mon 11/12/2017

Opinion: Can we please kill off the guitar as cultural icon now? | reviews, news & interviews

Opinion: Can we please kill off the guitar as cultural icon now?

Opinion: Can we please kill off the guitar as cultural icon now?

Has the six-stringed axe had its day as an emblem of vibrant hipsterdom?

Smash the guitar but the myth keeps coming back

There's been a lot of waffle lately about rock'n'roll being dead. This is down to mainstream radio turning its back on guitar music in favour of a stew of electro-pop and R&B, and the fact that just three spots in the Top 100 UK bestselling singles (ie downloads) of 2010 were held by rock songs (for the record, Journey's "Don't Stop Believing", Train's "Hey, Soul Sister" and "Dog Days are Over" by Florence + the Machine). Whenever this sort of media babble starts, it's time to run for cover because there's undoubtedly another tedious wave of guitar bands waiting gleefully in the wings.

There's been a lot of waffle lately about rock'n'roll being dead. This is down to mainstream radio turning its back on guitar music in favour of a stew of electro-pop and R&B, and the fact that just three spots in the Top 100 UK bestselling singles (ie downloads) of 2010 were held by rock songs (for the record, Journey's "Don't Stop Believing", Train's "Hey, Soul Sister" and "Dog Days are Over" by Florence + the Machine). Whenever this sort of media babble starts, it's time to run for cover because there's undoubtedly another tedious wave of guitar bands waiting gleefully in the wings.

The guitar, then, is not dead. Far from it. But, as an icon, it should be. This time round we're promised in certain quarters that London band The Vaccines will lead the charge and one Brit broadsheet arts section has already devoted its front page to the battlecry, "Is 2011 the Year of the British Guitar Band?" Who knows? Maybe it will be, but that doesn't make it any more interesting. I would suggest that rather than accepting popular music is cyclical and that every few years there will be a guitar band revival, we actively discourage such retrogressive nonsense.

Come on, the guitar was dead nigh on 20 years ago. Nirvana were the last guitar band worth anything in the greater symbolic scheme of things. They finished off a job Chuck Berry began 40 years before, 40 glorious years of rock'n'roll. Every amped-up rock group since has essentially been a pastiche. Britpop was a media construct, an accumulation of witless hype by nostalgist music journalists unable to get to conceptual grips with the electronica and rave that truly represented young 1990s Britain. The gigantic week-long rave near Castlemorton in Worcestershire in May 1992 said more about the times than anything Ocean Colour Scene ever mustered. The government responded to Castlemorton as a socio-cultural threat, as rock'n'roll had once been, rushing in new legislation to combat "repetitive beats". Meanwhile Blur vs Oasis was a cosy Horlicks item to cuddle up with at the end of News at Ten.

libertinesAs for The Strokes and The Libertines, those twin Noughties saviours of indie, it seems staggering that such a photocopy of a caricature of a rip-off of a parody could wash with anyone. But it did and, indeed, does. Futuristic music keeps having to retreat before tides of guitar bilge, each new wave more tepid and transparently unoriginal than the last. It's not such a problem when the guitar is safely in its niche - heavy metal, blues, country and western and so on - that's where it belongs, but when it's presented by the media as an exciting development, it's hard to stomach.

Ever since Kraftwerk first began experimenting with synthesisers the guitar has not been at the vanguard. While Seventies punk was a fabulously gnarly explosion where guitars were given raucous, dissonant character, it was electronic musicians who walked through the doors punk opened and broke new ground, from Cabaret Voltaire to Soft Cell to any number of others. By the time acid house arrived in the late Eighties, the jig was up. Even that bastion of guitars, the NME, pictured the Sheffield techno act LFO on their cover smashing up guitars. What a pleasing sight. That felt truly punk, a sea change within the enclosed world of pop culture. Cool, right? Now let's move on. But no one was ready to. They're still not. The romance that clings to the guitar appears immovable.

It didn't take long for the iconic instrument of pop to cease being the trumpet and become the guitar

Once upon a time, jazz was pop music. Whether orchestra, musical theatre or touring band, jazz ruled the roost from the beginning of the 20th century until the rise of rock'n'roll. It didn't take long, however, for the iconic instrument of pop to cease being the trumpet and become the guitar. Even if we allow for the fact that the initial mid-Fifties rock'n'roll explosion was dismissed as a fad, by 1963 and the rise of The Beatles, the guitar was centre stage, shorthand for everything that was young, hip and happening, the essential implement for every starving young musician in the Western world. How long, then, must we now wait for it to be replaced in popular iconography, to be regarded as retro chic? Surely, in an era when everyone appears so willing to fetishise multiple shiny i-mechanisms from Apple Computer Inc, such a demise can only be just round the corner?

lady_gagaOf course, this whole argument is slightly facetious, kicking up dust, sparring, easy to tear a hole in, but at its core is a solid point: just because we've had a couple of years with contemporary-sounding music at a popular consensus doesn't make it a flailing act of youthful rebellion to, once again, pretend to be The Who. When you see Lady Gaga performing, it looks a bit like sci-fi pop as conceived in "what the future will look like" films and features 20 or 30 years ago. When you hear the elegant ambient oddness of, say, Nicolas Jaar, your ears grasp a snatch of what music might be like in another 20 or 30 years. Catch almost any rising indie band, on the other hand, and everything is borrowed, every lick, every riff, every tic and move. Squint and you could be watching a gig from the Sixties or Seventies. It's a lame, unimaginative option compared to the strange wonderful music pouring out of too many micro-scenes to mention (OK, dubstep for starters).

I don't hate guitar music. I love it. But the guitar as icon is now akin to one of those bands that misestimates its encores. The crowd enjoyed the first couple but now these endless returns to the stage are a bore. Get off. Let us consign the guitar as emblem of youthful, pop-cultural snap to the past and rush forward with open arms to see what's really new.

Ever since Kraftwerk first began experimenting with synthesisers the guitar has not been at the vanguard

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As ever you are looking at things through the cosy eyes of the Guardian or some other London based media luvvie broadsheet. Indie music is a not where its happening. Metal is bigger and far more innovative The Libertines and the Strokes are both minnows in the guitar world. Groups like Green Day, Offspring and even AFI sold millions more records. Metal bands like System Of A Down re-invenetd guitar music and were much bigger- typical of the media luvvies you have no idea about the broad picture of music.

I totally agree that the guitar as an icon is getting pretty tired, but I think there are a fair few solid technological reasons underlying its popularity (and I'd argue , uniqueness) as a performance instrument (and hence its status as a recurring cultural icon, which I'd argue won't recede until there's a new set of instruments which are better than it). I'd argue that really one needs to adress this (and maybe suggest solutions) - because the guitar doesn't need removing, it needs replacing. The electric guitar offers a pretty unique performance opportunity for (a non-technologically minded person at least)- it's a loud, cheap, robust, polyphonic instrument capable of playing lead lines or entire (conventional) songs, which is very easily sonically manipulable but at the same time allows for a great degree of expressiveness, (and also allows feedback techniques, preparation and other experimental methods to be used pretty easily). Prior to the advent of the electric guitar, the trumpet was the icon because it had many of these features- but the guitar simply offered more features (primarily polyphony and more sonic manipulation possibilities). I'd be interested in what you think is likely to replace it- all the current replacement options still look either very techy and fiddly, or don't offer enough flexibility, I think...

There's also the whole undreground scene of heavy "art-core"-esque guitar bands who are bubbling just under the surface, doing new and innovative things with FX pedals, drum beats, dischordance, frightning lyrics, crazy front men, fashion and excruciating chic. Or what about the wave of loop based guitar acts, making huge, brand-new, crashing sound-scapes with little more than an acoustic, a mic, some effects and a loop pedal. As you've illustrated, the guitar as an icon has changed over the years: from blues, through jazz, through rock, through prog, through punk, through metal, through indie... and onward. What unutterable arrogance to assume that it should die out in your zeitgeist - as has always been the case, the guitar as an icon will simply be re-invented... it's already happening, and it's not a change which is media driven; they merely ride the crest of the wave. All this article proves is that you're massively out of touch with what's actually happening out there. Get yourself to some proper underground gigs and then try to tell me the guitar is dead.

Agree with Bill and Matt. There is sort of a valid point in this article but "the guitar" is not the problem. Indie music should be the real target here. It has been dead on its arse for years. Every new band that that gets touted as "the next big thing" is even more boring than the last. The real irony is that indie music never really knew what to do with a guitar in the first place. That Johnny Marr gets hailed as some sort of guitar hero and innovator is simply hilarious. Metal is bigger and far more diverse and than it ever has been. And there is a whole scene of guitar-based underground experimental music out there which can't be pigeon-holed into nice media-friendly genres which is a hell of lot more interesting than anything happening in the world of indie right now.

I always laugh when some media pundit tells the world, "Rock Is Dead!" because it has never happened once in the history of music. Wishful thinking? More like a ploy to prepare people for the next wave of industry friendly unit shifting pop bands who will leech teenagers pocket money from them and attract screaming teegage girls in droves. Music is not something that should be led by the recording industry, but people seem to like being told what to like, and with Radio, TV and Internet advertising costing three times as much as the cost of making an album, im not surprised! Metal keeps getting mentioned as far as guitar based music goes, and being that Ive listened to metal since the early 1980s (Thin Lizzy, Kiss and Iron maiden were my way into my love of the guitar) and so far, the music has never let me down when it comes to innovation, nd believe me, iver seen it all come and go and come back again. The Guitar will always be around, and If youre willing to just put up with the commercial face of music, you will never see the big picture for yourselves. Ignore claims that guitars should be put to death as cultural icons. It means less than nothing.

you seem to forget the thousands of Electronic / Disco / House / Techno artists that merely copy and re-use and rehash ideas from the 80s and 90s. I think your guitar bashing is misguided. there is crap music everywhere played with a variety of different instruments. Are The XX a guitar band? they certainly use a lot of guitar but were probably one of the most interesting pop groups last year.

Heh. I've been told to comment this instead of grumbling on twitter. Echoing what others have already said, the problem with this article is that it concentrates only on *one* specific kind of guitar music - the Rock (now Landfill Indie-Rock) Guitar. It ignores other threads of guitar-based music entirely - metal was mentioned above, but I'd like to stan for the shoegaze -> dreampop -> ambient -> nu-gaze continuum. (Incidentally one of the genres I love most because it's one where female guitarists from Emma Anderson forward to Alley Deheza were creative forces for guitar-playing innovation.) It's ironic to state that Nirvana "killed" guitar rock dead the same year that saw My Bloody Valentine inventing an entire new genre which dismantled and assembled the guitar as something completely new which *still* has the power to shock 20 years later. But while we're on this topic of memes that must DIE, how about dismantling that tired old trope of "OMG pop music that GURLZ like is so commercial and awful while guitar based RAWK like what teh menz listen to is Proper and Authentick!" Because *that* is a dead horse that needs to stop being flogged oh, about 20 years ago, too.

What a dismal piece of writing. Either the writer is an old man or he is writing like one - much the same thing. And an old man without children, to boot. An old man without children who cannot play an instrument himself. An old man without children, who cannot play an instrument and really likes dubstep. This over-adjectival, thesaurus-heavy kind of writing is a pale shadow of 1970s NME-speak. Woeful. Why don't we consign it to that dustbin full of other such examples of lumpen intelligentsian tosh and rush forward with open arms, etc, etc.

Poor Thomas can't get The Vaccines and I suspect has never 'got' guitar bands which are very much at the centre of British music since The Shadows. In fact far from dying out, its very noticeable that the current wave of British artists (or whatever label it has) like MIA, Tinie Tempah and Plan B all play in front of good old rock bands, guitars to the fore. One reason why they've gone mainstream?

As someone who has a passion for the synthesizer and pop in general I enjoyed reading this article because I hate all rock, hate the guitar and think rock has had its day. Hard rok, heavy rock, punk rock, heavy rock and so on are just load tuneless garbage without any musical thought and imagination

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