“Rock music died in the ‘90s.” Agree or Disagree with Old Man Flea?
OK, “Old Man Flea” is a bit of a stretch. After all, he pioneered one of the most prolific rock groups in recent history, Red Hot Chili Peppers, as well staked out his claim in the world of modern bass playing not to mention racking up multitudes of side projects and guest appearances. Flea just might speak the truth.
This past Sunday, Flea took some time to talk to colleague and fellow living legend Pearl Jam’s guitarist, Mike McCready. McCready hosts a radio show on Sirus XM’s Pearl Jam Radio and frequently discusses hot topics in rock music with members of the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
During the show Flea discussed his take on the state of the rock music today. As transcribed by Alternative Nation, he stated that he “looks at rock music as a dead form in lots of different ways.”
In summation, Flea reflected on the uphill climb of coming up as a rock star when he was a kid and the oppression of everyone telling him to grow up and get a job. A rock band was a way for the weird kids to find refuge and simultaneously reflect and rebel. In his eyes, the rock industry today is way more soft and image-based. “Oh great, let’s get you an image consultant, and a lawyer, and a manager, and let’s see what we can do here. It’s a great money making opportunity for you junior,” he told McCready.
There are two sides to every story and this is certainly no exception. For one, we live in a digital world where instant gratification is one click away. While digging in crates and word of mouth used to be the most common practice for discovering new music, now you can click on your favorite streaming service for the next greatest thing (be honest—when was the last time you listened to an album straight through and on repeat?) and even have personalized algorithms that curate new discoveries that are tailored to past listens. In the “olden days” (‘90s and earlier), bands would have to hit the streets promoting their shows, hanging posters, and frankly, not suck on stage to get recognition and make it big. These days, you can get by (enough…) by creating a Facebook event and entering a code to invite your friends to the show (except when Facebook puts 500 person limits on said invites and will consequently put you in FB jail if you exceed your limits). We’d by lying if we said that ALL bands out there had the grit that many of these artists used to.
We are also inundated with music blogs, magazines, publications, internet radio stations, and more that can get your band publicity and at least a little play. Record labels are no longer a make or break factor and in fact, many bands these days prefer to be independent as they know they have the network and resources to sustain themselves and do it their way. In some sense, bands have more autonomy these days when they are not at the mercy of their label.
And sometimes it’s being in the right place at the right time and having the right connections. The adage, “it’s not what you know it’s who you know,” rings loud and clear when big rock star’s second cousin’s bush league band can hop on tour with a heavy-hitting touring act just because of the connection.
When it comes to straight ahead “rock music,” Flea may have a point when he says true rock is “dead.” Music technology makes artists able to self-record and produce records. Electronic music is alive and well because of this. Full bands used to dominate the scene and now there are major festivals where the headliners are simply a dude or two pressing space bar. No matter how good this music is, it certainly lacks the tenacity and showmanship as full bands and telling the crowd to “put their f***ing hands in the air!” This also allows genres to be bent to the point of distortion and it can lack clarity. Thrash metal death rock? Dubby space jazz? Electro-robot-funk? The “possibilities” are endless and bands seem to get away with being deemed as whatever they want to be. Maybe all this traces back to the advent of MTV and video killing the radio star? Must bands appeal to the lowest common denominator in order to garner success? Regardless of theory, things sure as heck aren’t like they used to be.
Our take is that there is certainly rock music that is alive and well and you’d have to be jaded beyond belief or living in a cave to think otherwise. Artists from “back in the day” such as Guns ‘N’ Roses ,The Misfits, and LCD Soundsystem (….and do we hear rumors of a Rage Against the Machine reunion?!) are reuniting and causing quite the hype-worthy stir. There’s something out there that makes them want to dive in head first again. Artists like Leon Bridges and Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats have spearheaded a gritty soul-rock revival. Queens of the Stone Age are crushing it and even acts like Vampire Weekend have carved out a nice little niche in the scene.
This is certainly a debatable topic that gets your gears spinning. What are your thoughts on the current state of rock music? We’d certainly love to hear our readers’ input on the matter!