In the comments to my post about our tastes for pop music being set when we’re teens, more or less, Gene said: “OK, but ALL pop music is retro now – there haven’t been any cultural changes in more than 20 years, which is unprecedented since pop culture entered its modern phase in the early 20th century.”
I would have agreed with him until my daughter started in middle school. There she met a whole cohort of teen musicians. These guys (in this case they’re all guys) play piano and guitar and saxophone and drums and sing really well, but in their spare time they write and record dubstep.
And I have friends whose sons also record dubstep and go to EDM concerts where all the music is spun by djs with computers. I know, I know, we hate this sort of music, but to say that ALL pop music is retro now misses the point that the pop music that is listened to by the youth today sounds like nothing I’ve ever heard before.
Most of it, hey-get off my lawn, doesn’t even sound like music.
I listened to this and I can see why they like it. It’s functional aural wallpaper for mutants. We’re all mutants now. But dubstep goes back to the 90’s. I don’t know that it’s 20 years old but it’s more than 15.
I think my point is indisputable. There aren’t even new subcultures. Maybe there are some, but I don’t hear about them or see them on the streets, and there are plenty of students around here, and I talk to lots of them. Not to mention my children and their friends. Maybe cool subcultures ripe for pollination (and exploitation) exist in other countries, but since fart jokes flood the world in seconds these days, if something new and exciting is going on it has yet to capture the yoots. I find this interesting and I wonder what it means. Something about ennui and mental exhaustion I would venture. I think it was always true that the vast majority of the human race has their rails and they run on them. They are what they are and they like what they like. But now I think this is more true, much more true.
And for good reason: people are so bombarded with sight and sound that if they ever get a break they fall asleep in minutes. Hell, most people fall asleep TO it. “Distracted from distraction by distraction” – that’s TS Eliot, who never dreamed of 2014.
And most of what we are inundated with is pure shit, so the creative response is going to be pure shit. It was no accident that so many bands came out of Cleveland, Detroit, San Francisco and later LA – the kids grew up listening to good music on the radio and responded with good music of their own. And England of course, where pirate radio did the same job even better, and the BBC was pretty good too.
WE’RE DOOMED! But in the meantime there is reggae jazz:
Speaking of cross-pollination…This past year, one of the college classes I taught was to a group of young men from India. We wrapped up a lab a little early so I asked them if they could recommend a cool pop tune that Indian kids really like. So they huddled and came up with a tune on YouTube.
“Listen to this, sir,” they said (they were unfailingly super-polite, and even sat to attention when I came into the classroom). “This is something we all listen to every day.”
So they started the song, and it was really excellent. It was Low Rider by War.
That’s exactly what I mean, Patrick. Here is something I may have posted before. It came up on my Pandora and grabbed me immediately. It’s about five years old, and while hardly new structurally, instead of drums they use their feet. It’s catchy and at least they are trying.