Damn it, I KNEW IT! Music — the kind I grew up on, the kind that skates within the underground just below the pop surface — is stuck in this 15-20 year cycle, doomed to repetition. After its initial rise in ’76-’77, the 90’s there was talk of punk breaking AGAIN, with the Rancids and Green Days and those guys. Then came the end of the ’90s — new wave revival! Franz Ferdinand on MTV! There was even a more extended “no wave” revival led by the Providence crews (Lightning Bolt, Black Dice, all things Load) that echoed late ’70s NYC noise rock (the No New York comp. and my personal faves DNA). And along came the Rapture and all that “dance punk“, followed by !!!/ChikChikChik and other jammy party rock bands basically recycled the Happy Mondays of the mid/late ’80s, while at the same time bands such as the Klaxons some close to the Chicago industrial dance scene of that period. And now you have the Siltbreeze label coming up from the dead primarily to hype a lo-fi turnaround, now with Times New Viking and Psychedelic Horseshit playing the roles of early incarnations of Sebadoh, Guided By Voices, Pavement, Superchunk.
Grunge did this to underground rock/pop. That was the turning point — grunge was picked up by the major labels and radio stations and played into the ground, far outlasting its worth. And in reaction punk rose again. Since then, music has repeated itself — probably as kids who grew up on X genre made it to their latter high school / early college years and started bands based on X genre (“no one is listening to X right now — lets start a scene — IT’LL BE HUGE!”).
Did grunge do what disco had done in the mid/late ’70s, IE drive numerous kids to grab their own instruments and start their own bands? Uh, yeah! We’ve seen nods to disco but not a fervent “revival”. Same with grunge (although with a genre that pulls from other genres, in grunge’s case a mutt of metal+(pop)rock+punk, you’ve already had revivals of some of its parts). But today I read in Pitchfork about a grunge band! Is grunge back? Where is my flannel? Can I take fewer showers? Oh I can see my formative years flashing before my eyes — the room is spinning — oh Bleach, where art thou!
I think one thing that will keep it down is the dance. Indie rock kids these days, they like to shake it. Dan Deacon-types get them rocking. You go to DJ nights in bars where indie types gather and you’ll see the trendy clothes and thick glasses and tight jeans and understated dance moves. Grunge doesn’t induce much dancing — more headbanging and crashing into each other. I guess that’s not THAT far from what’s happening now, but it still seems a stretch.
I love all this music. I’m glad it’s coming back (not the self-serving trendiness that accompanies it, but the musical energies). But I’m more excited about “new” musical movements, even though it’s all derivative in some way. Maybe it’s harder for them to bubble up these days, with good new bands popping up everywhere due to MySpace and the Internets? I haven’t been thrown by a new musical style in a while, although I’ve been kind of a sucker lately for the microhouse / minimal house scene — it’s got movement without the (over)indulgence. I liked Pole and the glitch-dub thing in the late ’90s/early ’00s. Maybe I’m keeping it minimal — I have been going back to Steve Reich and Philip Glass lately.
But — if I can pull one word from a two-word term — I think there is room for the verite’ in music, as an audio version of cinema verite’. Cut up some field recordings into loopy, beat-laden, noisy electronic music. Matmos explored this realm a bit on a “Chance to Cut …“, and Fennesz and William Basinski in their own ways, but that’s not even a snowflake on the tip of the iceberg. There are sounds galore out there, for the taking and manipulating. I dabbled in it a few years ago and have been hinting at my own revival, but someone will come along and REALLY do it. That will be exciting. If it happens. If only it meant I could bust out some flannel …