Is our retro obsession ruining everything?

Ben Marks of Collector's Weekly says:

In our latest interview, British author Simon Reynolds (“Retromania”) bemoans our culture's fixation on all things vintage and retro, particularly when it comes to music. Here's a snip:

"I wonder why we’re so obsessed with the past, particularly in music, because that’s my thing. A lot of the other retro phenomena I find vaguely amusing, but the music is a genuine worry because I like to be surprised. The first instinct for a new band starting out now—and I’m talking about very musical, intelligent people—is to go to an existing template and then tinker with it. They have fun trying to reproduce it as exact as they can or adapt it to their purpose in some way. But there are not so many musicians trying to come up with something out of nowhere, which is quite hard to do.

"In the past, though, people have tried to do that. That was the general modernist ethos for a long period in music, particularly in the ’60s, but also in the post-punk era I grew up in, and in the electronic techno scene of the ’90s. You might use an idea from the past, but you'd probably mutilate it in some way or drastically change it. Or you’d use it as a springboard to go somewhere new. Now the ethos is much more like reproducing antiques. It’s about getting that drum sound or that guitar texture. It’s literally a backward movement. My concern is a sense of everything being seemingly vaguely familiar. It’s a bit depressing."

Is our retro obsession ruining everything?


    1. … and sampling has been abused since the days of “Ice Ice Baby” and “U Can’t Touch This”.  I’ll give the Sugarhill Gang a pass on “Rapper’s Delight”, though.

      1. I don’t think sampling, remixes, etc. have anything to do with the sort of retro or vintage crap being talked about in this article.  Public Enemy mashing together snippets from a few dozen new and old records of basically every genre under the sun to make something entirely new isn’t even remotely the same as Rockabilly folks or women aping Downton Abbey.

        1. You’ve got a point, I believe I was confusing “retro-obsession” and “pop-culture of recycling”, not the same thing at all.
          Now that you mention Public Enemy, they did take samples and created something new with it, which is what unlocking the potential of any tool is supposed to be about.  It takes an artist to do that.

        2. I agree. Although PE’s samples per song numbered more like a hundred, due to the jam session approach to creating music. There are so many samples smashed together that it is impossible to identify them all – which is why it had to stop as the sampling industry made it unaffordable.

    2. Well Shakespeare said it first

      SONNET 59

      If there be nothing new, but that which is
      Hath been before, how are our brains beguiled,
      Which, labouring for invention, bear amiss
      The second burden of a former child.
      O, that record could with a backward look,
      Even of five hundred courses of the sun,
      Show me your image in some antique book,
      Since mind at first in character was done!
      That I might see what the old world could say
      To this composed wonder of your frame;
      Whether we are mended, or whe’er better they,
      Or whether revolution be the same.
      O, sure I am, the wits of former days
      To subjects worse have given admiring praise.


      If there is nothing new under the sun, but that which

      Has been before, how are our brains cheated,

      Which, toiling to create something new, mistakenly

      Brings forth something that already exists

      O, that history could go back

      Even five hundred years

      To show me your picture in some old book,

      At any time since thought was first put down in writing!

      That I might see what an earlier time would say

      To this wonderful beauty of your frame (mind, body, and soul);

      Whether we are improved or they were better,

      Or whether the cycle of years has yielded no better results.

      O, I am sure of this, the wits [talented men] of former times

      Have given praise to much worse subjects than this.

  1. I’ve read that societies usually become nostalgic around the turn of every century. Being a millennium the psychological effect might be even more pronounced. The 20s were pretty awesome last century, maybe we can shake off the nostalgia by this century’s 20s.

    1. My mother, who studied fashion, said that it runs on a thirty year cycle. I wouldn’t be surprised if music did a similar thing.

      It’s also been said that the cycle time is shortening up in the modern age. A person could do a study of that phenomenon.

      1. Pop music runs on a cycle. Marginalized genres don’t, or rather they branch off into secondary and tertiary revivals  that do nothing to diminish the natural progression of the style. Cyclical aesthetics occur because they’re commodified.

    2. I don’t know about that.  In the 70s we were nostalgic for the 50s (Sha Na Na, American Graffiti, Happy Days), in the 90s-00s we were nostalgic for the 80’s.

      1. Nah, weren’t you there?  In the 90s we were nostalgic for the 70s.  (Dazed and Confused up through That 70s Show.) I don’t think 80s nostalgia landed until post-9/11.  And I’m still waiting for it to go away.  Other than NWOBHM, there’s not much I liked about living through the 80s.

        1. Have you ever heard the joke “If you remember the 60’s then you weren’t there”? When VH-1 started doing I Love The 80’s my version, as a child of the 80’s, was, “If you love the 80’s then you weren’t there.”

      2. Seems like when people reach their late 20’s early 30’s they get nostalgic for their childhoods and that has a big effect on pop culture, Probably because people in those age groups tend to become the tastemakers for their time. That explains why things like American Graffiti and Happy Days emerged in the 1970’s and That 70’s Show and Dazed and Confused happened in the 1990’s and also explain the current 1980’s nostalgia. But that doesn’t really explain really retro things  like Rockabilly or or obsession with even older forms of pop culture (Downton Abbey, Mad Men). Maybe it is a millennial thing, or a turn of the century thing. Maybe our culture is moving so fast technologically that much simpler technological periods of the past log are really interesting to us now.
        What I do know is that art and culture is almost never completely original or new. It pretty much has to reference something that came before. Truly original stuff is often perceived as being so weird and unique that it can’t be comprehended enough to enter the mainstream. It’s like making up a new language. I guess you could do it, but nobody would understand it.

  2. This is actually a pretty passe (if not archaic) way to look at creativity. Elizabeth Gilbert does a nice run down on Ted/NPR:

    It’s weird, in the 21st century, to hear someone talking about art like it’s the big bang. Art is, and always was, contextual. Grunge wasn’t DIFFERENT from Flock of Seagulls. It was a counterpoint in the same pop conversation.  

    T-pain had his Cher. And she had her Frampton talking guitar.

  3. that conversation sounds like some kind of hipster circle jerk to me..
    if there’s anything more annoying than dressing like a 1890’s bareknuckle boxer (with the body of a 12 year old) it’s the obsession with “new music”.

  4. Is our obsession with classic Greek culture ruining the Roman Empire?
    Is our obsession with ancient Hebrew culture ruining 1st Century Christian Judea?
    Is our obsession with classic Greek AND Roman culture ruining the Renaissance?
    Is our obsession with Rennaisance culture ruining the Industrial Revolution?
    Is our obsession with the Victorian Era ruining the Edwardian Era?
    Is our obsession with the Edo Period ruining the Meiji Era?
    Or is our obsession with the Victorian Era ruining the Meiji Era instead?
    Is our obsession with Karl Marx ruining the Russian Communist Revolution?
    Is our obsession with the Russian Communist Revolution ruining the Chinese Communist Revolution?
    Is our obsession with the Pre-War Era ruining the Post-War Era?

    1.  Even Plato used to pine for a “golden age”.  Those Greek kids today have no respect for Zeus.

  5. Ha ha, in the world of online dating I’ve been tempted to describe a dealbreaker as anybody who adheres to what I call “temporal subcultures.” Women who can’t wear lipstick without trying to look like Bette Page (and the general rockabilly/gearhead scene), Gatsby/Edwardian people, etc. It’s a hallmark of boring people.

    1.  Really? So you’re prefer if they wore lipstick in the ‘normal’ way, and thus looked like 90% of the rest of the population?

      Let your freak flag fly, and if someone doesn’t like it, don’t give them a second thought, they’re the ones missing out.

      1. There are those who stick so closely to a particular retro fashion stereotype that it’s comical/sad. I see them now and then, often in groups at a gig.

        Go look at how people were actually dressing in the period and subculture they’re supposedly reverting to, and it’s not very similar to the caricature they present. Granted, there are a few famous photos they they go by, but it’s not authentic.

        But what would I know? I’ve been wearing the same engineer fashion for the last 40 years.

        1. Funny thing is, they’re not doing it wrong. You can tell by them being part of a group. Perhaps you’re incorrectly assessing their intent?

        2. Firstly, what is engineer fashion?

          Secondly, perhaps these people aren’t trying to look exactly like people did from the particular era their outfits are paying homage to. Perhaps instead they’re taking the elements they like and then adding a newer modern motif, or something else from a different vintage to the style? 

          Rockabilly is a good example. Sure some people had tattoos in the 1950s but today’s rockabilly crowd have certainly ramped the tattoos up far beyond any era they’re paying homage to, and how many people in the 50s had bright red and blue hair? Sure lots of gearheads in the 1950s did up their cars and created loud and fast hot-rods something carried on with the rockabilly crowd today, but when did the faded rusty look become part of the appeal? Sure rockabilly music incorporates a lot of elements of music from the 50s era, but why do some variations of the genre sound as close to 1980s punk as they do Elvis?

          I don’t think many people think, I’m going to try and dress exactly like people did in year 19XX. Instead they say, “I just love the fashion that people wore in the XX era, I want to wear dresses like that, but thank you, I’ll keep the hair fluorescent green.”.

        3. Woosh! That is the point flying a few miles over your head.

          You think you are seeing a group of people that are failing in their mission to be authentication. What you are apparently blind to is that their mission isn’t authenticity… it is the fucking group. They are out to party and have a good time with friends and strangers. The fashion is just for kicks and to signaling to anyone who wants to join in.

          It isn’t a historical reenactment. It is a bunch of folks out on the town all dressed up. Who gives two shits if the dress up isn’t authenticity so long as it is hot/fun/sexy/strange?

          Speaking as someone who often sporting some dull “engineer fashion” of my own, I love the kids dressing up. They tend to be wild, ready to party, and indifferent to folks joining them who don’t meet the fashion specs.

          You see a failed historical reenactment, but I see kids begging me to come over and party with them. My version is a lot more fun.

      2. I am still trying to figure out how to wear lipstick like Betty Page. As opposed to, you know, bangs, like a normal person.

    2. The problem is not in trying to look like Bettie Page, it is that they look like photocopies of photocopies of photocopies of Bettie Page, where the original content has disintegrated and lost a bunch of details and become a weird blur of 65/35% poly- cotton blend outfits, in stupid polkadots that only children wore in the 1950’s, bought from Hot Topic type stores where 1950’s hot rod pin-up baloney = some stupid flames and chrome graphics and “retro” tattoos for the boys, and super femininity for the girls with the same “retro” tattoos for the girls and nothing means anything anymore. It’s like the Stray Cats are authentic rockabilly (sigh), and the HorrorPops are cool (sigh). That is the problem as I see it.

      The flipside of this is what ? Uber critical collectors who only wear authentic period pieces ? Uber purist consumers purchasing what is basically artisinal “authentic” re-created workwear for 5 – 10x the amount that a contemporary pair of jeans or workboots cost ? Or people wearing only exclusive designer duds ? Or average people who shop in a mall and wear sports team apparel ? What IS okay ?

        1. I think that there are deeper issues than the shallowness of inclusion or exclusion of a potential mate/friend based on their duds. Clothing/haircut/footwear broadcast many semiotics about the wearers which is further complicated by the personalities, intelligence and phermones of the wearers. Then add personal philosophies, education, class, sexual orientation, income, aesthetics, tastes, country of origin, religious or agnostic beliefs, rural v.s. urban, subculture v.s. dominant culture,etc.

          Clothing is trivial to some people, and a REALLY BIG DEAL to others. Even people who “don’t care” about clothes do make a judgement about what is included/excluded from the clothes they wear. Made in China v.s. made in North America ? Made by union or non-union workers ? Synthetic or organic materials ? Repairable or disposable ? Brand new or thrifted or found for free ? Decoration or protection ?

          1. Even people who “don’t care” about clothes do make a judgement about what is included/ excluded from the clothes they wear.

            People who “don’t care” about clothes are often far more acidic about what other people are wearing than people who admit to caring about clothes. The closet, regardless of what it contains, tends to do that to people.

      1. So you are upset if it is authentic and also upset if it isn’t?  My advice?  Relax.  You are over thinking it.  

        First, there really are not that many women dressing Bettie Pageish.  You are talking about a solid 1% of women in an urban hipster area.  They are just more noticeable than the other 99% of the crowd.  Believe me. I am a complete sucker for bangs and WISH it was 50%.

        Second, speaking as a guy who lives in an urban hipster area where I hang with ladies who on occasion dress “Bettie Pageish”, you are attributing deep meaning where there is none.  It is a cute fashion with some light signaling and nothing more.  It isn’t trying to be authentic or not authentic.  It is dressing up to go out, looking cute, and signaling “I am looking for the alternativish crowd”.  It is one of the MANY ways to throw up that signal, and hardly the most common.  Lots of kids don’t even bother with the signaling bit and dress blandly normal, they are just not freaked out when they see someone signaling.

        If that is not your crowd, cool for you.  No one is going to have any lost sleep over the fact that you were repelled away by someones “going out to have a good time” clothing.  The kind of person that freaks out because the clothes someone wore when they dressed up to go out are authentic or not authentic are EXACTLY the kind of people they would rather not be hanging around.  

        Because you are boring.

        And judgmental.

        So take heart.  You don’t want to hang around them and they don’t want to hang around you.  Everyone wins.

        1. As a style morphs into a subculture (or vice versa), often the original signifiers are lost or dumbed down, and the look becomes a sort of cultural shorthand, and the missing gaps get filler, as opposed to content, which brings me back to the “kids these days” argument.

          I have also noticed that as certain subcultures grow, that they commonly get de-fanged as they are mass marketed, so all that sweet, sweet subversion is lost…

    3. I don’t look at people like that, particularly people that are in the demographic of what I find attractive. I really don’t care what their “style” is as long as they know how to rock it and are confident.

      It’s interesting that you were so very exact and precise in what you don’t like — I sense that you’ve been burned in the past by a gal who rocked the Bette look?

      It just seems kind of sad that you brush people off totally without even talking to them first. What if you miss getting to know someone *awesome* all because you make assumptions based on the color of their lipstick  Or the length of their bangs?

      It must be a lot of work to be shallow.  I don’t get it.

    4. Yeah… loudly signaling that you are looking to party and have a good time is the hallmark of boring.  You probably should mention that as one of your deal breakers.  It will help those folks veer away from you.  

      I find the “temporal subculture” folks to be a rockin’ good time.  They are signaling their intent to rock and as a general rule of thumb don’t give two shits if you are also signaling in the same way or not so long as you are up to play.  

      Hell, as a general rule of thumb, anyone that is willing to ignore folks like the parent poster and let their freak flag fly get the benefit of the doubt from me.  Violating dull social norms about proper dress and opening yourself up to pre-judgement by the boring gets a positive check mark in my book.

  6. I don’t know about the retro thing as a whole, but if we get another wave of swing music in my lifetime, I’m just going to start punching people until it stops.

  7. Last night I took my son to the symphony, and a Schoenberg piece was on the program. “[M]usicians trying to come up with something out of nowhere” is not always a good thing.  Thankfully, we got a Beethoven chaser.

    1. Agreed.  Schoenberg is not enjoyable to listen to.

      Just because something is ‘new’ doesn’t mean it’s ‘good’.

          1. Yes. Thanks. But as I was saying, nobody said that ‘not enjoyable’ is ‘not good’. The point you are refuting was never made.

          2. @Alpacaman:disqus  I believe you may be assuming that I am refuting something. I use the tradition of phrases like ‘i think you’re wrong’ to refute something. As in, i think you’re wrong about the intended meaning of my comment, and mistook it as a refutation of a previous statement.

            There are angles other than 180 degrees. Because, nuance.

          3. WRT your later comment: Mmm. Okay, I see you weren’t refuting the previous comment now. It did seem to me you were. I would appreciate it if you said so plainly rather than talking down to somebody you’ve not met. That said, I am (that hallowed word) sorry.

          4. @Alpacaman:disqus “But that isn’t what was said” is, to me. an example of talking down, also. 

            “What did you mean” strikes me as an example of talking with an equal. If you’re labeling what someone else is doing, when you could ask, -you’re- the one on the high horse. My opinion, nothing more. I too am sorry if it seems I am talking down. I’m asserting my opinion. Most people don’t. Doesn’t mean I think I’m superior. It means I think this is an open forum, and I hope I haven’t been rude to you.

    2. I disagree completely. Musicians or artists in general coming up with stuff out of nowhere is always a good thing. Even if Schoenberg isn’t to your liking, he has undoubtedly influenced musicians that you do like. For every musician that pushes the boundaries to the extreme, there is a handful that see something in that extreme they like, which they then incorporate into something more broadly appealing.

      I played in a band with a guy who was heavily involved in the sound art scene in Melbourne. Lots of people that built strange instruments or for lack of a better description “noise generators”. I went along to a bunch of performances he was involved in and found the vast majority of it complete and utter wank. However, I loved that he was into it, because it meant that his hand made instruments added a very interesting element to my band which was much more focussed on songs with coherent structures, etc than was usual in the sound art scene. 

        1. It’s probably listenable to someone who finds it interesting, and not someone who demands that music fulfills their expectations.

        2. Was what listenable? My band? The sound art scene I’ve already described as “complete and utter wank”? Schoenberg?

          My entire point is that you point to anyone of those things and even if you don’t like it, it has undoubtedly influenced someone or something you do like. Ergo, pushing boundaries of art/music/fashion/etc is good, even if the result is usually the sort of thing that most people find horrible.

    1. I think it is something that I have noticed for a long time: once people hit a certain age, somewhere between 28 and 42 (it differs for each person), they have enough of a store of previous songs (or books, or TV shows, or whatever) to see how the “new” stuff actually is built off of stuff they remember. For me, it was how trance and ambient seemed to be just retreads of stuff Tangerine Dream, Kraftwerk and other pioneers had done before.

      Like some sage once said: history does not repeat, but it sure does rhyme a lot. :)

  8. Retro Smetro – there’s a lot of good ideas, sounds, concepts and designs from the past that still deserve a new look.  It may “seem” retro to you but is it really???  Steampunk isn’t really Victorian, etc. It borrows from retro concepts but mixes in more modern styling and elements.

    I suggest, get over it, find your niche, and roll with it.

  9. I think it’s pretty disingenuous to complain about no one making ‘new’ sounding music and bringing up acts like Katy Perry, Ke$ha and Lady Gaga. There are certainly people who are the John Cages and Stockhausens of our time, but they’re not on top 40 radio.  Also, the John Cages and Stockhausens were basically just making a deliberate ‘anti-tradition’ statement, which is sort of the other side of the same coin anyway.

    If you think Skrillex and Bassnectar are the most innovative sounds out there right now, you are totally missing out on the real stuff.

    Also, I am biased because I think most rock critics are full of it and get way too caught up in their own hype – their analysis (in general) always comes off as very linear and one-dimensional.

  10. I disagree. The creative genius behind music and art is ever-evolving. To stop the merry-go-round at a point in time will always reveal horses and riders that never look “right.” SO, let them go – create – climb on each others ideas as they learn, fail, and climb again. Every now and then something magical squeezes out.   

    Speaking of “retro” take a look at these gun related ads you’ve probably never seen before now.

    1. I do!
      It’s because of Radio Dismuke that I recognized an Annette Hanshaw song in one of the Tiffany obsession videos last week.

  11.  I tried *desperately* in school to force myself to be into Schoenberg’s music, but… no.  It really is unlistenable.  He was a brilliant guy, and his ideas are intellectually stimulating, but it is not fun for the ears. 

      1.  Fair enough. Schoenberg really was much less uninterested in how his music sounded, though, and more about the math/cleverness. Which is fine, but throws me off. Oddly enough, John Cage achieved a semi-similar result via randomness (dice, etc.), and I somehow find his stuff much more interesting and novel to listen to.  So yeah, it is a matter of taste for sure.  

  12. There’s LOADS of new music being released every month. If you’re fluent in more than one language (or at least have an interest in other cultures), then you can explore even further. But to just lay there on the furniture and bitch about rockabilly makes you look like everybody’s fatass, nitpicking ex.

    On a broader scale, I can relate to the appreciation for retro stuff, at least to some degree, because it’s more appealing. Cars were designed with much more interesting lines and expressions than the boring old “angry door stop” look of today’s cars. Clothes were more dignified; idealized women had fuller, more beautiful figures; pop music was relatively innovative and fun; fucking dubstep wasn’t even a concept yet.

    But, again, if you don’t like it, FIND SOMETHING YOU *DO* LIKE. Don’t be that fatass, nitpicking ex, because nobody wants to hear that noise.

  13. What is retro about Psy’s 700 million views on YouTube? If Simon Reynolds doesn’t see things changing it’s because he’s not looking.

  14. i’m fairly confident in my belief that most of the commenters here didn’t read the entire article, which surprises me. it’s very good, and has some great points. honest — don’t just read the part posted here.

    1.  From the source article, which I read….

      Q. What would something new look like now?
      A. It’s difficult to say….. In terms of sound, I would say it’s the dubstep music.

      Ooooooo-kay.  Fire up the Wayback Machine, Sherman, m’boy…..

  15. Realistically, the presence of every damned bit of music that ever existed at everyone’s fingertips does mark a bit of a change from previous generations’ experience of the past. I think that it comes down to this: with the tidal wave of information, and the internet organizing itself (mostly through social media) as a filtering and examining process of everything for potential value, the old driver of the next-amazing-sound is no longer the sound you and your pals decided to obsessively pursue. When you find out how hard it was to even find, never mind buy a Fela record in 1980, it’s easier to understand this, but that sense in entirely gone.

    So popular music has stopped being a series of rediscoveries, and more of a cataloguing process. No-one has secret knowledge. Nothing is obscure for long enough to fester and grow. Nothing is really regional or local. Those aren’t the conditions for great music. It’s really hard to be startled in a world where everyone is the next [insert past artist], and every song or album is summarized as [this past record] crossed with [another past record], with a touch of [some other obscurity]. Even if you don’t know who any of them are, you will in the next minute, and you will stop being astonished.

  16. The idea that you have to completely revolutionize the format every time you want to create some kind of art is really difficult to work with. You basically have nowhere to start, because you’ve thrown out everything. Emulating a song, or a painting, or an artist you admire is a great way to learn how to achieve certain results. With everything you make, you learn how to do it better next time. Furthermore, you’re making sure that something you love isn’t forgotten.

    You don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time you want to take a drive.

    1. No, but it seems it’s useful for somebody to reinvent it every so often.  Ground-up-reinvention-every-single-time is probably just as useless in the long term as a complete and utter lack of innovation.  I don’t think anyone’s really saying that we have to throw away both imagination and memory.

  17. Given the diversity of music being recorded and distributed today, really the solution to any complaint about music is to listen to other music. Perhaps the gentleman could try that?

  18. Maybe retro is simply the wood accent that adds a little warmth and comfort to the modern architecture of our world.

  19. Disagree. Most. Thoroughly. I listen to music on Soundcloud all day while I work and none of it is remotely ‘retro’. There is a shit-tonne of new and totally original music out there if you want to listen to it. 

    This guy sounds like he needs to pull his ironic beard out of his navel, stop listening to the crappy bands that sound like their playing covers of music our parents listened to and go out and find some new shit. 
    In fact, I would argue that there has never been so much new and original music, but if this guy is just gonna talk about all that lame crap that sounds like all that other lame crap then of course he is going to complain about lame crap. 

    Let this fucker get to about 1.30 and you’ll hear some sounds that no banjo playing, cable knit sweater wearing musician of old could ever have wrenched out of his instrument.

    1. Dude, I give you the Monks, recorded in the mid 60’s who were way ahead of their time, complete with an antisocial sound and haircuts but were also OF their time and with a banjo:

    2. Your point seems to be “ignore what’s popular, there’s plenty of original stuff once you’ve dug in”, but you’re missing *his* point. Regardless of whether YOU can find and enjoy something original and new (assuming that you’re right of course, and you aren’t simply not recognising something derivative from a source you aren’t familiar), popular culture is still retro-obsessed. The solution to his argument is not “ignore popular culture”, as attractive an option as that is.

  20. No, it isn’t. Not even a little bit. 

    And that’s what I took from the article. 

    I would have enjoyed it but the whole thing gave me that feeling you can get if you read something you wrote 40 years ago. Not good. The last two paragraphs regarding space exploration made me want to reach through the screen and tweak this guys grousing nose.

    Upon further reflection between this paragraph and the above I must admit I could never have enjoyed that article. I knew that reading it, because Reynolds invoked “Obviously” in his first response but I thought, “even vapid superficial people have much to offer” and trudged onward.

    Wasted march, except for learning again why I don’t know the name of even one music critic, present or past.

  21. I think the brain releases endorphins when we recognize something familiar.  This probably has some evolutionary justification.  This is why we’ve had 2,000 years of Classical architecture, and also why I liked the A-Team movie.

    From a musical perspective, when you get up on the stage and play some Skynyrd, everyone in the crowd is happy.  But when you get up on the stage to play your totally original composition, you’re pioneering, and may not get a warm reception, even if you’re really good.

  22. If there had been good music since the 80s, this would not be an issue. (note…of course I am kidding – there have been *several* good eighties-inspired bands since then)

  23. and in the electronic techno scene of the ’90s.

    There are lots of obvious influences (Kraftwerk the most obvious) and stepping stones that helped birth techno, just like everything else.  This was not spontaneous originality either. I think maybe the author feels more affection toward his particular tastes.  If we are annoyed by people who try to completely ape a genre and time period then we are in agreement.

  24. Blah blah blah baille funk, dubstep blah blah. Seriously, dour music critic, give me a 3 year period between 1995 and now and I will give you a NEW GENRE of music that is SIGNIFICANTLY DIFFERENT than anything else popular in the US and became NOTABLY POPULAR during that time period. ADD TO THIS the revisionist genres which are SIGNIFICANTLY DIFFERENT than the original genre (mid 90’s swing revival, electro-swing, etc.) and you come up with A PANOPLY of new sounds that is COMPLETELY UNPRECEDENTED. Now go back to your grumpy, no fun hole and sulk.

    Right, who else is wrong on the internet?

    1. You’re on. Out of curiosity, what NEW GENRE of music that is SIGNIFICANTLY DIFFERENT than anything else popular in the US and became NOTABLY POPULAR during, say 2005-2008.

      The onus is on you to demonstrate NOTABLY POPULAR, and to demonstrate that the PANOPLY of new sounds that is COMPLETELY UNPRECEDENTED aren’t actually revisionist genres which are SIGNIFICANTLY DIFFERENT than the original genre.

      1. Tough one, but I’ll claim “autotune as an effect.” T-Pain and Black Eyed Peas used it extensively during that period, and sold many gold records with it. Note that Jay-Z released D.O.A. in 2009.

    1. Another fine example of the general rule: when a headline asks a question, you can safely answer “No,” and move on.

  25. The retro obsession strives because of people’s penchant for familiarity. Despite its existence, there are still people who create original work. In terms of music, you only need to look at experimental genres and the fringes of the mainstream.

  26. Poor Ben, no one’s told him that music genres have a limited bandwidth and they reached their saturation point around the late 90’s.  Sub-genres are all that’s been left and even that can only go so far.  I mourned the impending loss about a decade ago.  I guess Ben can start his grieving process now.

    Sorry, Ben.  But, on the plus side there’s plenty of great, new music that’s still being made.  It’s just not going to be a new genre… because new genres are DEAD.

    1. How does one draw the line in what is a “genre” and what is a “sub-genre”?

      Are all forms of “rock” subgenres? Because frankly that covers a whole lot of music. The same is true of “electronica” or “techno”. What was the last “new genre” according to you?

      1. What was the last “new genre” according to you?

        It’s not “according to me”, it’s according to reality.  For one thing, there used to be distinctive sounds for each decade.  50’s music was very distinctive from 80’s music and so on.  We no longer have that.  The biggest hits today (in near 2013) could have very easily been the same hits produced in the very late 90’s and early 2000’s and nobody would know the distinctive difference.  You can’t easily take a hit from the 80’s and mix it up with a hit from the 50’s (or even the 70’s for that matter) because they’re too distinctive from each other.  That was all before music genre bandwidth was depleted.

        I’ve gone into this before in detail here if you’re interested:

        And here with links/quotes at the bottom that back me up on this to some degree:

        I used to be in denial about it as well, but the brutal truth is music genres have limited bandwidth and there are no new distinct genres.  Can you name a new, distinct genre that defines 2000-2010? Nope, you can’t.

        We used to be able to say “50’s music” and everyone could “audiolize” that distinct genre.  That’s no longer the case for the past decade.

        There’s nowhere else to go except sub-genres that continue to get more and more muddled.  Hey, I like K-pop that’s trendy in 2013 right now, but it’s certainly not a new, distinct genre… it’s electronic, pop music.

        I, for one, think it’s a good thing for artists to quit worrying about creating the ‘new sound’ and just focus on creating a “good sound’.  It’s futile to attempt to create a new genre at this point anyway.  It’s over.

          1. which country these days has an  empire? check your reference, or should i say the the reference? :)

        1.  Hey, I like Grunge that’s trendy in 1992 right now, but it’s certainly not a new, distinct genre… it’s a slight variation on punk-rock..

           Hey, I like punk-rock that’s trendy in 1977 right now, but it’s certainly not a new, distinct genre… it’s loud, agressive rock music.

           Hey, I like Rock n’ Roll that’s trendy in 1953 right now, but it’s certainly not a new, distinct genre… it’s black blues music sung by white people.

          Hey, I like blues that’s trendy in 1897 right now, but it’s certainly not a new, distinct genre… it’s workers songs with some guitar.

          K-Pop is as much a new genre as any of these genres were when they started, it’s a variation on what already exists, as are all new genres. The only way that genres drastically break from what already exists is when new instruments create completely new opportunities and even then they begin by by being incorporated into genres that already exists. The electric guitar allowed this to make rock n’ roll distinctly different to what came before, the synthesiser allowed electronica to do the same, and the turntable, drum machines and sequencers allowed the same for hip-hop. We’ll have another brand new genre once a new instrument captures the imagination of musicians in the same manner. In the meantime we’ll continue to have “sub-genres” that are still new genres.

          Can you name a new, distinct genre that defines 2000-2010? Nope, you can’t.

          Actually, yes I can. Dubstep. It may have “began” in the late 90s, but in the same way that grunge really became its own genre in the 90s after origins in the late 80s, dubstep became its own genre in the 2000s and continues to evolve today.

          I’d also say “mashup” in the sense of The Beastles, The Grey Album, etc is pretty much a new genre, that defines the 2000-2010 era. Yes it might have used techniques pioneered through hip-hop, but once again its as new as Grunge was ever.

          1. Hey, I like Grunge that’s trendy in 1992 right now, but it’s certainly not a new, distinct genre… it’s a slight variation on punk-rock..Hey, I like punk-rock that’s trendy in 1977 right now, but it’s certainly not a new, distinct genre… it’s loud, agressive rock music.

            Maybe in your own anecdotal (and/or sarcastic) sense, but Grunge and Punk are certainly considered distinctly different genres by larger society and influenced culture (including fashion and sensibilities) in a widespread manner.



            I do see the point you’re attempting to make as well that all music is influenced by previous music. All that does is prove my point that new, distinctive music genres have a limited bandwidth.

            You can only rehash old music so far before it become nothing more than muddled sub-genres, sub-sub-genres and so on. And that’s where we are now.

            Once again, it’s not to say that today’s music isn’t good or novel (to some extent), it’s just not nearly as distinctive anymore because there’s only so many iterations available. I’m not saying Grunge is better than Dubstep, I’m saying Grunge had a much larger cultural impact and its much more definable by society than Dubstep. Hence, Grunge was a far more distinctive genre for society at large. We don’t have those with that kind of impact anymore.

            K-Pop is as much a new genre as any of these genres

            K-pop is NOT a new 2012 genre (It started in 1992) and it’s basically an umbrella for South Korean dance, electronic, electropop, hip hop, rock, and R&B music.

            In other words, pop music from South Korea that basically went unnoticed in the 90’s because of Grunge, Hip Hop, Rap, etc.

            The only way that genres drastically break from what already exists is when new instruments create completely new opportunities

            The instruments of Grunge are very much the same as the ones used in many 70’s bands. What’s different is the distinctive STYLE that any average person can detect. In other words, it’s a distinctive difference for society whether you anecdotally agree or not.

            COW: Can you name a new, distinct genre that defines 2000-2010? Nope, you can’t.
            YOU: Actually, yes I can. Dubstep. It may have “began” in the late 90s…

            I’ll grant you that dubstep is considered a “huge” new genre by its fans, but unlike previous genres it’s only added as a “flavoring” to most popular music and it’s not considered by most of society as something that defines the past decade.

            You’ll hear dubstep influences in popular music like recent Brittany Spears, etc. but it’s nowhere near the defining sound for average listeners like we’ve had with music genres of previous decades.

            Sorry, but Dubstep isn’t associated to the past decade by greater society like Disco was to the 70’s or Grunge was to the early 90’s. It’s just your wishful thinking.

            What happened to music in the decade of 2000-2010 was the Internet. But, that’s not a new music genre like we’ve seen in the past. It just a new model to distribute and remix old genres.

            Dubstep to most people is simply a sub-genre of drum and bass.

            Keep in mind, I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with Dubstep or any of the other less distinctive genres. But what I am saying is that new, distinctive genres are dead and you using Dubstep as an example only further proves my point.

            its as new as Grunge was ever.

            You’re confusing “new” with a distinctive, widely popular genre.

            I think this timeline can help show how insignificant Dubstep is in the grand scheme of past dance music genres that had a wide impact on society/culture:

            (note you’ll have to hunt for it on the right)

            Comparing the societal impact of Dubstep to other past genres like Grunge is ridiculous.

            New, distinctive genres are dead and Dubstep only proves it.

          2. Genre: A category of artistic composition, as in music or literature, characterized by similarities in form, style, or subject matter.

            I don’t see any requirement for a genre to “[influence] culture (including fashion and sensibilities) in a widespread manner”, although I’d argue that dubstep has met this criteria anyway: i.e. dubstep beats are used as backing music for acts as popular and mainstream as Lady Gaga, and there are countless festivals and clubs playing the genre which attract hundreds of thousands of followers world wide, at which you’ll see plenty of similar fashion, clearly influenced by the scene that surrounds the genre. Whether they’ve influenced to the same extent as grunge or any other genre is a moot point. There are also other newer genres which have done the same thing in the past decade. Probably the most obvious in Melbourne would be the Emo/Screamo scene (which once again, has roots in punk, goth, metal, etc). I distinctly remember heading to the Flinders Street steps (a cultural landmark of Melbourne) one day and wondering what happened to all the old punk-rockers that used to hang out there. Gone were all the leather jackets, colourful mo-hawks and tartan pants. In their place were a younger generation looking androgynous, with bulk eye-makeup, hair that looked like it had been ironed and pants so low that 80% of the wearers underwear was visible.

            What defines a genre in relation to a sub-genre is obviously subjective, hence my question “what was the latest genre according to you” (and as you claim Hip-Hop and grunge were the last new genres anyone will see in the other thread, I’m curious as to how saturation happened in the late 1990s). One could easily argue that there are a handful of true genres: orchestral, jazz, rock, folk/blues and dance; and that everything falls within those categories. I’d disagree with them.

            What’s different is the distinctive STYLE that any average person can detect.


            In all seriousness though, people not being able to define a genre well doesn’t make them not exist. There are a lot of grunge bands that sound pretty damn similar to other genres of music. Alice in Chains sounds like metal of the same vintage. The Melvins sound pretty damn similar to bands from stoner rock scene. Kurt Cobain himself described Nirvana as punk-rock, it’s not hard to see why.

            I’m not going to deny that genres are getting harder to define as I think the biggest change in the post-internet world is the amount of genre blending that happens, which describes why you see only “sub-genres”. However the idea that there is a limited bandwidth is silly. There are infinite possibilities of sound possible, therefore there is infinite possibility for new genres. More than likely at some point in both our lives a new instrument will come out, or a drastically different production technique will become popular and something as distinctive as hip-hop will change the face of music once again. 

          3. dubstep beats are used as backing music for acts as popular and mainstream as Lady Gaga

            Right, just as pieces of it are used with some Brittany Spears songs, but I already addressed this in my previous post.

            This is certainly not the same thing as past genres which dominated popular music. This weakness of Dubstep, once again, proves my point.

            In all seriousness though, people not being able to define a genre well doesn’t make them not exist.

            Then who’ll define them nowadays? Manatees?

            There are infinite possibilities of sound possible

            Sorry, the science isn’t with you there, either. Iterations of sound that mimic anything like music to the general public have obvious limits.

            However the idea that there is a limited bandwidth is silly.

            I had some tell me the same thing well over 10 years ago and they’re all eating crow now that the time for a distinctively new genre has come and gone.

            Especially with all the Internet collaboration and home studios that’s been available for over a decade, there should already be MANY new, distinctive genres that matches the impact of genres in decades past. But, there isn’t. And all you have to laughably offer is… Dubstep.

            It sure as hell isn’t because people aren’t trying.

            Any day now… any day now….

          4. In all seriousness though, some people not being able to define a genre well doesn’t make them not exist.
            Sorry I did word that incorrectly earlier. 

            Everything I’ve said about dubstep is correct though. It is:
            a) Definable and separate to other music that has influenced it. (whomp whomp…)
            b) It is popular (although this is completely and utterly irrelevant)
            c) It and the scene surrounding it does influence fashion
            d) It will undoubtedly form at least part of “what defines” the 2000s for the people involved in it.

            I’ve also offered two other fairly distinct music genres that are for all intents and purposes products of the 2000-2010 decade. Firstly, mashup. Tricky to define because it does borrow so many elements from so many different styles, and even within the genre there is such variation between the sounds created, but mashup is certainly a genre onto itself.

            Next, and probably the most obvious example of a new genre with its own distinct fashion, ethos and even within the broader genre a large number of subgenres is Emo. If you can convince me that Emo is more of a sub-genre than Grunge I’ll eat my hat. They’ve both got a lot of the same roots, punk-rock, metal, alt-rock. They’ve both got their own fashion. They’ve both spawned a huge number of bands that imitate early sounds from the genre. 

            Finally, again the point you’ve ignored repeatedly. New instruments, new production techniques. These will inevitably pop up and they’ll inevitably change music in a big way again. Claiming otherwise is ignoring history.

          5. It will undoubtedly form at least part of “what defines” the 2000s for the people involved in it.

            If it was going to, it already would’ve. It’s nearly 2013. Grunge clearly and undoubtably defined the 90’s by the early 90’s.


            That’s hilarious. By its very nature, it’s a sub-genre because you’re taking other genres (and/or previous music) and remixing it. Just like with naming Dubstep, you’re just further proving my point.

            Mashups are just more advanced sampling that we’ve seen since the 80’s with Hip Hop.

            If you can convince me that Emo is more of a sub-genre than Grunge I’ll eat my hat.

            What about emo? It surged along with other alternative music in the 90’s. And, once again, you’re naming something that by no one’s standards but your own would define the decade of 2000-2010.

            You’re seriously trying to tell me with a straight face that Emo defined the 00’s as Grunge did with the 90’s? While Emo certainly gained more popularity in the 00’s (which you claim doesn’t matter anyway), it never came even close to reaching the saturation point of genres of previous decades.

            Like many others that don’t want to face the fact that distinctive music genre has a limited bandwidth, you’re getting desperate here.

            popular (although this is completely and utterly irrelevant)

            If popularity means nothing, then why do you claim that Emo (which was well established in the 90’s) defines the 00’s when it became more mainstream (but still much less so than Grunge did in the 90’s)?

            You can’t have it both ways.

            Finally, again the point you’ve ignored repeatedly. New instruments, new production techniques.

            Actually, I didn’t ignore it. Read above through my previous posts and you’ll see where I addressed it.

            ignoring history.

            That seems to be your forte. Once again, you keep ignoring all the DEFINING genres that went along with the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s and sweep their major cultural impacts under the rug while trying to tell me that the 00’s were defined as equally with Dubstep and Emo. Sorry, I’m not counting Mashup as anything but a subgenre as it should be. Also, as far as mashups go, I refer you to the 1990’s with Vanilla Ice and Queen/David Bowie.

          6. Grunge was clearly defined by the 90s, grunge was clearly huge by the early 90s, but grunge didn’t define the 90s until people looked back and went “grunge had a huge cultural impact”. A photo of Nirvana on a magazine cover proves only as much as any photo of any band on the front cover of any music magazine, i.e. nil. 

            That’s hilarious. By its very nature, it’s a sub-genre because you’re taking other genres (and/or previous music) and remixing it…Mashups are just more advanced sampling that we’ve seen since the 80’s with Hip Hop.

            Therefore Hip-hop must be a sub-genre, because it to relies on taking other genres and remixing? I thought we couldn’t have things both ways here?

            Once again, you keep ignoring all the DEFINING genres that went along with the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s and sweep their major cultural impacts under the rug while trying to tell me that the 00’s were defined as equally with Dubstep and Emo.

            And here we get to the central fault in your argument. You seem to believe that a genre must define a generation or a decade, or have some overarching impact on society at large to be a distinct genre. None of this is true.  A genre has to define a style of music that is distinct, recognisable and different from other genres of music. That is it. 

            I don’t see fashion as a requirement of a genre, but I agree that it does help define the culture that surrounds the music, which feeds back into defining the music. Popularity is irrelevant. Saturation is irrelevant. However, seeing as you keep arguing that these elements are relevant  I’ve pointed out that both dubstep and emo did achieve both a level of mainstream popularity and cultural saturation. Both genres will inevitably be looked back on by those involved in the scene and people will say things like “the 2000s were all about dubstep”. I’m not “having it both ways”, I’m countering your arguments.

            A sub-genre helps further define a style of music, but as I’ve said, what defines a genre compared to a sub-genre is subjective and relative (its not ‘reality’). For example, if you were describing say an unknown band that were in the same vain as the Dead Kennedys to someone that only listened to Jazz you’d probably leave it at “they’re a punk band” if you were talking to a broader rock fan you might say “they’re a hardcore punk band” if you were talking to a punk fan you might say “they’re 80s hardcore punk throwbacks with a strong political message”. Relative to who you’re talking to and what they know, subjective depending on where you draw the line at what a sub-genre is.

            Which seems to be where we disagree. I believe Emo, or Dubstep are as much their own genres as Grunge, I believe fans of the genres would agree with me (I’m certainly not a fan of either). I wouldn’t go as far as say they’re on equal status as Punk or Rock because they’re much broader categories that cover many more sub-genres. I also wouldn’t try and argue that they’re as popular as grunge, because you’re right they’re not, that does’t exclude them from being defined genres in their own right.

            As to Vanilla Ice and mashups, does that mean punk started in 1968 with The Stooges? Or is it when it exploded into popularity simultaneously on three different continents around the mid 1970s? Once again, everything is influenced by what came before it, that doesn’t make something a sub-genre.

          7. Grunge was clearly defined by the 90s, grunge was clearly huge by the early 90s, but grunge didn’t define the 90s until people looked back and went “grunge had a huge cultural impact”

            You’re terribly incorrect. I’ll just copypasta from a previous post of mine I already gave you the links to:

            By 1992, the Grunge genre was already very well established in popular culture. The American public didn’t look back on it later in the 2000’s and then finally label it “Grunge”.

            New music genres are a big deal in popular culture and people know when it’s happening (as it’s happening) and genres are labeled accordingly within magazines, radio, Internet and TV as it’s happening. Grunge was certainly no exception.

            Your anecdotal experience doesn’t match what was going on for the majority of the public. Grunge was a very well known genre and mentioned directly by name on the cover of Rolling Stone, Time, SPIN, Newsweek, etc., etc…during the early and mid 90’s.

            Therefore Hip-hop must be a sub-genre, because it to relies on taking other genres and remixing?

            You’re wrong, Hip Hop didn’t rely on samples, it was just another aspect of it. On the other hand, Mashups by their very nature depend upon them.

            I would say you’re getting desperate here, but we passed that bridge a long time ago. ^_^

            Popularity is irrelevant. Saturation is irrelevant.

            Tell that to the rest of society that disagrees with you. There’s a reason that major genres are separated from sub-genres. It’s by consensus. That’s reality.

            And like I said earlier, you can’t have it both ways. You said Emo was an important genre for the 00’s when it actually was established in the 90’s first. The only thing that changed for Emo in the 00’s is that is became slightly more mainstream. You keep contradicting yourself.

            Which seems to be where we disagree. I believe Emo, or Dubstep are as much their own genres as Grunge

            Once again, tell that to the rest of society that disagree with you. While many will definitely say Grunge defined much of the 90’s – Hardly anyone except the most rabid fans would say Emo or Dubstep defined the 00’s. Emo and Dubstep are more like sub-genres in that respect.

            And, once again, there’s a reason that there’s no strong, new, distinctive, defining genres for the 00’s… we’re clearly running out of them. As I’ve stated before, if genre’s weren’t dying out, then you’d have many more to show than these weak examples of Emo (established in the 90’s) and Dubstep (which most people consider a sub-genre of drum and bass).

            Here’s something for you to ignore again, but it completely destroys your arguments…

            ONCE AGAIN:

            The biggest hits today (in near 2013) could have very easily been the same hits produced in the very late 90’s and early 2000’s and most of the general public would know the distinctive difference anymore. You can’t easily take a hit from the 80’s and have the general public get it mixed it up with a hit from the 50’s (or even the 70’s for that matter) because they’re too distinctive from each other.

            HOW DO YOU EXPLAIN THAT? You can’t.

            In this day and age of affordable home studios, Internet distribution and collaboration there should be at least 5 MAJOR distinctive new genres created in the 00’s. But, there IS’NT. That’s REALITY.

            Show me a new MAJOR genre that holds up to the distinctive sounds of the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s and 80’s? You can’t. It’s been blurring ever since the 90’s.

            Until you address that reality, this discussion is useless.

            what defines a genre compared to a sub-genre is subjective and relative (its not ‘reality’)

            Once again, tell that to the rest of society that disagree with you.

            In your desperation, you’re now trying to tell everyone that sub-genres don’t exist or some blather. We’ll have to simply agree to disagree.

            Enjoy your sub-genres. It’s all that’s left.

          8. Urhh.. you’re repeating points I’ve already addressed over and over… I can’t really be bothered, but I also can’t stop. You are fun to argue with, I’ll give you that.

            Your anecdotal experience doesn’t match what was going on for the majority of the public. Grunge was a very well known genre and mentioned directly by name on the cover of Rolling Stone, Time, SPIN, Newsweek, etc., etc…during the early and mid 90’s.

            Whilst emo has never been mentioned in any form of media at all!
            * Stoned to death for being an emo: NINETY Iraqi students killed for having ‘strange hair and tight clothes’
            * EMO cult warning for parents
            * Emo music attacked over teen suicide (I remember really similar complaints about grunge after Kurt’s suicide).
            * Eye, eye! There are no fringe benefits for emos (Health hazards from haircuts apparently…I’m fairly sure the pun-filled title is just as likely a health hazard).

            The biggest hits today (in near 2013) could have very easily been the same hits produced in the very late 90’s and early 2000’s and most of the general public would know the distinctive difference anymore. You can’t easily take a hit from the 80’s and have the general public get it mixed it up with a hit from the 50’s (or even the 70’s for that matter) because they’re too distinctive from each other.

            I already addressed this. The majority of pop music has barely changed since the 80s (about when it became far easier and cheaper to produce pop-music without real instruments), the only real change has been production values. However, considering those production values you can hear pretty distinct differences. Auto-tune is the obvious example of a new technique barely used (or at least used very differently) before the 2000s. Consider these three songs:
            Madonna – Like  A Virgin 1984
            Kylie Minogue 2000
            Lady Gaga – Bad Romance. 2012

            I’ve chosen those three particularly for their similarities: they’re all obviously huge, mainstream pop artists that use electronic backing tracks. However the production values have evolved, the beats/backing tracks have evolved and no, Bad Romance couldn’t have come out in 1999. It has a distinct flavour which will only become more obvious with time. Of course, these are all much the same genre, but that doesn’t exclude the possiblity of new genres existing.

            Tell that to the rest of society that disagrees with you. There’s a reason that major genres are separated from sub-genres. It’s by consensus. That’s reality.

            So there has never been a non-mainstream genre? All underground music is sub-genre? Absolutely absurd. 

            Enjoy deciding you’ve heard all the new styles music you’ll ever hear. Personally I look forward to my kids telling me about what strange new styles of music they’re listening to while I chuckle at the media hysteria about whatever feature of said new genre is ruining our children.

          9. Whilst emo has never been mentioned in any form of media at all!

            In your OWN FIRST media link it says, “… They regard themselves as a cool, young sub-set of the Goths. … ”

            In your very second media link it says, ” … The Emos – short for Emotional – regard themselves as a cool, young sub-set of the Goths. … ” & ” … Elder Goths, as opposed to Baby Bats, who are the under-30s. … ”

            All hail the brand new sub-genre Emo that’s based upon the Goth genre.

            Get it?

            you’re repeating points I’ve already addressed over and over.

            You’re projecting.

            All underground music is sub-genre?

            Speaking of which, this just goes to show that you haven’t been listening.

            The point is, once again, is that it’s all been done before. It doesn’t matter if you define it as a sub-genre or not. There hasn’t been a new, distinctive, mainstream genre in over a decade that compares to decades past. The only thing you have to offer is desperate things like Emo, Goth, Dubstep and Mashups (based upon sampling other genres so by its very definition it’s a subgenre).

            Once again... if you asked average people to discern 50’s music from 80’s music, the overwhelming majority would be able to VERY easily do it based on genre style alone. That’s certainly NOT the case nowadays and you’ve yet to address or explain that.

            Because… you can’t. And, try getting away from your computer for a while and waltz into a Goth club and ask them if they think Goth or Emo “defined” the 00’s for the general public. They’ll laugh you out of the club.

        2. One other point, I’ve already covered less mainstream styles of music in the post above but I wanted to address your “biggest hits” point.

          The biggest difference between say 80s pop and 90s pop was production, apart from production the song formula is much the same. Exactly the same is true today. How many god-awful autotune songs did you hear the in the late 90s or early 2000s?

          1. The biggest difference between say 80s pop and 90s pop was production

            Agreed.  Probably one of the many reasons I despise most Pop music.

  27. Some people get this post, some people don’t. I think it’s as simple as understanding the difference between a rock & roll nostalgia band like Sha Na Na versus bands like The Ramones, The Misfits & The Cramps. Every band I listed in italics above has a nostalgic love towards 1950s & 1960s pop & rock music, but only Sha Na Na is religiously stuck mimicking what they love to perfection.  In contrast The Ramones, The Misfits & The Cramps took songs & melodies that were born in the early days of rock & morphed it into something new.

      1.  And yet…every Halloween, in every midsized American city (and up), some group of folks take it upon themselves to dress up and perform as The Misfits.

      2. Nope. Even more valid than ever.  They opened for Jimi Hendrix who took classic blues & made it his own. Sha Na Na did what? Inspire Grease & Happy Days & tons of faux 1950s nostalgic B.S.?

        1. See — we’re right back at the discussion with EH about certain types of “temporal subcultures” and the avoidance thereof…

          Plus Hot Topic, etc.

  28. Somehow I think that we aren’t remixing more, or making more derivative art more often now- but that it’s just more obvious because of our technology. We have such incredible communication, the internet, social networking via mobile apps, and on and on… I think the loop gets closed faster and faster, and so the cycle gets faster also. Discuss.

  29. All Is Vanity (Ecclesiastes)
    1 The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem.
    2 Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity.
    3 What profit hath a man of all his labor which he taketh under the sun?
    4 One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh: but the earth abideth for ever.
    5 The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he arose.
    6 The wind goeth toward the south, and turneth about unto the north; it whirleth about continually, and the wind returneth again according to his circuits.
    7 All the rivers run into the sea; yet the sea is not full: unto the place from whence the rivers come, thither they return again.
    8 All things are full of labor; man cannot utter it: the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing.
    9 The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.
    10 Is there any thing whereof it may be said, See, this is new? it hath been already of old time, which was before us.
    11 There is no remembrance of former things; neither shall there be any remembrance of things that are to come with those that shall come after.

  30. The thing that gets me about the ‘retro’ fashion is that I am now old enough – blimey, I’m 52 now! – to have my kids be ‘into’ some of the stuff I was into myself at their age…It’s a bit spooky.

    But what amuses me is that the retro version of my particular genre (Punk in my case) is never really like the genre as it actually was. The retro version is always a rather kitch caricature of the original.

    This was brought to my attention when I attended a UK Subs gig a couple of years ago. Surrounding the stage were the ‘retro Punk’ kids (all very smartly turned out in their take on Punk dress) while huddled around the bar at the back were a gaggle of us original punks, dressed in smart casual suits and cardigans (and now inevitably Geography teachers, accountants or upper management executives)!

    We watched the retro punks as they did what they thought Punks aught to do (though we noticed that there wasn’t much gobbing going on) and every so often one or two of them would flash bewildered looks in our direction and chuckled at our ‘square’ clothing.

    I actually like the whole retro thing, it’s a harmless outlet for youngsters and it keeps creative genres alive in a positive way. But I agree that a fixation on ‘retro’ can also be harmful if kids do not develop their own cultural movements. The trouble is, when you get to my age, is that it becomes harder to identify the new movements are we are invariably out of the loop.

    I have no doubt that there is a lot of new stuff going on.

  31. I can’t help but remember something from one of the first ‘zines I ever read, back in autumn 1985.  In it, the writer expressed a similar frustration as in this article.  He bemoaned the apparent ’60s revival that had gripped music and popular culture in general.  At the time, I wasn’t sure what he meant.  But within a few months, The Bangles had become really popular, and a few months after that, there was a big Monkees revival (see also: Doctor and The Medics).  Come to find out, there had been a “paisley underground” scene on the West Coast even since the early-80s.

    Also during this time: Wynton Marsalis.

    Around 1990 or 1991, I recall Factsheet Five complaining how, culturally, we seemed to be constantly looking in the rear-view mirror and never keeping our eyes on the road.

    So “nothing new under the sun” would seem to include complaining about there being nothing new under the sun. (EDIT: more often than not I’ve counted myself among the complainers.)

    P.S. I think Dan Clowes once had something about this, too: “I’m not into the fifties revival, per se: I’m more into the early-80s-fifties-revival…” (I can’t recall if he was still drawing the Llyd Llewellyn character at this point)

  32. “There’s no story that ain’t been told,
    There’s no gimmick that ain’t been sold,
    There’s no ocean that never been swam,
    There’s no jobber that ain’t been slammed,
    There’s no road that ain’t been traveled,
    There’s no doctor that ain’t been baffled,
    Ain’t no thug that never cried,
    Ain’t no preacher that never lied,
    There’s no rumor that ain’t been passed,
    Ain’t no question that no one’s asked,
    There’s no tree that won’t get chopped,
    There’s no bomb that wont get dropped,
    Ain’t no path that no one’s laid,
    Ain’t no beast that ain’t been afraid,
    There’s no feat that no one can,
    There’s no saga that never began”

    On occasion those two face painted faygo loving nut balls do something interesting. Your enjoyment and/or appreciation mileage may vary.

  33. For the last few years in my hometown in Mexico, a group of 40-something former DJs have done a Christmas 80s-themed party.

    Talking to one of the organizers, I told him “Dude be honest – if I go, I’m gonna be hoping to hear stuff like The Waterboys, Tones On Tails, Shriekback and Yazoo, but instead I’m gonna be tortured with “Tarzan Boy” and shit, am I right?”

    The guy said “It’s worse than you think.  The guys are married, the wives wear the pants, and all they want to hear are Menudo and Timbiriche over and over again”.

    I remember these girls back in the day, driving around and singing to tunes like “Christine” by Siouxsie & The Banshees, danced to it enthusiastically at parties.  But somewhere along the way, their memories of teenage years became ossified and the more interesting stuff was squeezed out, and what we’re left with is teeny bopper fluff.

    Man, I’d go to that party is if there was a digital jukebox instead of DJs, and I could pull off some relatively lightweight wyatting with Public Image Ltd and Gang Of Four.  “It’s not made for great men, it’s not made for great men…”

      1. But they have to be authentic vintage burlap sacks — none of that repro shit or fair trade coffee sacks.

  34. “If we ever get out of the 80s, the 90s are going to make the 60s look like the 50s”

    Try to remember that Simon Reynolds has a book out and is on a lecture tour. He’s hung his hat on this schtick for a while now. He also knows more about more music than anyone I’ve ever come across, including John Peel (god rest his schoolgirl outfit).

    At the beginning of the year a group of us had a big discussion about Retromania, post post-modernism, and the UK Bass aesthetic and somebody came up with an idea that blew me away. Back in the 18th and 19th century, part of the game for poets was to score artistic points by referencing previous styles and pieces of poetry *in your new poem*. This isn’t re-using the amen break, sampling a bass line or copying a Stones riff. This is including a few words in a rigidly structured form that invokes a cognitive dissonance in the reader’s mind without breaking step, meter or rhyme. I’m completely in awe of the scalpel like minimalism of this ability. The point being that all art exists in a ‘nuum of influences. De-constructing those influences or consciously using them is not a mistaken pleasure but core to the creative process. And it doesn’t prevent you from making something with “quality”. What I think Reynolds really rails against is decadence not a paucity of imagination inherent in taking influences from the past. That decadence is the same thing that Zappa lampooned in Cocaine Decision. It’s expensive ugliness, cynically produced for profit.

    Next, why 2012 dubstep isn’t 2006 dubstep (which isn’t 2000 DnB) and is unworthy of the name.

  35. ehn. doesn’t bug me too much, then again, i’m a sucker for people who hang on to antiquated traditions. i’m from the land of people who still make their own liquor, and play banjo, and build cabins in the woods, and not in that Portlandia kinda way, but the real way. I get it. There’s something to be said for preserving the old ways.

    don’t get me wrong. i love new shit. i’m a technophile and a vocal advocate of science and science education. i also love new art. I love twists on the old and stuff that challenges everything i’ve ever seen.

    but i do have a huge soft spot for the old shit that turns me on. A lot of that happens to be from the 50s and such. Sun Records, EC comics, pinup girls, etc. i dunno. Maybe i’m part of this perceived “problem.”

  36. Old stuff. What used to be called “tradition” or even “culture.” Stuff worth keeping around because it still speaks to some people. News that stays news, and so on.

    And for those resonating with the anxiety-of-influence-haunted rock critic: art has a long history of offering us the-same-only-different, which means “music modeled on the past” can mean “music not operating in a vacuum.”

  37. I like the fact that this guy finds no irony in using dubstep as an example of something “new,” when its fleeping NAME (and sound, to a large extent) is a combination of “dub” and “step” (as in techstep, two-step, hardstep, darkstep, jazzstep, trancestep, electrostep, and probably eight million other sub-subgenres I haven’t heard of).

  38. Also, I didn’t see the point made anywhere that (duh) the reason bands go back to old sounds is because a lot of us weren’t alive then! Hello! I’m not trying to say that there aren’t plenty of artistically bankrupt musicians out there, but just because the Beatles recorded something 40-50 years ago, that doesn’t mean people reproduce the sound for today’s audiences. Hell, look at symphonic music — it’s ALL old — Gershwin’s hundred-years-old music is considered “modern.”

  39. This problem has been engaged most successfully, in my opinion, by east bloc composers in the late 20th century who backed away from serialism and began to consciously adopt kitsch and older musical references, but typically in a playful and progressive manner.   I’m thinking of composers like Schnittke and especially Silvestrov.   If you can wrap your mind around some academic musicology and pretty deep analysis, have a go at the chapter on Silvestrov in its entirety here and check out some of the work on youtube.

    For extra credit, give examples of pop musicians who have mined and reworked the resonances of earlier pop in the way that Silvestrov deconstructs and puts romantic cliches under a broken microscope and fold them like pictures of Poincare undergoing the Baker transform.   Maybe that’s the pop that I want to hear.

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