C L A R K  S O R L E Y

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The rock era is over. It's not the stupidity of bad old record labels to blame although god knows they've done their bit. It is over because all art-forms have their day and rock has had its. And what a glorious moment it was leaving a great legacy of recorded works that will last for generations to come.

The rock era is over also because there is now too much of it. It has no scarcity. Every other kid on the block plays guitar and is in a band. So is his dad, possibly the same band. This contrasts the 60s when the genre was new with few numbers. The ground-breaking London scene was made up of a few hundred elite players who would go on to define the world of pop. The older generation then were mostly set apart from it which was much of the attraction.

There are more people doing music now than ever. The greater percentage don't make a living from it of course but do it as an activity. Some might have a Myspace or a blog to complement the activity and to service whatever minuscule following they might have. With this, the necessary relationship that value has with scarcity is lost in the sense that it is no big deal to write songs and make recordings. You can put them out in the world with the click of a mouse. Until fairly recently getting stuff out was a tough business. It required major money and major determination and no small amount of serendipity. Now anyone can. In the anyone-can world where there is no scarcity value is diminished. Or at least the value associated with greatness is diminished. And all art harkens to greatness. The philosopher Jean Baudrillard said that art does not die because there is no more art, it dies because there is too much. That is the rock context. Even when there is vital and original work being done it drowns in the sea of mediocrity that surrounds it.

This is why the rock era is over. But does it matter given that all forms have their moment and pass? I don’t think so. As they pass, the defining works become richer as posterity bestows them the tag of greatness. This happened with classical music and jazz. It is happening now with rock. It is not to say there isn't contemporary quality around as some assert. Actually there is quality and talent everywhere as good as ever. It is just that the context has changed. And context is king. Mass market with mass appeal is disappearing by the day. Niche is the thing. And that's fine too for what it is. But whatever it is it can't lead to greatness. Greatness feeds off a feeling of being unique. You can't be unique if a million other people are doing what you do and are also on the platform competing for attention.

The beauty of the recorded work as a form is that it doesn't go away. It remains in personal collections everywhere in its myriad formats and will outlive it creators to be rediscovered by future generations. There will soon be no need for it to be reinvented and restated as the kids of today are doing. Although they do it brilliantly they are, just the same, only revisiting. What was done before was so exceptional that what else can they do but pay homage? The Arctic Monkeys can never be Zeppelin. The Arcade Fire will never be Floyd.

There are those who blame the corporate record companies for the current demise of commercial music. But the big labels do what they always have done. They try to chase the hot thing and commercialise it. That they might often make a bad job of it is another matter. That they are dealing with the huge changes in their industry right now with incompetence is consistent. This time though it looks like they will be unable to catch up and so the end of a great era is upon us.

The deeper issue just now is a cultural one. It is a contextual and historical shift. It is a different world for the record business from even just ten years ago. The new music formats are an excellent development for those who have a genuine interest in music for its own sake. All is at your fingertips and for free if you wish. Your collection can be accessed in such a wide variety of ways. Thanks to Apple's innovations you can stick it all on to a little player the size of a cigarette packet and carry it around with you. You can shuffle every favourite song you have ever had and listen at random to whatever the system throws up like having your own personal radio station without the bullshit of presenters or advertising. With Myspace you can hear what the band just around the corner is doing without even knowing who they are. With another click an artist ten thousand miles away is just as accessible. This is a truly interesting phenomenon but it is also at the heart of why rock is dead.

"art does not die because there is no more art,

it dies because there is too much"



music • 06.06.07