Sunday, 13 January 2013

Never mind Led Zeppelin, Judas Priest and Black Sabbath. Where's the New Rock right now?

It's fine to gaze mistily back to 70s classic rock, but things have moved on in 40 years. There's lots to dig into. New acts demonstrate huge demand... and score lousy exposure. 

Trevor Burton's AC30.  Photo courtesy Roy Williams
Back in the 70s, Rock and Soul ruled in the West Midlands - and everywhere else. Lots of fine bands, pretty much everywhere, seven days a week. Powered by Zeppelin, Sabbath, Traffic, ELO and Priest, that was what the West Midlands was known for.

That was a long time ago. Now, alongside Rock, we produce  Reggae, Ska, Dance Hall, Jazz, Urban, World, Folk, Indie, Fusion, hugely inventive Singer-Songwriters… and every possible crossover and mashup of the above. 

Of course, this reflects a huge demographic shift; a vastly changed make-up of the people who create the music. 

But it’s odd: we’ve got this huge cross-cultural ferment going on. It's nothing new. Rock, in its earliest days was part of that. Now it's really not. Rock’s still there; it never went away; but it's out on its own. That said, Rock has a huge, huge audience; but media recognition is thin on the ground; most rock magazines have folded, and Rock radio can hardly be said to be healthy

So... where is Rock these days? 

Roy Davis. Big hair then and how
Roy Davis has some answers. He runs the Asylum / MadHouse / Arkham complex in Hockley, Birmingham, a universe away from boho Digbeth and King’s Heath. The Asylum looks and feels like a traditional rock venue: black paint on the walls, black leather on the punters. There's quite a few paunches, and not that many skinny jeans. 

Roy's a veteran midlands rocker. He plays bass for the still-active Shy, looks after bands and publishing, and runs his studio, rehearsal rooms and venue setup - a substantial chunk of the West Midlands’ music infrastructure. And he has some forthright opinions, not all of them repeatable in polite society, let alone this blog. 
Roy: Back in the day you knew exactly where you were if you said you were in a rock band. Now… it can mean a hundred things. None of it means what it used to mean.
But that's how it should be – music evolves.
Roy. Right. I think what I would call Rock is coming back; certainly in America. I think it needs one band to break through, to have a radio hit, like in the 80s, and suddenly, everything changes. I’d love to see that.
But not everything in the states makes it over here. It used to be automatic; now it’s not guaranteed at all. Some US bands can’t get arrested over here – and the same happens going the other way. 
A lot of the US rock bands are considered to be very pompous over here. So for some reason it doesn’t travel. Things have moved on over here. But the interesting thing in the states is, if you were big twenty years ago, with good songs, pretty much you’re still big now. As long as the songs are good – based on content and quality, rather than an image – they’re still around. Loads of those older big bands are still big over here; but there’s no new ones coming through. 
Even now, in my rehearsal rooms - and this does wind me up – you get new young bands coming in, they’re still playing Smoke On The Water and Paranoid. I’m going ‘For god’s sake, you must have something new!’…
Ah, guys throwing shapes with guitars!…Rock feeds off a steady supply of young white kids  who like huge riffs and a bit of showing off on stage. But now, you can do the same thing by being a club DJ. Different riffs; same result. 
As long as they can throw those shapes around a good song – not just a pile of crap… I truly believe a good song is a good song, and when they start coming though, things start to look up. 
Let’s talk about the complex. You’re in Hockley. I know you say you’re only five minutes from the city centre, but you lie…
It’s about three, depending where you’re coming from…
But you can make a helluva lot of noise out here
Which has worked really well for us. There aren’t really any locals who can complain. As most of it happens after about seven in the evening, the workers have gone home. There are some student flats around, but they’re very welcome to come down, and they do, for the club night.
So none of those noise abatement hassles that they’re getting in Digbeth?
Luckily, we’ve got nobody to upset. 
So a recording studio, two venues and eleven rehearsal rooms. How’s business?
The Asylum venue is doing pretty well. The club nights – UpRawr – are doing absolutely brilliantly. 
It’s the people who run it. They looked for a niche in the market. The main thing is that it was their own scene. It wasn’t anything they tried to copy. The guys who set it up set it up as a party. But they’re very sussed on advertising, social networking, twitter – all that. And they’re doing it for a laugh. They haven’t gone to university, they haven’t got all these degrees that tell you how you should be doing things.  They just go ahead and do it – they’re not frightened of things going wrong. They’re kids, they just do it. 
About 500 on a Saturday night, who come to have a party. The music is pop-punk, party music for this crowd.
Live bands? 
No, and that goes against my instincts. When you go out for a club night, that’s what you want. Put a band in the middle of it, it can be a pain in the bum. When I was a kid at Barbarellas, that wasn’t how it was.
Another way things have changed. Now you have specialist rock djs who know their crowd. 
That was another surprise. The DJ is everything. He might have the same playlist as everybody else, but it’s how he puts it together, and how he plays the crowd…
But that’s the way it works in dance and most genres, in fact… to see it work the same way in rock is really interesting. This must feel a little odd for you.
It’s everything I said I’d never do! When we set up the Asylum, I was never ever going to have a club night. You know what? You can’t do that. But when we had the club night and it became really successful, the agents started fighting to get bands into the venue… bands we couldn’t have dreamed of getting before. 
Like a lot of studio and rehearsal room owners, you’re in a lovely position to see talent emerge.
We do see loads of good stuff coming through. It’s a cliche to say wind of change, but there are some great young bands coming though.
Talented – and savvy with it?
Oh, ten times savvier that we ever were. In our day being in a band was it. The only thing we tried to be savvy about was writing songs and being good live. Because of the way the world’s gone, they have to understand what’s going on. They know about putting a record out, putting it on iTunes and so on. Not sure that’s the best way forward – they may be showing too much of themselves too soon. If people see them, warts and all, they may be put off. 
Interesting point there – people putting out videos from day one, because they can…
Shouldn’t do it. It’s the ones who trickle their stuff out, who control when it’s coming out, who do well in the long run. 
So who’s really impressed you recently? Name some names….
Well there’s Loveless Luck – they’re great. They’ve done a whole album with us. But each song they’re writing now is better and stronger than the last. They wrote a lot of it in the studio. They’re only kids, only 19, all great players. If the climate changes a bit, they’ve got every chance. 
Who else?
No Americana. We’ve had them in the studio recently. They’re sounding really good….
... and a band that’s coming in soon is Oceans Ate Alaska. Much heavier. They’re doing extremely well One of their videos has had nearly one and a half million hits. They haven’t spent a lot of money – all in small studios, the videos only cost a couple of hundred quid…It can be done.
Then there’s Ian Danter, who we featured in this blog last year talking about cover bands, but we’ll come back to him when the album is released. 
He recorded and mixed the lot downstairs. He’s used Lee from Shy on most of the tracks. But he’s got tens of thousands of followers on TalkSport, and of course he’s going to use that as a marketing ploy. 
Perfect. One more question: look forward ten years. What do you see?
The decline of the tribute band, I hope! I say that having been in one. No, the best ones will survive, and good luck to them. It’s really hard on the live scene. There’s a massive scene, but kids don’t seem to go out. All the venues are struggling. When I was a kid you could go the Railway, The Barrel Organ, the old JB’s in Dudley, and you knew you were going to see a good band. It didn’t even matter who they were – if they got the gig, they were going to be pretty good. The problem is now is that everyone can go on YouTube, see video games, go on Spotify, go a thousand places. So they don’t have to go out to the local venue. And that is a problem. Saying that, I do believe that if you put a band on that people genuinely want to see, it doesn’t matter what night you put them on, people will come out. 
MadHouse rehearsals
Arkham studios
UpRawr club night 

Loveless Luck
No Americana
Oceans Ate Alaska

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We're damn lucky. There's an unending variety of great music on our doorstep. I'm covering as much as I can get to. And I would love to hear from you... tell me what you might like to see covered, or feed back on what's already here using the comments link at the top of the post.


Caroline Corley said...

I agree with Roy Davis. I feel like we're awaiting the Savior. We need another Hendrix, another Nirvana; another Sex Pistols; a game-changer, the likes of which we haven't seen in 20 years; a band so revolutionary, so raw, so sincere that we will be forced to create an entirely new radio format just to accommodate their epic face-melting rock and roll.

I like Loveless Luck. I applaud the return of loud guitars and tight leather trousers; of politically incorrect bad-boy behaviour; of raucous, rock-out-with-your-cock-out, balls-to-the-wall rock and roll exploding in glorious ear-bleeding cacophony from a towering stack of Marshall amps. But these boys need to stop IMITATING their idols and start channeling them; take the inspiration they provide and build a new rock and roll of their own.

Zeppelin didn't dress like Leadbelly. They listened to his music and made it their own. The Allman Brothers didn't pretend to be Sonny Boy Williamson. They took his songs and wrapped them in their own cloak of down-home, Southern fried dueling lead guitars. The world doesn't need another Guns ‘n’ Roses.

What we NEED is for Loveless Luck to find their own voice, forge their own path, light their own fire. Sure, keep the tight pants and the Jack Daniels t-shirts with the sleeves ripped off but show us the 21st century EQUIVALENT of GNR not a cover band with original songs that aren't as good.

Caroline Corley
Host of The Morning Peak
107.1 The Peak
White Plains, NY

Anonymous said...

Agree with Caroline.

Good players, but this all sounds tired. A million bands in a million garages are churning through the same million cliches, signifying absolutely nothing.

I lasted 20 seconds with each clip. Heard it all it

Take that ability and record something no-one has heard. If it sounds familiar, then ditch it. There's simply too much competition for attention in 2013, so the only way to stand out is to be different, and remarkably so.

Read Seth Godin's Purple Cow.