On the launch of their second album, Henry Dartnall from The Young Knives contemplates whether the best way to get noticed is through rebellion…
“Modern bands are in a quandary. With numbers doubling daily how are you going to be noticed? How are you going to be the most rock and roll of all? This is actually an unquantifiable number of questions as the notion of rock and roll is as multifarious as the notion of Love or even God. It is however an important one. Why is it that certain music at a certain time connects to so many people that it becomes the sound of a generation? What makes the connection? Marketing? Some cynics would say that we can be manipulated into thinking anything is cool. But surely there is more to it than that.
Modern bands are in a quandary
Rebellion seems to be one of the main historical reasons that a band or type of music connects. I saw Paul Kaye on the TV the other day saying that he once saw Sid and Nancy on the street when he was a kid and immediately understood that they stood for everything his parents would disapprove of. Some bands have taken similar roads to rockdom, for example: The Towers of London. They are idealists, they know the stories of old, the unwashed, drunken, spotty arsed, sleep with anything, sick in the ashtray, leave your liver on the tour bus. And this is their (and countless other bands’) chosen path to rock Valhalla, but it has been done to death and is no longer as impressive as once it was. So we look for new definitions of rock and roll, new ways to rebel, but the fact is that many bands are confused about which way to turn. My band is definitely among the confused. It is quite understandable; the pressures are countless and come from all directions.
So what can we rebel against? What are the sins of age? And let’s not let our existing social values decide for us, what kind of rebellion would that be? We could choose an over commercial society. True, it’s a theme that has been broached before by Punk bands but it is still relevant. But who cares? No one cares; we have got more expendable income than ever and we are going to spend it. This availability of funds is probably one of the main contributing factors to the reinvigoration of the live music scene. We have definitely noticed the increase in over 30s and 40s in our audiences, people with good incomes who plough money into our merch stand. What are we going to do, complain? Because of increased piracy we aren’t going to be selling the amount of records once sold by rock bands so we need people to come to our gigs. It’s a commercial reality if we want to continue to be in a band full time. We would be mugs to rebel against it.
Maybe we don’t need to be rebels? Maybe we can just make music and that’s it. Nice, I like that. Maybe we can just accept that we are a product that is for sale and just try to follow everyone else to the arenas and enormodomes of the world, sponsored by mobile phone and cool clothing companies. Then we can just make music and enjoy it. If we don’t we might as well start scouring the papers for proper jobs. Well there must be some truth in this; every band from history is reforming to play to 20,000 people at a time including the godfathers of Punk. Are you going to be the band who says “screw that”? Really? Go on, be honest. Well good luck to you but you’re an idiot.
But there is something to be said for keeping your mind numbing commercialism to a minimum, surely? If you are selling shed loads of records do you need to do a Coke advert? To quote Bill Hicks: “you not got enough money, you fuck?” As a side note, Bill also said that maybe you can turn a blind eye to the struggling artist if they do big adverts. So when you hear one of my band’s songs on a Gillette advert just go easy.
Maybe we don’t need to be rebels?
So a band has to be inventive with its music, that’s a given. But everything is a copy of something else isn’t it? So true originality is dead, the last true originals were The Beatles? Pah, don’t make me laugh. If that was true we all might as well stop right now. Everything is derived from something else, and that includes The Beatles. Let’s not dwell on it. To be inventive you don’t need to create something out of thin air, because that would be magic and a whole different kettle of fish. So maybe the modern musician can still rebel in his/her own way just by being innovative. But then why would we be so interested in the musicians themselves? Because they represent something outside the norm? But you must remember being able to buy MC5 t-shirts in Topman. So rock and roll is the norm. Rock and roll is as everyday as Neighbours. Bands that would have been on the John Peel show ten years ago are now daytime Radio 1 material. The Pixies would be top 10. Is that such a bad thing? Sort of; it does mean that bands are pushed in similar directions and as they too feel the pressure of trying to get Radio 1’s daytime play list so what looks like individual music could become subconsciously homogenised. Some would argue that this process is already happening. So we are then left with too many bands doing the same thing. At which point the record buying, music loving population become disillusioned and something new and amazing comes along.
Maybe we should rebel against mediocrity, blandness and laziness. That sounds good to me. If everyone is following each other then music, clothes, ideas become boring, samey, like our high streets. So we can aim for difference, the unexpected, the unfamiliar, and in that way we could rebel and create new paradigms of rock, or whatever we are going to call it then. Goodness, this is a large topic isn’t it? I never said I was going to give any answers. I am so confused that I think I am going to get smashed out of my head and sleep with some groupies. I guess my point is that as indie becomes mainstream I hope that an actual indie attitude becomes mainstream. The attitude that we won’t just listen to what is fed to us but that we will go out and find exciting music for ourselves. I can but hope, but can rebellion become the status quo? It’s a contradiction. Maybe the world will implode.”