A few days back, someone posted a YouTube video on Facebook of a heavy metal band called Stryper covering Judas Priest’s hoary old chestnut, Breaking the Law. Back in my less discerning youth I was a fan of Stryper, a big-hair, very stripey, US West Coast metal band; they had a brief moment of glory in the 80s and they have apparently reformed and are releasing a covers album, hence the video.
If you’re reading this blog, then your current musical tastes are not likely to include the metallic any more than mine do now. I spotted something in the video, however, that got me thinking about our musical world.
I spotted something that pervaded every moment of the clip – and that is RITUAL. Everything in rock is an old and well-explored ritual of content or behaviour. The way rockers look, the way they move, the poses at certain parts of the very predictable song structures, the faces they pull, the way they hold the instruments, their haircuts, the way a concert is structured, the way intros and outros and encores are so utterly predictable and scripted. It’s all a tribal ritual as strictly set out as a Catholic mass or a State Opening of Parliament. People get very upset when their identikit idols behave outside the parameters of the liturgy – not having an encore, having the wrong haircut – anything that doesn’t follow the script.
It got me pondering whether our world of bass electronica, dubstep, drumstep, EDM, etc is as ritualistic and boringly predictable as rock. I’m sure none of us, producers, DJs or fans, think of ourselves or our behaviour that way – but I’m sure none of the old rockers did either. Maybe it’s not possible to see the pathetic inevitability of group behaviour until you’ve moved on and away from that particular ‘scene’.
I saw a cartoon today which referred to a Burial track and its lack of a ‘drop’. I’m sure there are people in dubstepworld who don’t like Burial because the bpm of his tunes isn’t right and there often isn’t a discernable ‘drop’. People don’t like Skrillex because he doesn’t follow the surly, self-righteous puritanical script of the dubstep ‘purist’ and makes populist anthems that people actually like. How very dare he!
In most musical genres, the true innovators, the ones actually leading the thing forward, are those who don’t follow the script, are those who violate the ritual. If I spot that something is becoming a ritual requirement, my next thought is ‘how can I change that?’.
I know I’d rather be a leader than a follower.