Here we are in 2016. This January we lost the great British icon David Bowie. He was an integral part of British culture, and his pull went way beyond just his music. Across the pond, Prince left us in April. The mourning of these music greats is a testament to the unique power music has in bringing people together and the impact it has on people’s lives. Music does this in a way no other art form can.
The passing of these universally accepted irreplaceable icons evokes the feeling that there’s nothing defining the Zeitgeist of 2016. The recently released Oasis documentary ‘Supersonic’, which chronicles the band’s rise to arguably their zenith moment (Knebworth ‘96) encapsulates this. There’s still unquestionably great and original music out there but is there anything happening which will have people talking about it in 20 years’ time? To the extent that people still talk about Britpop, and an event like Knebworth now? I doubt it. Yes, there’s Glastonbury and a multitude of other festivals happening every year, but a large proportion of the line-up (at least on the Pyramid stage) is made up of acts who are trying to relive their glory days.
Why the nostalgia
Why is this then? Why are we so much looking backwards trying to relive the past instead of living in the moment? Well, nostalgia is a common human tendency, and always has been. Great bands of the past have always been revered a generation on. But the rise in more and more band reunions such as the The Stone Roses and Guns n’ Roses poses the questions: Why is nothing grabbing the public’s attention like it used to, on a mass scale? Where are the contemporary rock stars; is there a band that has been formed in the last 5 years that could today fill Wembley? Subcultures still exist, but do any infiltrate the public consciousness to the same extent, and their artists sell in the same numbers, like the grunge scene did, or Britpop did? No.
It’s hard not to look past the Internet as an explanation for this. It’s the age of instant gratification. No longer is buying music an event. It used to be all about going to the record shop, shifting through some albums, making your decision, taking the record home, taking it out of its packaging, admiring the cover artwork and putting it in your CD/tape (amend according to age) to listen to the album for the first time.
We all know that it’s not like that anymore. There has been a revival in recent years of vinyl, which can probably be explained by hard-core music lovers dissenting against the new way of listening to music and trying to recapture the glorious past, but predominantly, it’s all about creating playlists and streams on Spotify and the like.
Is digital music convenient for the listener? Without a doubt, is it good for the artist? No way.
Firstly, as streaming is prevalent in lieu of buying records, the actual revenue possibilities for new bands starting up are a lot less than they used to be. The money a band may get for having their song streamed, in comparison to having their record bought, doesn’t even compare. It’s more important than ever now for a band to build up a loyal fanbase for them to make it. In a sense, the advent of social media has given acts a whole other avenue to grow in popularity. But on the other hand, with thousands of songs now available at a click of a button, there is less of a tendency for people to linger on a single artist or band. People are more likely to give something a quick listen and then move on to the next song.
Can this trend be reversed? It’s doubtful. Back in 2000, Metallica took Napster to court amidst an uproar, protesting against the downloading of their music for free on the service. Ostensibly, it looked like a stadium rock band getting greedy and trying to do over the good guys. Big rock bands of the day such as Deftones and Limp Bizkit criticised the move, with Deftones lead singer Chino Moreno saying: “It’s not like Metallica need any more money than they’ve got” But in hindsight, Metallica may have had a point. As drummer Lars Ulrich put it, a few years after the episode: “I saw that idiot from Deftones saying shit about me”, he continued: “”Do we need any more money? No, we’re fine. Thank you for asking about my financial situation but I’m taken care of for ten fucking lifetimes. I’m cool, everything’s fine. Is it possible this could be about something else?” That ‘something else’ is even more relevant now, than when it was said 16 years ago. Napster eventually relented and turned into a fee-paying service, but the prevalence of listening to music for free (illegally), or for a low monthly fee (legally) on the Internet has been growing ever since.
Has the instant gratification age of the Internet caused a general malaise? It’s debatable. There’s still great music out there, but the Internet has caused sub-cultures to be fragmented, and simply, not enough acts eager to make it. There’s not enough fire in the bellies of the acts of today, or the Internet has had such a detrimental effect on new bands that they can’t make it. Has Definitely Maybe been repeated as debut album by a British band since? The Arctic Monkeys debut maybe comes within distance, but that’s it. Is the trend irreversible? Without wanting to end on a sour note, it’s hard not to think that it is. The bubble has burst; great bands will always be formed to the day that music (and presumably humankind) ceases to exist, but sadly perhaps, the best days are behind us.