Where is the Rock in Music Going?

Where is the Rock in Music Going?

Darcy Coombs

With the current mainstream music charts dominated by major label pop stars, tightly polished production and electronic beats, you might also be asking yourself the same question. A lack of rock music in the charts is not by any means a new phenomenon, but now the charts seem to be devoid of any sort of ‘guitar music’ at all. 

This question is not taking a stab at the 'machine', nor calling for a revolutionary overhaul of the music business or corporate music. Pop stars have always featured prominently in the charts. It is their respective label’s primary job to make sure you hear them, or, at the bare minimum, hear of them. This question is directed at the genre itself and how it can once again appeal to music majorities the world over, as it has done on countless other occasions.

At the end of the year 2000, 14 of the 18 artists that had a number one album in Australia fell under the category of rock. At the conclusion of 2014, only 9 out of 31 artists (including INXS with a greatest hits album) associated with rock music charted a number one album. Cradled between these artists were acts such as Beyoncé, Taylor Swift, Ed Sheeran, Ariana Grande and Sia, among others, confirming the cyclical nature of pop music and the direction of the popular music scene today. 

But hang on; there has been no shortage of huge rock acts that have released albums to critical acclaim in recent years. Bands like Queens of the Stone Age, The War on Drugs and Tame Impala, amongst many others, continue to churn out fantastic albums. Even locally, bands such as Sticky Fingers, Violent Soho, Pond, The Amity Affliction and Dune Rats have all witnessed their popularity skyrocket over the past few years. 

This then begs the questions: if the quality of the music has remained consistent, what’s the problem with rock? Why has it suddenly stopped appealing to the younger generation of music lovers? And above all, can rock music ever resurrect itself and take over the charts again?

No doubt, there has definitely been a long time between drinks since any rock band has taken over the popular music scene. But if we look back on artists that have done so, the recipe for success is pretty standard.  

*Warning: 90s rock comparison about to be made*

The popular music scene at the end of the 80s shared many similarities to today’s scene. A massive reaction from the explosion of synthetic music was taking place and pop stars like Michael Jackson and Madonna dominated the charts. The music scene was ripe for music filled with angst, displeasure and chaos.

Enter Nirvana, Rage Against the Machine, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden, acts who possessed sound so innovative and pioneering that it completely redefined the sound of rock music for the remainder of the 90s and early 2000s. Limp Bizkit, Puddle of Mudd and Avril Lavigne, you can thank these guys for your careers.

Moreover, the 2000s also saw a number of artists from the realm of rock burst onto the scene with exciting and refreshing takes on this already stacked genre. The White Stripes dominated the popular music scene for years after dropping their full length Elephant in 2003, whilst the Foo Fighters continued to sell out arenas across the globe thanks to their albums One by One (2002) and In Your Honour (2005). Additionally, the charts of the 2000s were littered with rock albums from artists like the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Modest Mouse, Muse and Wolfmother. 

However, thinking back to the majority of rock music put out over the past decade is similar to your grandfather reminiscing for hours on end about how brilliant the good ol’ days were.

Sure, they were some good times, but how about we talk about something else? 

It seem that a lot of the focus in current rock is on reviving the sounds of the past rather than developing something entirely new. One of the sole reasons why the above bands were so successful was because their sounds were new and refreshing. They produced music that was relevant to the context of what had been previously released and pioneering within the musical climate of their time. 

In contrast, wearing your collective influences on your sleeve and attempting to revive a period of music, in any genre, isn’t a determining factor on whether an album or artist is good or bad, popular or unpopular. The Gallagher brothers of Oasis have blatantly stated that they 'compare almost every song they write' to the Beatles and it turned out pretty well for them. 

And with recording equipment, instruments and production gear more accessible to the common musician than ever before, who is anyone to say that rock isn’t due to 'take the power back?'

For rock to progress into something that will excite the musical world of its existence, it has to do what every other popular rock artist did in the past: something new. The beauty of this is that none of us have the capacity to predict when this will occur, let alone what sounds these artists will bring to the table. I suffer torturous excitement in anticipation.

So, please, in the name of all things rock, someone put me out of my misery. 

Darcy Coombs hides behind his computer as the beat scribe for his band Otious. You'll find him voicing his opinions in 'Read'. He also hasn't grown a millimetre since he was 14.