Once upon a time, musicians used to bring people together to protest, to take a socially conscious stance and ultimately try and change the world. Now, music brings people together in the attempt of making some vacuous fashion statement, or merely because it’s being performed by someone from the telly.
In the 60s, anti-war demonstrations and civil rights movements came bound with the music which sound tracked it, and vice versa. For an example look at the famous footage of Joe McDonald’s rendition of ‘Feelin Like I’m Fixin To Die’ at the 1969 Woodstock festival – that’s sub culture in action. And these artists; The Beatles, Janis Joplin, Bob Dylan, echoed the voices of the scene they were idols to, and by becoming major artists, helped influence mainstream opinion with their music and poetry. Ask a music fan in 1968 why they wouldn’t want to head off to Vietnam, they’d maybe reply: “because love is all you need.” Ask that question today in context with Iraq, and you’d be likely to hear, “I’ve played Call of Duty mate, it’s savage!”
This sway of influence away from music isn’t surprising. Whereas gaming gives you an involved,visceral experience of action in an imaginary world, most rock and pop music of the past ten years has been relatively lifeless. If you’d just popped out of a box, it’s unlikely you’d be able to work out that the Middle East is any kind of contentious issue listening to the Top 40 from 2001.
So why the change? It appears that the baby boomers took all the commercial gains the social revolution offered – a rise of a middle class, supermarkets – and forgot to continue its operations from its original moral basis. This lacklustre attitude has continued through the generations and has stuck to the most recent set of teeny boppers.
During the 80s commercial pop began to far overshadow alternative and ‘subversive’ rock. We can site Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ album (1982) as a defining moment where sheen and inoffensiveness for the sake of mass appeal was cemented into the industry’s consciousness – today, it is still the highest selling record of all time. In the 90s, Britpop almost killed the power of the guitar off as bands such as Oasis took up this pop ethos, despite the fact that The Beatles were idolised by these groups. They seemed to confuse the adoration that the 60s lot had gained from being new and inspiring with that popularity gained by the recent popularists. The ‘alt’ label which came with indie soon made way for stadium hugging mindless, chugging rock. So while Jacko and the rest of the 80s ego manic, super stardom searching pop idols paved the way for music to become an integral part of bland, corporate Saturday night entertainment such as X Factor, Britpop managed to put bands as second fiddle to these – thus creating impetus for bands like Coldplay to form, who inspire audiences with songs like ‘Yellow’, which mean precisely nothing. In fact, bands should never be wanting to be put in the same bracket. Read any NME over the past year or two, and every other new band will found be saying, ‘we want to make pop music’, as if it’s some outlandish idea that a band in the NME would want to be considered alongside Lady Gaga. The problem is, they have been considered in this respect since the late 90s, and it’s the reason that alternative music has been on such a down hill trajectory of late.
The middle class approach which was born from the 60s dream has lead us to now, a point in time where a modern, relevant sub culture is as necessary as ever.
The new all-cutting Conservative government, the steady rise of the far, far right in America and the negative effects of globalisation seem like obvious touchstones for young minds to want to fight against. But in the ultimate irony, the would-be underdogs have continued one streak of the hippy ethos: pacifism. So much so, that they’ve become passive to attacks on the progressive ideals of alternative minds. These ideals were summed up in the 60s with tracks such as ‘These Times They Are A-Changin”, in the 70s with ‘Anarchy In The UK’ and in the 80s with ‘Step On’.
For once in the context of a youth driven subculture, arms should be raised and fists should be clenched. If music, musicians and listeners want music to continue to be as important as it has been in past generations, then we’re going to have to get some fighting spirit.