So that's why.

Like many genres of music rock is harder to define and there will always be grey areas, but we were really talking about music where guitars are the predominant instruments. So Delphic no. The Darkness yes. Bloc Party (of old) possibly yes. Certainly the rock purists we know would say that even Bloc Party aren't rock. Rock like pop is a very difficult word to define.

Agree with you that rock music hasn't gone away, but in terms of mainstream media content and the BBC Sound of List, the guitar led rock music that this article talks about doesn't get as much coverage now as it had in the past. Looking back at previous sound of lists rock music was much more in fashion. Take 2003 for example where bands such as The Datsuns, Interpol and The Yeah Yeah Yeahs all featured. The Datsuns are probably closer to the old school rock riffage of Guns and Roses as we can think.

And although bands such as Guns N Roses came about 20 years ago, as I said in the article music as a product goes hand in hand with fashion, and at some point it will probably become fashionable again.



In response...

Delphic have plenty of guitars. The singer plays bass throughout and the lead guitarist wouldn't be out of place with a Johnny Greenwood comparison. Just check them out live. Their guitars make electronic sounds is all, so you wouldn't know it was that instrument, but believe me the strings are definitely being strum. I think that's the sound and evolution that hiding under the rock where GnR used to be found 20 years ago.

Hair rock, glam rock, heavy rock is shit nowadays, so forget it in its old forms. Leave that to the red neck Americans.

The question shouldn't be where is the rock music in the BBC poll - rather it should be - is rock, as we used to know it, dead, or has it evolved into something new?

I adore your debates though and love your discussions.

Here's another one going on in my circles - Is Brooklyn currently kicking out the most exciting music in the world today? Does 2010 secretly belong to Brooklyn. Just check out the list of bands hailing from there that are pushing things forwards at the moment - Theophilus London, MNDR, Zambri, Sleigh Bells, Sensual Harassment, Small Black, amongst loads of others!

Until the next debate...

Breaking More Waves Blog said...

Having just returned from seeing Delphic - yes I agree with your comments about the guitars, and maybe yes rock has evolved into something new, but then that new evolution also references so many old things (Orbital, Electronic for example).

As I said in my opening post of this year "Pop music has reached middle age. Everything references something else. There are only so many notes, so many sounds and so many combinations of the two to form the creative process."

Evolution in music is now just half a degree to the left or right each time. But it will continue to evolve.

And is rock as we used to know it dead ? My guess would be probably not, musical evolution will probably come full circle at some point. Only time will tell though. For now I say lets enjoy the right here right now.

And yes you're right there's a lot of good music coming out of Brooklyn right now, no question.

And (as you may have realised) one of the purposes (there are actually five purposes, see if you can guess the others) of Breaking More Waves is to encourage a discussion / debate with those who want to join in.

Only through good debate can we move things forward and (without getting too heavy and philosophical) understand our world a little better.

Thanks for your contribution here Mike, always intelligent, and always valued.