Music business and lockdown—has the industry gone digital?
“Rock is dead!” is a statement that probably every generation has heard at some point in the last 40 years, only to be proven wrong again and again. Nevertheless, there are currently an alarming number of arguments that could underline this thesis. Rock festivals run out of headliners, bringing the same heavyweights like Muse, Green Day (Rock Am Ring 22), The Killers and Kings of Leon (Hurricane 22) to the big ones every year with the Foo Fighters, Billy Talent and other bands of this stature put the handle in your hand. What these bands have in common is that 15 years ago they already had the largest lettering on festival shirts and posters. Back then, however, because they were new and innovative and gave the genre a new and modern look with their very own sound. If you turned on the radio, all these bands were well represented in the broadcast rotation. And the guitar is still one of the most popular mainstream instruments. But does modern rock music still exist?
If you look at this year's Grammy nominations for best rock album, you may not believe your eyes—aside from the now almost obligatory nomination for the latest work of the Foo Fighters—AC/DC still exists. One of the nominees, Chris Cornell, is no longer alive. And Paul McCartney undoubtedly deserves every monument that will be erected for him (as well as the other nominees, of course). But it's not the same people as in the last few decades who can set the bar and turn everything in music upside down in one fell swoop. The only young and new band is the phenomenon Black Pumas led by the brilliant singer Eric Burton (no, not Eric Burdon). But you need a lot of imagination here to really assign this band to the genre. Especially when you look at it from the perspective of modern rock music.
An analysis by TheData Face from 2016 supports the thesis that rock is no longer listened to. It found out that the proportion of rock songs in the Billboard charts, which peaked at 60 percent in 1984, had fallen to 1.4 percent by 2016.
Since Machine Gun Kelly switched from hip hop to pop/high school punk camp, the genre has at least experienced a renaissance, but only because, in contrast to the greats of the 2000s (Good Charlotte, Sum41 etc.), electronic elements from trap and hip hop can be heard from time to time. Aside from autotuned voices and rap & trap elements in the rhythm of the melodies, it’s basically the same soup as it was 15 years ago. And despite a few new ingredients, it now tastes incredibly boring.
These are all arguments for the thesis that rock is just a self-referential genre. A genre with old heroes who rehash their own works until nothing remains but a watered-down version of the innovative glory of days gone by. Arguments that the guitar has long since been replaced by laptops and sample pads, and the days of anything like modern rock music are over. However, there are a few points that should not be ignored:
Basically, there have always been counter-movements to trends in music history. It was only a matter of time before a genre other than rock became more popular and took over youth culture. But the current zeitgeist will also change again. Through the development of the last few years, innovation in rock is inevitably driven forward. Fortunately, music is much more than just a market that needs to be analyzed. The larger a genre (or even a subgenre of the genre) is, the more artists it attracts. They want to ride the wave and emulate these supposed recipes for success. That doesn't necessarily encourage the innovative spirit. And it automatically ensures that there is more room for innovation in other genres. Because trying to serve a market is no longer so tempting here.
All of this leads to the question: does modern rock still exist? Does the concept of a band still exist? And if so, who are these acts who have dedicated themselves to a genre that has been talked about to death for years? Who manages to create a modern version of a genre of music that—as we see every year at the big festivals—enjoys a large following. A fan base that longs to be surprised again. Here are a few examples of acts that are currently bringing the genre back to life:
The native New Yorker also known as Don Rocco has been on the road as a solo artist since 2018. Since then he has released three EPs. At the end of 2021 his debut album "A Real Good Person in a Real Bad Place" was released. His influences range from rock’n'roll and alternative rock to hip hop, pop and drum'n'bass. He doesn't shy away from pop melodies or completely over-the-top guitar walls. While the innovative spirit of this artist cannot be distinctly recognized on the first two EPs, the potential that lies dormant here has been understood since the grandiose EP “This is Our Life” at the latest.
The first highlight of the EP is the title track “This is Our Life.” This launched Des Rocs to a number one position on the charts in the USA. Matt Bellamy from Muse would be very proud of the stadium suitability of the chorus. His influence can be heard again and again in "Des Rocs" version of modern rock (`n roll).
Another highlight of this EP is the third song "Nothing Personal". Styles are mixed so wildly here that at first you can't even grasp how it works. Starting with a slightly "bent" acoustic guitar in the intro, the introduction of the sampled drums and the melody of the verse is the first surprise. It goes from the very poppy verse into a stomping chorus without any problems. Here he weaves the cliché of the quarter kicks wonderfully into this mixture of rock, blues, pop and drum'n'bass.
Both the songwriting and the production are all mixed up here and still come across as if they were made of one piece. It’s impressive to experience the ease with which Des Rocs crosses borders and blurs them. This crazy mixture of different styles gets even more extreme on the debut album “A Real Good Person in A Real Bad Place.” Classic rock elements are mixed with drum samples, claps, drum'n'bass grooves, R'N'B, hip hop-like vocal samples and lots of electronics.
And yet you always have the feeling that the song is the focus here and not just a sound ideal. Everything looks very natural and not cramped modern. Throughout the album you never know what might come next. There are so many moments of surprise that you almost expect them after a few songs. Despite the many influences, Des Rocs manages to use the guitar as one of the supporting elements and not just as a cliché in the background. There are often only seconds between walls of guitars that could easily come from songs of a hardcore band, catchy and poppy verses, a bridge that would not even be noticeable on a Billie Eilish album, and Queen-like choral movements in the chorus.
What sounds absurd in the description is nevertheless incredibly natural ("Why Why Why"). Des Rocs, who affectionately refer to himself and his fans as "Rats", pushes the boundaries of a genre. And he sees songs as the playground they should be.
„King Of Rats, Pioneer of Art, New York City Resident“Des Rocs on Twitter 02/21/21
Jordan Edward Benjamin is a Canadian-American artist who mixes rock, trap, hip hop and hardstyle in his idiosyncratic style. In terms of content, he mainly deals with political issues, personal self-doubt and psychological problems. Topics that are currently affecting the younger generation and obviously reflect the spirit of the times and the attitude to life of many people.
He had his first big success in 2018 with the single "Blood // Water.” It’s got a very poppy melody with trap beats and a hook that would also attract people to the stage at hardstyle festivals. However, he doesn't shy away from nearly-screamed vocals or a guitar riff in the last part of the song, which almost sounds like a very modern version of Rage Against The Machine in terms of its energy. On the debut album "The Death of an Optimist" Grandson creates his alter ego "X" so that his person—who embodies the optimist—faces a pessimistic dark side. This is also implemented very well in the visual language of the music videos:
He conveys a feeling that many are likely to have at the moment. In a world where we are actually doing better than ever and there is still so much suffering in other parts of the world, but also right on our own doorstep. "What you gonna do when there's blood in the water?" (Blood//Water). The very dark and dystopian sound of the record is contrasted by the danceable Dirty, which propagates charity and is a song that explodes with energy without any time to catch your breath. ("Do you have enough love in your heart… To go and get your hands dirty?”). Not everything in his discography is as thrilling as the songs described, but in the end that's a matter of taste.
Cleopatrick are a rock duo from Canada. Their debut album "Bummer" was released in 2021 and evokes hard, modern rock music that does not borrow from metal. After the duo had a very successful start with their first two EPs, the album was long-awaited by many fans. The whole record is bursting with energy and is really engaging. You can clearly hear the songs being limited to two instruments.
The focus here is more on the groove, the vocals and leaves more room for the drums than in larger line-ups. There isn't much to the arrangements of the songs. One or two simple riffs that like to explode completely towards the end, a singer who sacrifices himself for the song, and wild drums that don't even have to hide from Dave Grohl in the days of Nirvana. This reduction is a welcome change from many other representatives of the genre, where the productions and arrangements are getting bigger, more complex and more detailed.
No prisoners were taken during production either. The drums are often overdriven to such an extent that nowadays, when you're used to very clean and often electronic drums in rock and pop, it takes a little getting used to. But after a few songs you can see a clear idea behind it. And you immediately have in your mind's eye how this band becomes one with the audience in small clubs dripping with sweat from the ceiling. Also the guitars are mostly distorted to the limit and pull you out of the daydream of your listening habits with maximally overdriven but very modern fuzz sounds. The hip hop influence, which you wouldn't expect at first glance, can be heard in phases in the singing and the drum grooves. This is how modern rock music can work.
The band also revives the DIY mentality that once arose in punk rock. The album was released through the self-founded label and distributed in the collective New Rock Mafia. The collective consists of bands and fans who support each other and promote their music and a community through the various channels. Again and again there are, for example, “secret” live streams from the bands, only for this collective. Overall, the band manages to create a new sound with a mixture of grunge, noise rock and punk with actually relatively classic means.
One artist showing signs of the return of guitars and rock choruses to the mainstream is Olivia Rodrigo. First of all, it should be said that the album as a whole is very far removed from modern rock in most places. The fact that a rock-influenced song became one of the biggest hits of the young artist, who was best known for her role in the High School Musical spin-off series, speaks volumes.
We're talking about “good 4 you.” The song is a great example of how rock music can play its way back into the hearts of the next generation, which is primarily into pop and hip hop. Opening with a bass riff and modern choir interjections, the verse starts with a beat that is very hip hop influenced. Accompanied by a melody that consists of four tones and above all impresses with its flow, which is also borrowed from hip hop.
In the second half, the surprising pop punk chorus is distinguished by the enigmatic quaver guitar. The whole thing flows into this with a lot of energy and uses the new (old) trend of high school punk. Genre boundaries blur here - and it all works very organically and doesn't seem constructed. The theme of a separation, which has already been illuminated from all sides, is also beautifully packaged lyrically here. It will be interesting to see if she gives more space on upcoming releases to modern rock music—it would definitely be a plus.
Other artists to check out when you hear “Rock is Dead” again include Blood Red Shoes, Wolf Alice, Highly Suspect, Dead Poet Society, Foals and Nothing But Thieves. Most of them are no longer newcomers, but still manage to set new innovative impulses again and again.
Are you also a fan of rock music? Want to write and record songs yourself? Then have a look around here at mukken, maybe you will find band members or producers there to create your very own version of modern rock. You can find more features and blog posts about great artists here on our blog.
Originally published on May 9, 2022, updated on May 9, 2022