In Memory Of Music

Rock and roll has been declared dead and eulogized for decades—almost as long as the genre has existed. Such obituaries are not premature—in my humble opinion, ALL music is dead.

The death of music is a subjective notion that I’ve long contemplated. And while scholars and laymen continue to debate the date of rock’s passing, I recently determined when music’s soul was forever forsaken: 23 October 1998. By my reckoning, there has been no original nor innovative new music produced in the past 17 years.

Why 23 October 1998? That is the date on which Britney Spears’ debut single, “…Baby One More Time”, was released.

Earlier in the decade, Kurt Cobain’s suicide triggered a massive stroke from which music never recovered; “…Baby One More Time” was the heart attack that finished the job.

For the record, I am not suggesting that Britney Jean Spears is solely responsible for the death of music as an art form. Britney Spears is a monster manufactured by carefully orchestrated marketing campaigns and a relentless public relations machine. However, a collective of conspirators is culpable for this crime: Britney’s family, her manager, her label, producers, promoters, radio stations, MTV, media outlets, and millions of fans worldwide.

Britney’s immediate and massive success helped to precipitate the music industry’s total abandonment of artist development, replaced instead by conveyor belts of manipulable and disposable talent, in search of the next Britney. Labels are solely obsessed with profits, and churn out product calculated to appeal to the lowest common denominator. Genres have become homogeneous and boring. Contemporary performers lack integrity, credibility, and competence, and attempt to compensate for their shortcomings with image, spectacle, and controversy. Albums are antiquated, and digital downloads and streaming satisfy audiences with short attention spans.

This is not to say that there has been no decent listening material released for nearly two decades. However, it’s all derivative—spawned from imitation, not imagination. I feel sorry for today’s youth, being methodically force fed detestable noise and conditioned to accept mediocrity. And frankly, this systemic malaise permeates all forms of entertainment: music, film, television, theater, and publishing. The bottom line is the bottom line, and corporate greed always wins.

Here endeth the rant. Rest in peace, music.

Oh, and anyone that (unironically) comments “Leave Britney Alone!” is missing the point.

Posted on October 23, 2015, in SHELF. Bookmark the permalink. 24 Comments.

  1. No innovation in music since 1998? As a fan of bands like Mogwai, Sigur Ros, Radiohead, The National, Muse, The Maccabees and DJs/Producers like Seth Troxler, Damian Lazarus, Flying Lotus, Ritchie Hawtin and Loco Dice I whole heartedly disagree.

    As time goes on it obviously becomes more difficult to create new sounds and ideas which haven’t been done already in some shape or form, but if you want excitement, innovation, passion and originality it’s out there being produced every day, you just need to look a little bit harder maybe.

  2. I’m admittedly stirring the pot with this post – it’s intentionally divisive. When it comes to music (okay, everything), I’m a bit of a curmudgeon.

    Going back 20 years and earlier, there existed music that was both popular AND good – those traits are mutually exclusive now, and bad pop is the norm:

    Alternative and dance genres have been homogenized and absorbed into the mainstream. Diversity has been diminished and everything sounds similar.

    I continue to appreciate and respect older, established artists, but even many of them are running short on ideas.

    Sorry, but I long for the days when labels took risks, and artists produced enduring anthems, not ringtones.

  3. just in case anyone didnt know “Baby One More Time”:

    01 Baby one more Time (Boy Wonder Radio Mix)
    02 Baby one more Time (Answering Machine Message)
    03 Baby one more Time (Davidson Ospina 2005 Remix)
    04 Baby one more Time (Davidson Ospina Chronicles Dub)
    05 Baby one more Time (Davidson Ospina Club Mix)
    06 Baby one more Time (Davidson Ospina Radio Edit)
    07 Baby one more Time (Instrumental)
    08 Baby one more Time (Lenny Bertoldo X Club Mix)
    09 Baby one more Time (Lenny Bertoldo X Rado Edit)
    10 Baby one more Time (Sharp Platinum Vocal Remix)
    11 Baby one more Time (Sharp Trade Dub)

    (Tracks 4, 7-9, 11 = 192)

  4. and since new music is dead, here’s an (long but very) interesting 25th Anniversary (!) review about one of my favorite albums ever “Behaviour” by the Pet Shop Boys:

  5. Great post. Properly provocative. You have a point that music is going through a terribly fallow period, made worse by the collapse of pre-existing music industry models and the ubiquity of music and lack of quality control. I receive hundreds of music emails every week, yet struggle to find seven a week to post. But that fallow period also happened in the late 80s before house music exploded. I still have my fingers crossed that this is the case today and something interesting and new is around the corner.

    • Thanks, Ted. In addition to that stagnant period in the late-1980s, the early-1970s provide another example of when music started spiraling downward, before the advent of punk. And disco was on the rise then – love it or loathe it, disco laid the groundwork for dance music that followed in its wake.

      I can’t remember the last time that I heard something new and was excited about it. I wish I could share your optimism about the future, but I can’t imagine something that could affect change for the better.

  6. there’s nothing divisive about this post, you’re just wrong

    • Thank you for contributing to the discussion, Phil.

      Please list ten artists who: (1) started making music after 1998, and (2) are highly original and innovative.

      I’m not trying to be an argumentative a-hole – I just can’t think of any worthwhile acts from the past 15 years. Maybe I’m missing something.

  7. hi again
    I know my comment was harsh but I think it’s ‘cos i didn’t really understand your point… why 1998? why the god-awful Britney?
    Innovative music (in the truest sense) is nigh on impossible to pinpoint, surely? The very FIRST rock & roll song; the very FIRST drum ‘n’ bass song; the very FIRST house song. People will argue about those for decades…
    As for good music since 1998, well there’s been loads… I know Radiohead have been around longer, but “In Rainbows” is a classic – to have been given away yet sell so many physical copies worldwide is testament to that. There’s been great music from James Holden (including that killer Britney remix!), Interpol (who owe a debt to The Chameleons, granted), Arctic Monkeys (the fresh impact of that debut has yet to be repeated), Dizzee Rascal (“Bonkers” really was, and a number one too). The new Tame Impala LP is stunning. “Let It Happen” is a sublime single: 8 minutes long, sublime melody yet it sounds like the CD has stuck. Beautiful madness.
    Obviously, this is just off the top of my head… I could think of better examples, and hundreds at that.
    I wish every Indie LP was as good as the second Ride album.
    I wish every dance track was as good as “God Is A DJ”.
    I wish every live concert could reach the heights of The Cure.
    I wish Sonic Youth hadn’t split up.
    I wish Justin Beiber would go back to hell….
    ….but we can’t have everything.

    still, you suckered me into the debate so you did summat sight!!!
    cheers for the great blog over the years mate.

    • Ha! I’m not sorry to have dragged you in, as I sincerely appreciate your insights and recommendations.

      I was channeling some anger here and hoping to spark some spirited discourse – frankly, I’m surprised more people haven’t assailed my assertion.

      In all honesty, my venom is mainly focused on the nonsense that tops charts and dominates radio airplay – ‘hits for the kids.’ The music industry is content to manufacture formulaic fodder because it makes executives rich. But as we know, it wasn’t always like that.

      I had originally chosen 31 December 1999 – the end of the last millennium – as music’s ‘date of death.’ But the Britney Spears single seemed like a more interesting angle – Spears is an easy target and perfectly embodies everything that’s wrong with contemporary music.

      I couldn’t agree more with your ‘wish list’, which ironically supports my argument – it was all better in the past. Yes, there are plenty of talented artists working today, but so many are second and third generation copies of better originals.

      Thanks again, Phil :-)

  8. I pointed in this direction on your New Order post, so now I’ll be a little more direct with it, since you seem to be looking for attention in this general area : what exactly is “music” to you?

    • First off, I’m not “looking for attention”, as you put it. I was merely filling the void with rhetoric until I was prepared to feature music again. As might be apparent, I’m more than a bit disappointed and angry with the music industry, and I can blow off some steam here. But I don’t expect anyone to take my abstract hypotheses seriously.

      You asked me how I define music. Although it may not be perceived consistently across all cultures, music is not a nebulous concept. I begin my response with a few standard dictionary definitions:

      1 – Vocal or instrumental sounds (or both) combined in such a way as to produce beauty of form, harmony, and expression of emotion.

      2 – An art of sound in time that expresses ideas and emotions in significant forms through the elements of rhythm, melody, harmony, and color.

      3 – The science or art of ordering tones or sounds in succession, in combination, and in temporal relationships to produce a composition having unity and continuity.

      While similar, the above descriptions are all subtly different, with the one common element being ‘sound.’ Personally, I don’t consider random sounds alone to constitute ‘music’—racket emanating from a construction site is noise, but those sounds may be organized into (literal) industrial music.

      An African tribesman beating a drum is music. The found sound musique concrète of Pierre Schaeffer is music. Jazz improvisation is music. Bebe and Louis Barron’s soundtrack to “Forbidden Planet” is music. Beat boxing is music. Everything on this blog is music. And, yes, “…Baby One More Time” by Britney Spears is music.

      I trust you’re not interpreting this post in a literal sense – obviously, music is not ‘dead’ and continues to be produced. However, whether or not any of it will be remembered decades in the future is doubtful. Contemporary popular music is a commodity, not art.

      Appearance doesn’t matter. Attitude doesn’t matter. Videos don’t matter. Limited edition box sets don’t matter. Charts don’t matter. Awards don’t matter. MUSIC MATTERS.

  9. I did not ask you how you, or the rest of the world, “define” music. I asked you what music was to YOU, personally, which seemed to be a pretty reasonable question given your post and statements like “I can’t remember the last time that I heard something new and was excited about it.” And you didn’t give me any insight on that at all with the above. Granted, I already have my suspicions, but being a fair sort, I wanted to hear what you had to say first. So, want to try again?

    • My apologies, but your inquiry was subject to interpretation. If you want a more specific answer, then you must ask a more specific question. Perhaps this is the response you were seeking:

      To me, music is fundamentally a single or multiple sounds so organized as to produce a pleasurable listening experience; I personally appreciate vocals, acoustic instrumentals, electronic instrumentals, and combinations of the three. Music is enduring and memorable. Music is a mood enhancer. Music is a trigger for memories, both good and bad. Music is a catalyst for conversation. Music is a creator of shared experiences. Music is a universal language. Music is an escape.

      I don’t know if you’re looking for a philosophical discussion or trying to slap a label on me, but I’m open to either one. You mentioned having “suspicions” as to what YOU think that music is to me – perhaps you will share that theory.

  10. How is it that you spent the majority of that post talking about the evil machinations of the industry, and all you keep doing here is falling back on all this philosophical, theoretical and technical garbage?

    If all of these things in this latest response are what’s important to you, why would you spend any time writing about Britney Spears to begin with? Do you honestly think anyone who had anything to do with Britney Spears has spent one nano-second of their lives thinking about anything on that list?

    My guess is (based on the things you’ve posted here, a large amount of which I very much share your like of) that there is probably a great deal of music, particularly outside of the pop genre, that you have never heard before. A lot of that music is probably decades old now. But if you’ve never heard it, would it not be “new” to you upon hearing it? Or is it more important to you that it be something that was created yesterday? This was one of the main parts of my point. I guess I thought it might be semi-obvious, though it clearly wasn’t.

    And just to be clear here – I love pop music. And most pop music today does indeed suck. There are a few reasons for that. One is that the art of songcraft is quite clearly at an all time low. However, (one of) the reason(s) for THAT is that music – and most especially pop music – no longer occupies the same space that it used to in modern culture (even as recently as 15 years ago), nor is it assimilated and consumed in the same way. Therefore, you get a different set of (acceptable) criteria to get the end product up to the gate, as it were.

    What I see in your post is that you’re a little grumpy that the “machine” is no longer producing anything that you like and putting it right in front of your face for instant gratification. But a huge part of that is also you failing to realize that as you’ve gotten older, that machine is not designed to produce things for the you that you have now become.

    And to get back to the point you could not seem to grasp about repeatedly asking you about what music meant to you – if music – music ALONE – not the cultural aspects of it, not the marketing, not the social aspects – the MUSIC ALONE – if THAT’S what REALLY means something to you, to spend any time at all writing what you did is insane. I will never have enough time in my life to listen to all the truly interesting music that’s in the world. (Or that interests ME, at least.) And honestly, it doesn’t sound like this is the case for you. I’m not looking to slap labels on you, and I have NO IDEA what it is to you, based on what you’ve written here – which is why I kept asking. The one thing I do feel though, is that it certainly isn’t anything along the lines of what I’ve been describing above.

    Again, I don’t mean any of this as a personal insult. I have come to see that this applies to pretty much 99% of the population. And since I feel the way I do, I get a little perturbed sometimes by the uncaring masses. And that is, I’m aware, basically my own problem. But you wanted to air these thoughts in public, and apparently wanted to “spark some spirited discourse” with them – so here you are.

    To sum the post up – cute idea, nicely shit-stirring title, weak arguments, not enough supporting evidence or explanation of premise and personal definitions used to come up with declaration, badly executed overall. D+

    (PS. Part of this is also probably just frustration in finding you just recently, and wanting to get a bunch of things that now have dead links…..but I shall survive. As will you, I’m sure, even with it all being “dead” to you now.)

    • Finally – NOW we’re having a conversation.

      Your condescending tirade included a few assumptions and comments that I will address.

      “…there is probably a great deal of music, particularly outside of the pop genre, that you have never heard before.”

      On the one hand, that is true. And the same thing could be said of you, and anyone who isn’t a musicologist. There is so much recorded (and unrecorded) music to explore that no one could possibly listen to all of it. On the other hand, you have no idea what I’ve heard and what I haven’t heard. Friends and family have accused me of being willfully obscure in my musical preferences, although that’s exaggerated. And my entire music collection isn’t represented on this blog.

      “A lot of that music is probably decades old now. But if you’ve never heard it, would it not be “new” to you upon hearing it? Or is it more important to you that it be something that was created yesterday?”

      Not exactly sure what your point is there – yes, I do continue to discover and appreciate old music that I’ve never heard before, so it’s ‘new’ to me. Music created yesterday is likely crap, so why would that be important to me?

      “…you fail to realize that as you’ve gotten older, that machine is not designed to produce things for the you that you have now become.”

      Actually, I am fully aware of this, and completely concur. But you’re right about me being “grumpy” – not just about music, but the world, in general. But that’s another story.

      “I will never have enough time in my life to listen to all the truly interesting music that’s in the world. (Or that interests ME, at least.) And honestly, it doesn’t sound like this is the case for you.”

      I will echo that sentiment – I have a stack of sealed CDs and several gigs of downloaded files awaiting my ears. And I’m offended by your suggestion to the contrary.

      “…I have NO IDEA what it is to you, based on what you’ve written here – which is why I kept asking. The one thing I do feel though, is that it certainly isn’t anything along the lines of what I’ve been describing above.”

      Here’s the problem – you consider yourself to be among a precious and enlightened 1% of the population that truly understands and appreciates music on some pure level that the other 99% of us apparently can’t possibly comprehend. Given that elitist attitude, I don’t think that any response I give to your question (what is music) will be satisfactory because you’ve already passed judgment on me and the “uncaring masses.”

      However, thanks for debating my glib condemnation of the contemporary music industry :-)

  11. You know how you’re miffed about me supposedly making incorrect assumptions about you? Well, guess what……

    You seem to have that same thing that everybody else these days does – even though I SPECIFICALLY said not to take it personally, you did. You come at me with all this “condescending, elitist” crap, which is untrue. I, quite clearly, stated these were MY positions and opinions, not some grand edict on how “things must be”. If you wish to feel all talked down to by that, that’s on you, my friend, not me. And that cop out at the end is bullshit. You’re not “holding back” on answering me because you think I’ve “judged” you already. You’re holding back because in this post, as the previous ones, you keep dancing around actually backing up anything you said in the initial post with anything approaching something tangible and concrete, and this time you get to use all this (wrongly assumed) condescending/elitist/prejudged stuff as your argument against doing so. So, you’re welcome for that, I guess.

    Want to escape this (erroneous) feeling you’re being talked down to? SAY SOMETHING OF SUBSTANCE, instead of endless vague, circular nothings. That’s what the original post consisted of, and it’s all your responses down here have been. Because when you’re not actually saying anything, and somebody’s trying in vain to respond to that in the hopes of changing it into something more, then yeah, it probably will come off that way. Sorry about that. But once again – I’m not talking down to you. I’m trying to get you to actually explain something. Which, of course, you have every right not to do if you don’t feel like it. Your sandbox, your rules, I guess.

    • Okay…

      Music is the most important thing in my life.

      Music makes me happy. Music is my religion. I’d rather buy CDs than food. I sell my plasma every week for extra money to buy music. Most weekends, I visit multiple record shops to search for new releases and discover material that I‘ve never heard before. When I visit a new town, the first thing I look for is a record shop. I make my friends mixtapes to share all of the music that I find. I purchase multiple music periodicals every month. I only read nonfiction books about music. I’m writing a book about the history of electronic music. I’ve dressed up as Robert Smith for Halloween more than once. I go clubbing every week to dance to music that I love. I got a job at my favorite radio station. I spent more on DJ equipment than my wife’s engagement ring (please don’t tell her). After my house and car, my music collection is the most valuable thing I own (but worth far more than money to me).

      Music is the most important thing in my life.

      Well, it used to be, anyway. All of the above was true at some point, going back 30, 25, 20, and as recent as 15 years ago. But, as happens to most people, life changes over time. You take on responsibilities, priorities shift, you see the world differently, etc. Let’s compare two periods:

      The Most Important Things In My Life (1995)
      01 Music
      02 Everything else

      The Most Important Things In My Life (2015)
      01 My wife
      02 Our dogs
      03 Other immediate family members
      04 Volunteering with a wildlife rehabilitation clinic
      05 Working at a job to achieve positive changes for the benefit of animals
      06 Music

      So that’s my final answer: music is the sixth most important thing in my life. However, my prior responses (the philosophical, theoretical and technical garbage) still apply.

  12. oooh, that was all a bit harsh, no?
    seems Tet Chee picked up where i left off with knobs on!!!!
    As Michael Winner said “Calm down dear….”

    my 1995 list
    #1 Kraftwerk / Blondie / Ride / Underworld / The Loud Family / Candi Staton / The Byrds / The Go-Betweens / Split Enz / Puressence / Stevie Wonder / The Damned
    #2 my other half

    #1 CRICKET …. i didn’t see that coming
    #2 the same list of bands plus a few more….


  13. ….ps I forget David Morales / Frankie Knuckles….. and my cat

  14. Yeah, that was a right heated exchange. And unfortunately, as Tet Chee hasn’t replied again, I’ll don’t know if I finally answered his question ‘correctly.’ Thought he might have respected a response from the heart as opposed to the brain. Oh, well.

    Cricket?! Watching, playing, or both?

  15. Oh, and here’s a piece from BBC’s ‘A Point Of View’ that somewhat relates to this post:

    Why It’s Time To Turn The Music Off

  16. ‘ow do again.
    this might all come out in random order but…..

    My mum is 75 but approaches music as if the best song ever written hasn’t actually been written yet. So she got ME into The Sunshine Underground (great debut; great live and local too) but I’d stopped reading NME 10 years prior. Most people’s parents seem to have crap taste in music but my mum loves Muse, Tori Amos, Crowded House, Arctic Monkeys, Arcade Fire… and she’s got more 7” picture discs than you can shake a stick at.
    Me, on the other hand, although only 44 might have retired from most modern music but NOT because I’m writing it off, just that my head’s a little full. There’s a hell of a lot out there isn’t there?
    As I mentioned earlier, there is great music (Tame Impala, Temples) being made now, but The Byrds, Ultravox, The Smiths, The Hummingbirds and Mission Of Burma is what I played when I got in last night (most recent from 1989). Why not? Tonight might be something new, dunno yet. I subscribe to Record Collector and they’re covering more new music (very diverse but high quality only) probably to reach out to people like me who are more likely to buy a Wedding Present reissue than a new generic hip-slop creation. I BLAME RECORD COMPANIES.
    – HMV stopped stocking singles then said people weren’t buying them. A bit like the vinyl fiasco.
    – Counting downloads as sales (and streaming!) means the charts are sheer bilge. Mainstream radio plays the charts so more generic bilge, and the decline continues. It really makes a killer tune like “Blurred Lines” or “Get Lucky” stand out when a GOOD pop tune rises to the top. Why is Radio 6 only on digital platforms? it’s the best thing about the BBC these days so deserves a wider audience.
    – Just because you can fit 80 minutes onto a CD doesn’t mean you actually should (why put 20 songs on a CD when most are crap? you’ll only play it once). The world is full of CDs with only 2 good songs on, does it really need any more?

    Solution? Only buy genuinely good releases, albums you’ll play from start to finish, again and again. Buy them on vinyl. Buy them from a proper record shop.

    Amazon surely is the devil. And supermarkets that sell CD’s at a loss to punish record shops.
    We live in a world where Peter Andre has a record deal and his new CD (of Sinatra covers!!!) is stocked near the tills in Iceland Frozen Food stores. The world is warped.

    Bollocks. Alex Hales was just out, gotta go…….

    • First off, your mom is exceptionally cool. The hippest album in my mom’s record collection is The Beatles’ “Revolver” – not bad, but it’s been downhill since. Now she raves about Il Divo.

      The best thing about music is that there’s so much of it. No matter how much you’ve heard, there’s always more. So even if music actually had ‘died’ in 1998 (of course, it didn’t), what was produced prior to that is more than enough to keep anyone entertained and happy.

      Lately, I’ve been listening to a bunch of Boys Own mixes downloaded from the Test Pressing site. Great stuff – discovering a lot of material I’ve never heard before, and developing a greater appreciation for songs placed in different contexts.

      Amazon IS evil. In the future, there will be probably be only half a dozen stores selling everything. And music won’t be available on physical media – that seems unfortunately inevitable.

      Funny you should mention the Peter Andre CDs for sale in Iceland stores. I was in a Whole Foods supermarket the other day and came across a display of vinyl albums. Sorry, but hipsters aren’t buying “Songs From The Big Chair” on 180 gram vinyl along with tofu and granola. It’s ridiculous.

      You know the deal, Phil. Thanks for the stream of consciousness.

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