In recent years, there have been many references to the apparent ‘death of guitar music’. This statement appears to be based largely on the fact that, whereas ten or fifteen years ago young bands such as The Libertines and Arctic Monkeys were lighting up the charts and rejuvenating popular culture as a whole, the top 40 has definitively moved onto EDM and pop-based singles.
When all the music you could ever want is at your fingertips thanks to the likes of Youtube, Spotify and illegal torrent sites, the anticipation that comes with the release of the next single or album dissipates. There is no need to queue up outside HMV when you can pre-order on iTunes and listen the minute it’s released, or even before that as the succession of leaks over the past few years has enabled. It is not only music consumption that has changed, but also the way that music itself is made. For decades, musicians were reliant upon getting studio time with the right engineers and producers to hone their sound into its recorded form, but the rapid development of digital technology allows a single person to record a whole album in their bedroom with the help of a laptop and the right software. Obviously this still takes skill and musical talent, but this method, rather than the traditional approach to learning an instrument, may be argued as more appealing to a generation that has grown up around computers.
In spite of all this, it’s hardly time to start planning guitar music’s funeral. There may be no more bitter Britpop chart battles, but the mystique of the rock and roll band remains just as strong. One only has to go to a gig or a festival to see the new guard of musicians and fans alike. In spite of challenging economic circumstances heralding the closure of many iconic venues across the country, there is still a remarkably healthy alternative scene – just have a scroll through Songkick and see how many gigs are taking place every day of the week. For as long as there are open-eared and passionate music fans, there will be bands capable of exciting their interest. Rock music has one of the most cross-generational fan-bases around; whilst pop trends come and go and disco succumbs to EDM, the rock band in all its varying guises lives on. Behind the horde of seventeen year olds at the front you’ll find the ex-punks and rockers equally enthusiastic.
A genre that has always proved influential to popular culture, different incarnations of rock have determined the course and fashions of entire subcultures, from punk to grunge, and have maintained a great capacity for political awareness (even through an overtly apolitical stance) that is often lacking in mainstream pop and club music. A contemporary example of this are South London’s The Fat White Family, whose anti-establishment stance is evidenced by their decision to tackle taboo subjects such as paedophilia and fellatio. You don’t need lyrics about ‘the man’ to voice a challenge to the establishment. From the rock and roll of the 1950s to modern day, each era of guitar music has offered an outlet for the questioning of authority figures and has become a creative form of rebellion.
Guitar music will survive for as long as it is capable of moving people in some way, whether that’s inciting them to sing, to dance, or to riot. One glimpse at the crowd at an NME curated show should silence the naysayers who claim its irrelevance. The number of chart hits a band has had is wholly inconsequential – the relationship between a band and its audience has far greater value. From the effortlessly cool kids at a Palma Violets concert to the cross-generational crowd that amassed for The Who’s headline Glastonbury set, the fans know what they like. It’s here to stay.