‘Music is in trouble. Music has become entrenched in outdated ideals. Music needs your help!’
As a DJ I know the above statements to be untrue: popular music couldn’t be in a stronger position than it is right now. 2013 is already an astonishing year for music, and despite the looming spectre of illegal downloading, music sales are still going strong – as shown by this report from the European Commission Joint Research Centre.
Records and the means to play them have been around since 1890, but following the introduction of gramophones and recordings between 1910 and 1920, the world of popular music was born. Before this, music was heard by playing sheet music or attending a concert; this means that the world of music as we know it, with all it’s corporations, marketing and album launches, is only about a hundred years old. So if you think about it, the decade we’re currently in is the Centenary of popular music, and we better make sure it’s good!
I’m going to use family as an analogy now: if the history of popular music is a family, then New Orleans jazz, and blues like the music of Louis Armstrong or Robert Johnson, are the grandparents; 60′s counterculture music like The Beatles or Beach Boys are the parents; 70′s disco and 80′s new wave are our older cousins or siblings. One hundred years after the phonograph entered homes worldwide, here we are, a generation of upstarts ready to rebel. You’ll hear some journalists stating that music has died, all the chords have been strummed and every riff has been played but in my humble opinion, this is nonsense. We’re the first generation to have an entire 100 years of harmonious history at our fingertips, we have the most incredible back catalogue of inspiration and, soon to be unveiled at Music Tech Fest 2013, we have more technology than you can shake a maraca at. However, are history, inspiration and technology enough or are we now stuck in a constant loop of remakes and cover songs?
The Future is Hybrid
The future of music is in hybrids. Like it or not, we’re in an age now where music is defined by genres and labels, and in the last ten years we’ve seen a rise in the “post” genre: Post-Punk, Post-Rock or Post-Hardcore, as if bands like Sigur Ros are just a sequel to AC-DC or Interpol are just a rehash of The Ramones…Obviously there are elements of what’s come before in everything we do – that’s why it’s called inspiration — but I feel we’re in an age where prefixes like “Post”, “Second Wave” or “Nu” are misleading and could be damaging to musical progression. For music to evolve we need to take the Dr. Moreau approach: we need hybrids.
This year we’ve seen the release of a slew of amazing hybrid albums, Dizraeli & The Small Gods’ ‘Moving In The Dark’, Kid Koala’s ‘Bit Blues’ and Daft Punk’s ‘Random Access Memories’ to name a few. These albums all represent the argument for “hybrid” music by the sheer fact that they not only combine musical styles, but have full understanding and appreciation of the different genres they’re melding together. People have been producing cross-genre covers for decades: we’ve had smooth jazz versions of Metallica and Hungarian pogressive rock versions of Gershwin, but these are just covers, brilliant covers, but covers nonetheless.
What I’m talking about is someone like Dizraeli, who came up immersed in the UK Hip-Hop scene, subsequently discovered the world of folk, and filtered his previous inspirations into that world. It’s not as simple as playing a different style of music or rapping over some folk tunes; it’s about having a true understanding of a movement or the musical theory behind that scene, and incorporating yourself into that.
Dizraeli singing a folk song isn’t enough. Understanding the history of folk music, the tales of minstrels and troubadours and the pastoral nature of the British folk scene is what makes their music a hybrid of folk and hip-hop, or folk-hop if you like.
Daft Punk released an album this year which is a modern dance record conjoined with a deep passion and understanding of 1970′s disco and the retro recording techniques fused with modern technology and knowledge. It’s not just Daft Punk doing Chic, it’s a hybrid of genres and music to create something new and exciting for the future. They broke records in the Spotify streaming polls and made headlines around the world with their admiration for disco, as well as their keen marketing strategy and fusion of contemporary dance & disco music & techniques.
As Grand Wizard Theodore stated in the excellent documentary ‘Scratch‘ by Doug Pray, “You have to know where Hip-Hop’s been in order to know where it’s going, you have to.” A knowledge of the past is integral to the evolution of popular music, and the hybrid movements like folktronica, folk-hop or turntablist blues (like Kid Koala or C2C’s latest albums) are the key to pushing music forward. I’m not saying every folk singer out there should adopt a hip hop beat or that every jazz band should hire a DJ; it’s got to be organic otherwise it’s pointless. We’re about to enter the second century of popular music, it’s an incredibly exciting time to be a music lover and with the return of vinyl and new innovations in recording happening every week, I think we’re in for a euphoric and euphonious century.
What do you think? Is modern music stale? Are we stuck in an endless refrain of The Beatles & Bo Diddley or is hybrid music the way forward? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.